The Worst Six Hours of Travel Yet

One good reason to travel overseas is you return home chockfull of stories to last you two years. Stories are fun to tell — how you got lost but ultimately found your way, a great new food, a hilarious local, etc. My friends, the story I am about to tell is not one I’m happy about. In fact, as I sit here in my hotel room in Dalian, China, head hurting, joints aching, toilet full of throw-up, and nostrils full of seaweed, I am declaring the past six hours of travel the worst yet.

Anti-maleria medication, in a phrase. I took my first dose on the train to Hiroshima. I took the second dose today. I will take one pill a day for the rest of my trip (and 28 days after getting home) to cover me in Dalian and Yunnan Province and in all of India. The first pill was no problem, none of the side effects listed on the container (I also had a friend who experiences severe side effects from the medicine).

This morning I woke up and wrote, wrote, wrote, and got a big email out just before having to go to the Hiroshima airport. Two hours after breakfast I took my second malaria pill and I felt no effects during my writing effort. Then, on the way to the airport, I started to feel a little tired. The bus ride was one hour to the airport and the whole ride I felt tired. Usually when I feel tired I rest quickly and am back it. This tiredness didn’t go away. After arriving at the airport, I walked to the international terminal and began to feel nacociousness in my stomach. I unclipped my waist belt from my backpacker’s backpack to relieve some of the pressure on my stomach.

Waiting in line to get my boarding pass I knew this wasn’t a passing fatigue but rather the anti-maleria medication rearing his ugly head. It was 2 PM and I hadn’t had lunch but, weirdly, wasn’t hungry! This shocked me, because I am usually hungry for each meal. Forgetting that a loss of appetite is another side effect, I nibbled on half a Cliff Bar. I didn’t taste a single bit. Siting in the terminal for boarding process to begin, I put on my iPod as I sometimes do when I have a headache. Good music can be a stress reliever. "I’m just stressed from all the book stuff and my travel," I told myself. Then I buckled. Head in hands. Skin hurting. What the fuck is going on? I was deteriorating in front of everyone in the terminal. I walked to the bathroom and pissed for 5 seconds; it did nothing.

By now my stomach roiled, head hurt, and back hurt. I got in line to board. I seriously considered not boarding the flight, knowing that altitude and flight would exacerbate any stomach pain and nascousness. But after weighing the pros and cons — having to re-book my fight, probably staying in Hiroshima another night, etc — I decided to board and hope for the best.

I secured an aisle seat but there was still zero legroom and the person in front of me — probably a good 9 inches shorter — thought it’d be fun to put his seat back. On a normal day I would knee him in the hopes that he would regret the decision to recline. But today I had only enough energy for a single kick. He was kicking sand in a paralyzed deer’s face. I started getting the shivers. Cold and then hot. The old CHinese women next to me both ate their food and the smell of food sparked the first feelings of throwing up.

Shit. Throwing up. The last time I remember throwing up is when KNTV came and interviewed me in my house and after they left I threw up for 20 minutes (I barely survived the interview, being so sick). That was a LONG time ago. I never get sick. I’m really healthy. I did not want to start throwing up on the plane in front of everyone and ruin my clothes.

70% into the flight I decided to take a sip of water, thinking that might do something. Big mistakes. Opening my mouth triggered some throw up mechanism and in the next moment throw up can shooting through my throat into my mouth. I closed my mouth in time and swallowed. Yuck.

Time was ticking, I can’t suppress this much longer. I grabbed the barf bag in the seatback pocket and got up to go the bathroom. Ugh, standing up, my stomach, my back, my head. The flight attendants blocked the aisle to the back lavatory, so I had to use the first class lavatory. I tore up the curtain and went up the bathroom. A flight attendant was guarding it. She said I had to use the rear one. I responded I need to use this bathroom. She said, no, use the rear one. And for this moment I didn’t give a shit about being all nice and "representing my country" – I walked right next to her, towered over her, and said in a hushed tone, "I really need to use this bathroom. Sorry." I then grabbed the bathroom door and crouched inside. As I bent over the toilet, I had a spasm in my abs. This sometimes happen when I’m dehydrated and have to lean over (too tall for the bathroom). The ab spasm prevented from leaning over the toilet, so instead I just held the barf bag in front of my mouth. I stayed in the bathroom for 15 minutes and excreted only a few drips into the bag from my mouth.

I finally returned to my seat because we began our decent. I deplaned, feeling terrible, not even processing the fact that I was now in China. I looked at the ground as I picked up my bag and filled out the three or four customs / government forms. Now the question was whether to go to the bathroom in the airport or wait till my hotel. I decided to wait. I walked into the exit terminal and curbside.

I was immediately accosted by a big, 40-ish gentleman. He got really close to me and started screaming gibberish. Apparently he wanted to know if I needed taxi. I walked away from him, too weak to say anything in response, but several other guys surrounded me. Then it hit me: This was China. Not Japan. I may be taken advantage of here. For two minutes I came back to life, adrenaline pumping, needing to get away from these people. I went to the tourist desk and asked how I could get a taxi but he spoke no English. Then one of guys following me said, "Taxi." That was what I was looking for. But it seemed too fishy. He again got up close to me and I said a firm "NO" and walked away, but he still followed me. I walked up to an airline desk and found somebody who spoke English. I asked her to tell this man to leave me alone. She did and the man left me. How the fuck could the tourist desk not speak English? How can I get a taxi and get out of this zoo and just lie on a bed?

I went back to that English speaking airline person. "Are those taxis out there legitimate?" I asked her. "Some are, some aren’t," she said. My immediate reaction was, "Well, why isn’t someone telling them to buzz off and stop taking advantage of ignorant tourists?" These dudes had set up a totally fake taxi stand and accosted each white person who walked onto the sidewalk. I said, "Well, where are the legitimate taxis?" She pointed in a direction. I asked her how much it would cost to go to my hotel. She said 25 Yuan. I finally found the legitimate taxi stand — why the real stand is out of the way and the fake one is front and center is beyond me — and got in a taxi. I showed him my hotel name in Chinese characters and he sped off.

The pollution! The honking! The driver spit out the window several. In a one minute period I heard more honks than I did my entire stay in Japan. Everything struck me as ugly and loud. I finally got to my hotel, endured an insanely long check-in process and finally got to my room. Well sized, bed as hard as a rock. Lots of noise from the street (honking!). But big and nice bathroom and high speed internet. I lay on bed, unable to move. Stomach still fighting me. I couldn’t even read. I just stared at the barren white ceiling, feeling like shit.

Then I felt it, went into the bathroom, and threw up 5 or 6 times. My chest hurt while it happened and my head felt like it was going to explode. But after all that shit got out of my system, I did feel, better enough to at lea st write these words. Still no appetite, still a headache, still the honking.

I hope tomorrow’s pill will be better.

11 comments on “The Worst Six Hours of Travel Yet
  • While it’s good to be cautious, you don’t need malaria medicine in urban China and India. Taking it will just make you miserable. More miserable, probably, than malaria would, on the offhand chance you get it.

  • I would concur–I have traveled to China twice, and never bothered with malaria medication.

    I would strongly advise that you contact one of your China contacts and hire a guide who speaks English. I think that will alleviate your situation.

  • Maleria medication is advised for travelers to Yunan Province, where I’ll be going eventually. And then it’s strongly advised for India, where I’ll be going after that.

    We’ll see. If the medication continues to destroy me I may pass.

  • Ben, if it makes you feel any better, Antoine and I were marvelling over your shitty trip and horrible food experiences while eating a delicious Tex-Mex meal at our hotel in Cairo the other night. Thanks for the entertainment, and I hope you’re feeling much better. Being sick sucks dogs.

  • I’ve never had any trouble with Malarone, or Doxycycline (though if you take it on an empty stomach you will be emptying yourself over the bushes orally).

    A few friends have had trouble tiwh Larium, but that is more the LSD-style tripping than throwing up.

    Damned unlucky.

  • I’m sorry Ben, I hope you feel better. Maybe you can get a massage (happy ending maybe?!!). Okay not funny, but hope that made you smile 🙂

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