I had one fear traveling. It wasn’t getting kidnapped, forcibly hooked on heroin and sold into the Russian sex trade. It wasn’t having everything stolen, stuck in a developing country alone and unable to communicate. It wasn’t sinking in a long boat trying to get to an island in Monsoon season.
It was bedbugs. Tiny little vampires that crawl into your bed like an uninvited lover and proceed to devour you in the exact opposite way you want to be ravaged in bed. Regular readers will know I do not have a fear of insects, reptiles, rodents. It was an unfounded fear and not one that was going to stop me from my journey. It was, however, an insidious little thought that would creep into my head, alone in the dark.
I googled and researched myself into a mildly foaming paranoia. Every beetle-ish looking bug was caught, squished, poked and inspected until I was sure of its innocence.
And as the Law of Attraction predictably states, I manifested my worst travel fear through my odd obsession.
I was in a Riad in Marrakech, Morocco. This had been my home base for several weeks, checking in and out, and getting a new room every time. One night they gave me a room without outlets to charge my electronics so I requested a new room the next day. They forgot about me sitting in the hallway on my backpack, waiting for a new key, until they were full. They gave me key 11, with some sideways glances, throat clearing, and apparent trepidation.
The next day, I found it odd that I was getting mosquito bites showing up in the heat of the day. The next night, I woke up voraciously itchy at 2 am and got up to get my Afterbite. I spotted a bedbug climbing the wall next to my bed, leapt on him fearlessly and with a sinking stomach, confirmed the identity.
I had no choice but to douse myself in 30% DEET and return to the feeding grounds. Bug spray is not supposed to deter these hard shelled monsters, but it seemed to help. I unfortunately forgot to spray the bottoms of my feet, in between my toes, or my face. I woke up to 60 some bites, took an antihistamine and packed my bags. Really? Between my toes? Not playing nice at all!
On checkout, I showed the young man at the desk the evidence in the tissue and his response was comedic aversion.
“Oh, we see this sometimes. You bring them back from High Atlas Mountains”
“I didn’t get bit trekking, I got bit here.
“Okay, well, let us get married.”
“Umm…Dude, you live in a closet behind the desk, you have no room for a wife”
“My mother lives in the mountains. She speaks no English and she very angry. You fight all the time but I will come home every two weeks to fix fights”
“Uh…I’m flattered but I really don’t like fighting with Berber speaking angry old women in the mountains of Morocco. So anyways, don’t rent out room 11. Look at my face man…it looks like I’ve got the pox”
“Oh no…you get from mountains. I speak 5 languages…I make good husband. You come back soon?”
I searched for ways that I could decontaminate my backpack in a developing country. I could find no solutions on the bedbug forums, the websites, the experts. Bedbugs need to be killed with extreme heat or cold, neither of which are available in Morocco. They don’t have washing machines, everything is done by hand in lukewarm water. They don’t have dryers, everything is hung. I was told to put my pack in a black garbage bag and leave it on the roof for 2 days. I asked about this on the bedbugger.com forum and an exterminator responded saying we would have to live on the sun for that to work. I was told to put my pack in the freezer for two days. This is in a country where the meat hangs from hooks in the heat of the day, not an easy task to find a deep freeze. There is no access to the chemical treatments in a developing country, nor was I willing to incur a Fed-Ex bill to get some.
I ended up renting an apartment in Essaouira that had a kitchenette. A tiny RV size sink, a plastic tub, and a kettle were my only tools. I spent 4 hours pouring scalding heat over everything I could, wrecking all my clothes, trying in vain to submerge my backpack, and hauling the heavy tub up the ladder to the roof on my head. Not particularly effective as I couldn’t decontaminate my books and the temperatures weren’t hot enough or long enough, but I did what I could.
Two weeks later, I reorganized my backpack in Cordoba, Spain, which may have shaken a few of these little hitchhikers out of my stuff. I didn’t think I was carrying them, but when I got bit that night I had my suspicions. I told the hostel owner and got on my bus to Amsterdam. Once there I went to an industrial laundromat and put everything I owned through the scalding washer and dryer, my books bouncing and thumping through my intentional genocide.
There was a reason I feared these little buggers. They were THAT bad. Each welt was the size of a grapefruit, with a swollen raised center the size of a small kiwi. They were impossibly itchy, but also so tender that to touch them sent me reeling with the sensitivity. Possibly a good thing as I didn’t scar from scratching because I could hardly touch them. The only thing that offered any relief was a scalding hot shower and an overdose of anti-histamines. The bites lasted months and they were quite literally one on top of the other. I suffered from insomnia for a long time after, a common side effect. If the sheets would touch my body lightly, I would bolt upright out of a deep sleep, tear back my covers, and scrutinize the bedding. That was worse than the bites, the sensation that I was covered in creepy-crawlies every time I slept.
The best part of this was that I was dealt my wost travel fear and it didn’t kill me. (shockingly, nobody dies from bedbugs) I survived, I got creative with limited resources, I carried on. Which is now to say, I no longer have any travel fears. This liberation in itself made the whole uncomfortable situation worth every painful vesication I suffered.