January 17, 2014
Travel Bugs And How They Just Get Inside Me
Travel bugs seem to get inside my body. Several times during my life, travel bugs have entered through various insufficiently defended points. Once in an inspirational symbolic way, but more often it has been a lot less welcome when some very undesirable little organism has wormed its way into my insides and had a wonderful time rearranging my life. But, as Kerouac said “No matter, the road is life,” and I just keep looking for the next big trip.
I really got the passion to travel at the age of 12. I was born and brought up in a small mining town in the North of England where the snow turned black with coal dust in the winter. As far as travel went, my horizons stretched no further than annual trip to the coast where I discovered the joy of watching my skin turn blue in a freezing North Sea. But even that I found exciting; it was different. It was a whole world away. Then one Saturday morning my father and his brother stuck me in the back of the car and we drove to a small house on the outskirts of Leeds, a big city some 20 miles away. It turned out that a distant relative I had never met had died and the men of the family had gathered to “share the spoils,” each taking turns to choose from the dead man’s possessions. After most things had been shared out my father asked me if there was anything I wanted from what was left. I had already spotted a large cardboard box and peeked inside when no-one was watching. Inside were dozens of magazines with bright yellow covers. I got to take them home. I had discovered the mother lode: (you guessed it) inside the box were several years’ editions of National Geographic magazines. Over the coming months and years I devoured those pages. I began to dream of the places I saw in them. There was a wonderful picture of the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet, articles on the Bay of Fundy’s massive tides, exotic tribes from the South Sea Islands to the Innuits of the Arctic Circle, strange animals and exciting discoveries. My fate was sealed. I would be a traveller. I would, I told my parents, one day travel right round the world. They laughed, little knowing that I would eventually do exactly that.
I began by collecting dreams and ended up collecting experiences and a lot of bugs along the way. Doing the “Hippie Trail” I drove from London to Kathmandu in the Himalayas and then on into South East Asia. In Nepal I picked up a nasty dose of dysentery and spent a long time recovering in the cheapest hotel I could find in Bangkok.
In Australia I woke one night to what sounded like a huge cockroach inside my head. This time a bug had chosen a new entry route – my ear. As it stomped around on my eardrum it began squeaking. It was driving me mad and try as I might I could not get it out. I filled my ear up with water and tried to drown it – it was still there. I almost ripped my head off shaking it from side to side. In the morning I was first in the queue at the Doctor’s. “Please get this bloody great thing out of my head” I cried. He syringed my ear and then, with that withering superior look that Ozzies reserve exclusively for Pommy wimps, he pointed out the tiny ant, no bigger than a pin head, drowning in the dish.
Then there was the unknown invader that got into my liver on a trip to Malta. With every inch of my body covered in a painful itchy rash and a liver enlarged like a foie gras goose, it took a year to get over that one. I still didn’t get the message.
In 2002, after visiting the mystical lakeside temple of Ulu Danu in Bali, I was stupid enough to eat a chicken curry at a nearby restaurant, even though it looked none to fresh and was not very hot. Three days later I came down with food poisoning so severe I was hallucinating with the fever. But, worse still, the infection (campylobacter) weakened my immune system and a few weeks later I was hit by a second infection that decided to rearrange my brain. But that’s another story.
There are still a couple of possible bug “entry points” that are as yet uninvaded. But nothing will stop me traveling if I can help it. So, whoever that distant unknown relative with a great taste in reading was, I owe him a world of thanks for a life of travel and discovery.
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