Getting sick and traveling to ruins.
April 11, 2008
I’m getting sick of paying for a bus ticket at 5 AM only to have the bus show up at 6. But instead of leaving right away, of course we go and talk to the driver’s friend for ten minutes. Then when I yell at the driver, he acts like it’s my fault because I’m not patient enough. After all, the day is long. Still, I think I had a right to be mad. The place we were going was the Tikal ruins, and lately the temperature has been climbing over 100 F (without the heat index) at 10 AM, not to return back to double digits again until well after dark. So not only am I sick of this intense heat, I’m even more sick of people wasting my few precious hours per day when it’s not too bad. 5 till 8 AM is the only time of day where there’s even a remote possibility of walking around without sweating.
Like Copan, the Tikal ruins were built by the Maya people thousands of years ago and were inhabited until about 800 AD, when they were promptly abandoned. Unlike Copan, Tikal had a lot more pyramids, it was more spread out, and it was right in the middle of the jungle. The fact that you could actually climb most of the pyramids made it a very fun and sweaty place to visit. There weren’t even very many tourists visiting the ruins. I guess most of them stuck to the far-more-popular Chitzen Itza in Mexico. But I was certainly impressed by this incredible ancient city.
The photo album for this entry is here.
April 10, 2008
I went to the clinic this morning and did blood tests for both malaria and dengue. It turns out that I have dengue and not malaria. That was a good thing because dengue passes through your system and doesn’t stay long-term whereas malaria might. Unfortunately, that means that I didn’t need to take the malaria treatment, but there shouldn’t be any long-term complications from that either. I went to a doctor who told me I should be fine in a few days, but there was no medicine to give me.
I gave going home another long thought, and decided that it was time. What else did I have left to prove? I wasn’t enjoying myself as much anymore and was simply putting off the inevitable. I used to feel like I might as well be dead to this world, but now I realize that’s not true. I’m the one who has abandoned everyone else, not the other way around. I bought a one-way ticket back to Milwaukee from Cancun on the 19th of April, exactly one and a half years since I was last in the US. That would give me just enough time to pass through Belize for a few days and head up the coast to Cancun. It will be good to be back.
April 8-9, 2008
Last night was rough again. This time, nausea was the side effect that got me. I had to fight off the urge to throw up constantly. It was like I was drunk and had to stumble around to get anywhere. I don’t know if another side effect of the pills was sentimentality, but that was how I felt as I laid in bed. Being sick and alone is no fun, and at that moment, all I wanted was to be back at home. I decided then and there that I had to go back as soon as possible. I had no desire to keep traveling.
When I started to feel a little better, I managed to get out to a park called Semuc Champey. It was a colorful place in the forest filled with natural swimming pools, but I didn’t really get to enjoy it due to a lack of energy. There were lots of caves in the area as well, but I didn’t dare go inside in my condition. I managed to eat a salad at one point, but puked it up a few minutes later. My appetite was down to zero.
Once I felt well enough, I left town on the long bus trip to a city called Flores, where I will hopefully be able to see a doctor.
April 7, 2008
I went home because of my illness. Everyone in my family got together for a big party, and they were all sleeping in the house together. In the middle of the night, a huge storm came. I went outside to see a huge flash of lightning, fading away into dozens of bright spots all over the sky. The glow from the lightning was so intense, it was as if dawn were approaching.
Things started to get weird after that. My mom ran outside and told us we’d lost our phone and Internet connections. The whole house started shaking. The sky got real bright again and two kids dressed as cartoon characters rode past us on bicycles waving in unison like parade queens. Techno music started mysteriously playing upstairs, and when I asked my brother if it was his, he put out his hand as if to indicate that he wouldn’t listen to that crap. My dad said it was probably just a ghost like it was the most normal thing in the world.
Suddenly, moaning voices filled the air as the storm rose up again. The whole house began violently shaking. Afraid the house would collapse, I yelled for everybody to get outside, but they didn’t listen because they were under a spell. Once outside, I turned to see the two ghostly looking kids on bicycles pass me again, still waving away.
My whole knowledge of the universe was turned around. There was no way any of this could be happening, and suddenly I realized it must just be a dream. I pinched my arm as hard as I could, but nothing happened. I was stuck in this strange world. When the sun finally came up, I looked outside to see a huge government helicopter with Angel written on the back. My mom said it must have been them that did it. They disabled our communications so we couldn’t call for help. Then people showed up from nowhere wearing Halloween costumes and started dancing and everything was back to normal. Another hellish night was over.
All of a sudden I woke up. I sat up but was disoriented. Finally I figured out that I was still in my tent in Guatemala and the whole thing about going home was all just a dream. Then I remembered the malaria pills. One of their side effects was bad dreams, but this was no ordinary dream. It felt exactly like reality. I remembered the cockroaches from last night and thought that might be a dream too. No such luck, the holes were still there. Still, what if I were still in a larger dream? Could the cockroaches be part of that dream? What about the last two and a half years of my life? Could they all have been a huge malaria-induced dream as well? I was expecting to wake up and find myself still in my office, looking at my watch to see how long until I turned sixty-five. I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t anymore.
April 6, 2008
I had a horrible night last night. It was more rolling and shaking and waiting for death to approach. Tina brought me a banana and some yogurt, but I couldn’t eat. I had the yogurt in the morning, but it took half an hour to get it all down. I couldn’t even touch the banana so I put it in the tent to keep the bugs off it.
I went to the hospital, but the lady working there obviously had no idea what she was talking about. She quickly threw some pills my way when I described my symptoms, but when I asked if I could have malaria, she was very dismissive in telling me that there was no way. She didn’t even have the capability to give me a simple blood test. I was eight hours from the nearest city and didn’t feel like sitting on a bus that long to get a diagnosis.
Luckily all of the tourists I talked to at the hostel seemed to know all about malaria and dengue. They all figured I had one or the other, but since there was no treatment for dengue, I should take the malaria medication as it wouldn’t hurt me in the long run if I didn’t actually have malaria. My judgment wasn’t the greatest, but I was in no position to argue, so I took the pills.
I slept most of the day, but the fever came back once more in the early afternoon. By late afternoon, I was finally feeling better. I still had the headache, but at least I wasn’t shaking anymore. I was only awake a few hours all day, but I was already ready for bed by 9:00.
When I went to open my tent, I saw a small hole in the wall that looked new. Then I noticed a much bigger hole next to it. At first I thought someone had robbed me. I glanced inside and didn’t immediately notice anything missing. Then I opened the door and figured out the problem: Dozens of cockroaches were crawling all over the banana I had left inside. The platform I had been camping on must have been infested with them, and they must have chewed through my tent to get inside. I didn’t even know they could do that. My tent was ruined. I spent half an hour killing the cockroaches and slept with my flashlight on the rest of the night to keep them from coming back.
April 5, 2008
I could barely walk the half block to the pharmacy this morning. I told the pharmacist about my symptoms and she gave me some sort of fever medication. It somewhat helped but made me extremely drowsy. Somehow I managed to carry my backpack to the bus, but I felt like the walking dead along the way.
I got a bus to Coban, but there were many delays due to road construction. The Guatemalans’ brilliant plan when repaving a road is to shut the entire thing down for three hours in the middle of the day and make any unlucky traffic that may try to cross that stretch of road wait. The concept of shutting down only one lane at a time has not yet made it as far as Guatemala.
When I finally got to Coban, I finally jumped on one more bus, my eighth bus in two days, to Lanquin. I was sleeping most of the way, but the fever came back strong in the afternoon and I began shaking and having severe aches again. I felt myself sinking, like my head was spinning and filling with clouds. Death would have been a welcome invitation at that point.
In Lanquin, I stayed at a beautiful compound of cabins on a river. There were no rooms available, so somehow I dragged out my tent and camped under a thatched roof. It was actually way better than being in a room because of the gentle breeze and extra space that doesn’t exist in a dorm. I figured I was finally in a good place to ride out the fever.
When I was shaking and moaning in a chair later, I saw a German girl named Tina who I had originally met in Managua a few weeks ago. She didn’t even recognize me I looked so bad. For the first time, I thought that maybe I had either malaria or dengue fever. I was on Utila ten days ago, which is known to have malaria, but I was taking my malaria medication at the time. Still, taking the medication in no way guarantees that you won’t get the disease if you get a persistent strain. Some people told me there was a hospital I could go to tomorrow and get tested to find out for sure what it was.
April 4, 2008
I got a boat across Lago Atitlan today, and two guys immediately tried talking me into taking a shuttle once I got to the other side. In Guatemala, your only options are to take the chicken buses, which are old American school buses that the locals ride, or shuttles, which are small expensive buses that only tourists ride. Taking the shuttle would mean having to go all the way back to the capital and it would take two days to get to Coban, but looking at the map, I saw that there was a more direct route. The guys trying to sell me a ticket told me I’d have to go to the coast and back, but the map made it obvious they were lying. These guys will tell you the world is flat if it means getting your business.
Normally I don’t mind the chicken buses and don’t understand what the fuss is all about. However, today was one of those days I wished I had taken the shuttle. I ended up having to take six buses in all because each one only went to the next little town. For that reason, I think Guatemala has the worst public transportation infrastructure out of any country I’ve ever visited (other than the US). I ended up in a tiny town called Upsantan near dark on the last bus of the day. I got a room for the night and ate a delicious taco dinner, not knowing that it would be my last full meal for the next several days.
When I got back to my hotel, I came down with a sudden fever. I alternated between being extremely hot and cold and was shaking uncontrollably. My whole body ached, but my head was the worst as it felt like my eyeballs were popping out of my skull. I didn’t have diarrhea or vomiting so I didn’t think I had food poisoning. That was good because I didn’t even have enough energy to make it to the bathroom in case of an emergency. I continued sleeplessly rolling around in my bed all night, alternating between shivering and sweating, and constantly waiting for the mercy of dawn so I could figure out what was wrong with me.
April 1-3, 2008
My next stop was Lago Atitlan, a large lake in southern Guatemala surrounded by volcanoes. I stopped in a little town called San Pedro la Laguna, which was a mixture of local indigenous people and hippies trying to sell me drugs wherever I walked. The volcanoes were nice and were begging to be climbed, but unfortunately, frequent robberies and even the occasional murder made me decide to give them a miss. I did end up walking to some of the tiny villages on the lake, and they were nice because the locals didn’t see many tourists and were very curious about me. However, it was a little hard to communicate with them because so few of them spoke Spanish. Still, it was a great little town to hang out in for a few days.
The photo album for this entry is here.
March 30-31, 2008
I had another long ride into Guatemala today. It was my sixth country in Central America and my fifth in the month of March. I was getting worn down from moving too fast, but the Central American countries simply didn’t impress me as much as anywhere in South America.
I went right through the capital of Guatemala City as it’s yet another Central American capital to be avoided, and headed straight to Antigua. It was a colorful and nice colonial city in a great natural setting being flanked on all sides by volcanoes. The problems with Antigua were that it was full of tourists, it was very expensive for what is supposedly a poor country, most of the locals weren’t indigenous as I had heard they were, and there wasn’t much to do in the city but sit around all day and drink all night. One day was enough for me as I decided to keep on moving.
The photo album for this entry is here.