Being sick abroad is always hard but being sick abroad and alone is even harder.
When you think of traveling solo, you think of freedom, the wind in your hair, no one telling you what to do, able to do whatever you want kind of stuff. However, it’s not always that easy.
Traveling alone can also come unexpectedly with some of the harder times you will come across in your life – whether it’s figuring out new public transport or getting yourself in trouble because you drank too much or you walked down the wrong ally way at night or told the wrong person where you live or leaving behind family, friends and loved ones, and of course health issues that arise where you don’t have anyone to help you when you need it the most.
There are so many things that go right while traveling but also many unexpected things that can go wrong too and it’s important to be as mentally prepared for them all as possible.
I traveled with my boyfriend for the first three months of our trip, and after a lifetime of traveling solo, it was so nice to not always be afraid while traveling. Afraid as in: not knowing where I am or if I’m going the right way, or not afraid to explore a little further or to go down the more untravelled ally ways. It was nice to have a second pair of eyes and hands for help when I didn’t realize I needed it.
However a few months into the trip, I decided I wanted to gain a little independence back and get back out of my comfort zone and travel alone for a few weeks. He helped me to buy a motor scooter so that I could travel where I wanted without paying for expensive taxis to get where I wanted. I had always ridden on the back of his bike through the crazy Bali traffic, and as we rode I was always so thankful to have him driving as the traffic is just absolutely crazy there. Organized chaos we would call it.
I always felt a bit stuck though, like I couldn’t go anywhere without him which kept me stuck at home, otherwise, he would be giving me rides to yoga or wherever I wanted to go which just didn’t feel right and kind of stopped me from going altogether. I wasn’t used to that. I was used to having my own car or bicycle at home where I could take off whenever I wanted if I needed a little space to myself. So as you can imagine, this dependance thing got to me and I felt a bit stuck.
I had my own scooter for the first time when we took a trip to Medewi in west Bali and I felt comfortable riding around on my own. So when I decided to take this solo trip away, I knew I wanted to start back up in Medewi where there were roads I could explore and enjoy the ride, as that was a main factor of what I missed about being back home, riding into the mountains and seeing views and feeling free.
I checked into a place that I had found the last time we were there. It was close to the beach and was brand new.
On my first day on my own I had so many adventures go right. The host of the hotel took me and another couple to bunut bolong – a huge holy tree which was a really nice scooter ride to get there and then after to his family coconut farm to share a coconut with us and then I went back to my room to get some work done which is where the itching started.
Yes. itching, I know it sounds weird, bare with me.
I started feeling like I was getting bit all over I had no idea where this was coming from. The last time I was here I barely saw a mosquito and that was also another reason I wanted to come back.
I tried to ignore it and went to bed that night but couldn’t stop itching. I tried to meditate the feeling away and after some time it just got so unbearable I jumped in the shower to rinse off. After the shower, I checked the sheets for bugs, because whatever was biting me it seemed to get worse while I was in bed wrapped in the sheet. I couldn’t find anything though… at first. I even pulled the fitted sheet up and looked for bed bugs (having to google what they looked like first) but nothing. It wasn’t making any sense why my whole body was red and itchy and it didn’t seem to go away for anything.
Then I finally found this weird ant looking bug. I thought at first it was a sign of bedbugs. I’ve never had bed bugs nor knew what they looked like so I looked them up but it was much different. The one I found was long and ant-like but red and black and moving its butt around so strangely. I could tell it was something weird but had no way of finding out. It was 11 pm at this point. Trying to keep the independence streak going, it was day 1 for gosh sakes so I wasn’t about to crawl back to the boyfriend, I took a video of the bug and photos and added it to a Bali expat facebook group and with much luck, within minutes I had responses of what it was.
A rove beetle, also known as a Tomcat. A very poisonous ant-like creature that actually does not bite or sting you but just the oils on the animal alone are enough to really harm humans.
Wherever they walk they leave this trail of whatever it is they have on them so if you happen to walk where one has walked, you can get an infection from them that can last weeks up to months. If their liquid gets into your bloodstream they can be as harmful as if a cobra snake were to bite you. The more I read about this weird bug I had never heard of, the more freaked out I got. And the more people who responded on the facebook post saying GET OUT OF THERE, the even more freaked out I got.
I sent the photo to the host of the hotel and he said he had never seen it before but he came right away to my room to check it out. He moved me to another room but still I was so freaked out by the skin rash on me that was spreading like crazy as I was scratching the hell out of it spreading it all over my body.
Luckily, I didn’t squash it with my shoe. I used a tissue to pick it up and toss it in the toilet. Apparently these bugs are from Australia, but have made their way to Bali and are showing up every so often and the worst thing you can do is squash them with your shoe as it releases the chemicals into the air and can affect your eyes and skin, as well as it is now on your shoe and can be trailed around where you walk. I had over 35 comments on this facebook thread within half an hour.
It was 12 am before I messaged the hotel manager where I stayed the last time we were in Medewi a few weeks back and asked for an emergency room. I packed up my laptops and zipped up all my luggage so that if there were any more, they wouldn’t get into my clothes walking around leaving the trail of poison for me to get in contact with again.
When I arrived at the new hotel at midnight, the staff was in there changing the sheets and getting the room ready for me. I knew they had to wake up early to be at work the next day to make the guests breakfast etc. and I apologized over and over and couldn’t thank them enough for the extra help.
As the night went on a little more the first hotel host said he would take me to the hospital in the morning to check my skin which I was thankful for.
Of course, I still couldn’t sleep. I was afraid the bug poison got into my bloodstream as the skin was getting worse by the minute it seemed(extra dramatic). I sent the first hotel host a message if he could take me to the hospital that night and he agreed to help. It was 1:30 am when we got to the hospital and even though a 24-hour facility, everyone was sleeping and I could tell they really didn’t want to be bothered. Medewi is a very small sleepy town – I doubt that the hospital gets much action even in the day.
The doctor looked about 25 and in broken English asked me if I was allergic to any food. He didn’t think it was the Tomcat that had gotten to me but at the time the Tomcat was the only thing that made sense to me. Frustrated I told him I’m not allergic to anything.
I hadn’t eaten anything different that day than I had any other days. It all made no sense to me and I left overpaying for some itch relief pills and body powder to put on to help the itchy feeling. I thought I was slowly dying and the guy gave me itch relief pills – I was not happy but couldn’t do anything else. I was lucky the guy who took me over was a local and could translate everything for me.
He said it should be better in 2 days when everything I read online said Tomcat skin infections would take a minimum of 10 days to heal, and that’s if you were lucky. I felt like he was no doctor at all and I left not feeling much better. The itch pill though was also somehow a drowsy medicine and it helped me to go to sleep that night.
When I woke up the next morning, it seemed to be less, like it was getting better. But after a hot shower it all showed up again and in welts, I took the medicine again in the morning and it seemed to calm down. That night though it was back and in full force, and in the morning it was even worse.
Now it was all down my legs and arms as well and even starting on my face. The hosts at my new hotel were very caring and helpful. They could tell it was stressing me out as I had no clue what was happening to me and being all alone, to be honest, I was scared.
They had a brother of theirs that was coming into town who was a doctor and was going to bring me medicine around 9 am but at 8 am I was feeling dizzy and weird and terrified of what was happening. Everyone told me to stay calm and that it wasn’t harmful, but I was thinking, not harmful?? What do they know??
After I said I wanted to go to the hospital the first time they mentioned it was Bali independence Day and that most things were closed.
They also kept reassuring me that I didn’t need to go to the hospital. The owner at Aga Living Surf Camp read to me what the rash could be and why it was caused and tried to calm me down a bit while we waited for the medicine to come to me.
Once the medicine arrived, it was unfamiliar packaging, one small little blue pill, one orange, and one pink. He crushed up the pills and put in water for me to drink and told me to take one of each every five hours which I did. It helped tremendously. I kept the extras in case something like that ever happened again – which of course it has not.
What he was explaining to me was a case of hives, which I had never gotten before and it still isn’t making sense to me why I had that or where I got it, but I had finally accepted and eliminated the idea that the rove beetle had “gotten to me”. But it very much could have if I didn’t wake up and search for it. It was weird one was in there on my bed in the first place. I was lucky to have what I did instead of that bug juice on me.
The list of reasons Aga read of why I would get it seemed like nothing that could actually cause a rash like that. He listed: food allergin, stress, a few others, and then he focused on stress. He went into how I need to forgive those around me and that forgiving does not mean agreeing with it but it means letting go. That even though I might not feel the stress, that I may still have it resting in my body somehow.
Who was this guy a medicine man?! (yes sort of).
He said it’s good that I had this skin condition and not something worse, he called it a blessing in disguise (mind you this is after I’m feeling dizzy and it now spreading onto my face and me being terrified about what was even happening) but what he was saying was starting to male some sense.
I never seem to feel stressed but I have had a rough few months with my mom passing away in June and going on a break with my boyfriend in July that we are still trying to sort out. I know I have stress from other things too with my family back in California, but I don’t really know how to get in touch with it. I ignore it. It’s just there for me in the back of my bones and even though it’s hard for me to think it was stress that caused this, it has to be a combination of things, but in the end, it simply wasn’t the Tomcat poison. Stress… seriously??
It was terrifying to not know where that came from and thinking I was slowly dying in a third world country when I was on my own. Even though I was alone, the staff was very comforting and helpful in every way possible. They knew I was afraid, that I was on my own and comforted me in every way they could. I feel very lucky that I found this hotel – Aga Living and even Kelapa surf camp (the first place) and that they happen to have a doctor in the family and that he happened to be visiting the day that I needed one, as the closest ER hospital was a 2-hour scooter or car drive into Ubud.
Even though I have a long list of why traveling on your own is one of my favorite ways to do it, it’s times like these you really need a friend by your side, and I was very fortunate to find people who could help look after me while I was here. I went back to them FOUR times that morning saying I needed to be taken to the hospital again, and each time, they comforted me and reassured me help was on its way and that I would be okay.
The rash got better with the medication they provided, but I know I have a long road of self-recovery to be able to get in touch with my stress and learn how to cope and get past it and get away from it and let it all go.
Sometimes I lash out at those I love and maybe that’s me dealing with the stress, but not in a way that I want to. I don’t want to take my stress out on others. It’s not healthy for anyone. It’s all part of learning about yourself, which I have ignored my whole life up until a few years ago, but damn the process can be slow and painful and that is perfectly okay – as long as there is progress.
And that is also part of why I wanted to take some time to myself on this 6-week solo traveling journey away from my boyfriend. It’s when you are alone, and find ourselves in situations like these that you really learn how to cope and care for yourself instead of depending on others around you. It’s important to know how to take care of yourself, and not be dependant on others. There’s so much “co-dependance” these days, we forget that being on our own is pretty bad ass too.
Even the happiest of people have pain and suffering. Sometimes it shows and sometimes they are really good at hiding it. I think I fall into the latter.
How will I cope with stress in the future? I honestly still don’t know. I’m always learning. I know I want to incorporate more meditation and more yoga and more breathing exercises into my life. Less time drinking and partying and more time alone to be able to feel things instead of pushing the feelings away. I honestly hate feeling things. But I am smart enough to know you have to start with what you hate or with what is hardest for you to be able to grow.
Unfortunately, I am comfortable pushing feelings and people who care for me away.
It is quite a journey to be on, and what better place to be on that journey than here in Bali. I am very lucky to be here. And I try to take advantage of every day that I am here. Much easier said than done, but doing my best.