It’s an odd scenario, to observe an entire hostel fall prey to a highly contagious flu.
One day, a backpacker skips up to their temporary home for the next few nights, face flushed with that undeniable travel glow as they prepare to soak up everything a fresh wild land has to offer. The next day, they’re begging you to get them some immodium from the pharmacy because they’re curled in fetal position about to shit their pants. And then, it’s one poor soul after another, until the entire hostel turns into a sick ward. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, you come face to face with an unexpected out-of-your-comfort zone experience while traveling.
Back in December 2014, a vicious 24-hour-flu broke out in Pai, Thailand. Its dreadful prevalence earned it the moniker: Pai Poison. I continued to hear tales of this beastly bug months after I encountered the epidemic firsthand while in Thailand. Apparently, the majority of backpackers in Pai had caught it.
It seemed like yesterday…. my buddy was charging behind me on a motorbike as we set off for an electrifying day of winding mountain roads and misty waterfalls. Next thing I know, she’s doubled over in a patch of peppy yellow wildflowers, barfing on the side of the road.
And then, naturally, I caught the fucking thing too.
When you’re puking up noodles in the community toilet and you can hear the chick in the stall next to you doing the same- it’s oddly comforting, a harmonious symphony of grotesque retching. A partner in crime.
“Are you alright?” She calls, shakily.
I want to shoot myself in the face, is what I want to say back, but I can’t because there’s puke in my nappy hair, and the smell is bringing on a fresh wave of sour bile.
“I feel your pain!” She wails sympathetically when I don’t answer, and the agonizing cacophony resumes.
At least they moved me out of the “Big Room” a couple days prior to a more secluded 8-bed bungalow. The Big Room is the 20-bed mixed dorm bungalow that is constantly packed with an influx of warm bodies and an orgy of bacteria. My personal opinion is that this was the birthplace of the notorious Pai Poison.
My travel bud, still trapped in the cluster fuck of the Big Room, related the traumatizing mayhem as the sickness quickly seized the large dorm in its toxic talons.
A helpless male victim in the bunk above her rained chunks down by her bed in the middle of the night. My girl, bless her heart, mopped up the stinking funk in the chilly darkness.
I overheard the sick dude later on in the hostel common room.
“An angel…I don’t know where she came from…but, she saved me.”
Fucking Pai Poison.
It sucks, because more than anything, you want to somehow teleport back home. To your cozy bed. Where you can sleep naked, and there’s air con and Netflix and friends and girlfriends and boyfriends and family to baby you and nurse you back to 100%. Then, once you’re in tip-top shape, just teleport back to Asia and continue on your worldly conquest.
But teleportation hasn’t come to fruition yet, so you lay in your dorm bed with the mosquito net as quarantine and cuddle with the bedraggled tom cat that hangs around the hostel.
Worst of all, you automatically get branded- a thick glossy coat of bright red paint smeared across your fevered forehead.
Watch out for the sick girl in bungalow eight. She’s the one sweating profusely and looks like she was run over by a tuk tuk in Bangkok rush hour.
The one that was puking in the rice paddy last night because she was too weak to make it to the toilet?
Yea, that’s the one. Be-fucking-aware.
It’s understandable. When traveling, it’s time, money and planning that you and others don’t want to become inconvenienced with.
No doubt, catching the Pai poison was a drag. Especially when you have to be on the slow boat for Laos the next day. But once everyone starts getting sick, the atmosphere changes in a dorm room. It becomes one of survival, but the difference is that everyone is in it together.
You see, backpackers band together and forge unbreakable bonds of a peculiar sort as they each take on the sickness and witness the complete physical and mental breakdown of a human being. You’re not a sexy beast anymore. You’re not snapping pictures as you dive off that cliff or waving from the back of an elephant. You’re just sick, at your lowest, and that is how these strangers first meet you. These strangers from all over the globe, flocked to the same country, to the same town, to the same hostel. No matter if you can speak english or not, or if you’ve only known each other for a few hours- they become your family, and your health is in their able hands.
When you fall ill traveling, you witness human compassion in its purest form, a dazzling neon lotus blossoming blue and purple and waxy green in the midst of a muddy, mosquito infested pool.
The lovely German girl that sat beside me in the grass outside the toilets and made me laugh. My Canadian sweetheart that hurried into town to supply me with electrolytes and water. The simple: “Can I get you something” or “Just checking on you” every now and then; when you’re dragging ass and far away from home, it’s these tiny morsels of kindness that make you realize everything will be alright. You embrace it and you laugh in the dreadful poison’s face. Then you buck up, sweat it out, change travel plans and keep on trekking.
Luckily, my fever broke after a day and I was finally able to hold in liquids the morning before I was scheduled to depart from Pai. I hadn’t left my bungalow for what seemed like a millennium. Stretching in the sun like an enlightened grizzly after winter hibernation, the fresh mountain air filled my eager lungs and I trooped to the looming Big Room to grab some stuff I had left in my locker.
“You’re better,” a backpacker called from the entrance of the bungalow as he tied his shoelaces.
“Yea, feeling much better,” I replied with an appreciative nod.
Suddenly, his face dimmed in sheer disgust.
“Watch out for that… Oh.”
I glanced down. Some asshole had splattered vomit right smack dab in the middle of the Big Room entrance. It was dry and yellow and thick and there were red peppers and green things in it. And my feet were planted in it.
Fucking Pai Poison.