BAHIA de CARAQUEZ, Ecuador
Our first month in the country named after the line that runs through it has been a crash and crass course in trying to decipher the bizarre medical ailments that afflict us.
First off, less than two weeks into our journey, I jinx us by saying, “We haven’t gotten sick yet.”
Nice move, amigo.
Less than two days later, Sarah came down with the dizziness we later diagnose as vertigo.
Next, we each had an inevitable case of “Traveler’s Diarrhea.” Fun.
Then, it was our Ecuadorian captain Orlando telling Sarah the strange bites on her legs weren’t from mosquitoes or anything else we find in the field. He said it was bed bugs.
After that, it was another case of “TD.”
And the climax, our English roommate Jen got her weird sores/bites that omit toxic green puss diagnosed by a doctor. He said it was scabies.
It was ironic. When Laura got a weird staph infection or when we dealt with about bed bugs, we would cope by telling ourselves it wasn’t scabies.
When we shared our worries of bed bugs, Planet Drum director Clay told a story about how bed bugs don’t even compare to scabies.
“At least it isn’t scabies,” he said at the time to allay our fears. “We had an outbreak a few years ago. We had to boil everything, wrap our mattresses in plastic and put cream all over our bodies. … I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
I had Clay’s quote in my head when I heard the news that scabies wasn’t wished but received.
Back in the infested Planet Drum house, Suzan and Jen coped and planned the next move at the dining room table. We would need ointment and plastic wrap for our mattresses.
Suzan – one of the best Spanish speaker in the bunch – explained to Jen that she would need multiple, routine ointment applications.
Jen quietly shook her head and shrugged.
The awkward silence between the two — and this fly on the wall – grew so strong that it felt like my entirely body itched with those microorganisms.
Suzan, thankfully, broke the silence. It was like a fireman breaking the protective glass over the extinguisher.
“What time is it?” she says subtly.
I glance at my watch and replied.
She slowly grined to herself, knowing her trip back to the U.S. that evening was fast approaching, and she wouldn´t have to deal with any possible scabies fallout.
Some of us, however, have return dates stamped for August.
“¡Chucha!” (Read: “Shit.”)
Thankfully, Pessa had us a step ahead. She had previously declared war on the bed bugs. We had already had two room fumigations (one time with “diesel”), and we had boiled most of our clothes and sheets.
With fumes still to be sniffed in our room, we were in a sense homeless the night scabies were confirmed. We picked up our boiled clothes from the laundry service and quickly quarantined them in plastic bags on the street corner outside our house. We fought off bed bugs and weren´t going to allow scabies to get into our garments.
Ecuatorianos driving by paused and stared at our actions. I don’t blame them.
In another deft move, Pessa ignored my frugal ways, and she sprang for a hotel. The first one was too expensive for these travelers. If we stayed there, we would be forced us to eat banana sandwiches for a week.
Pessa checked us into the second hotel, while I waited outside with our garbage bag of clean clothes and two bottles of ointment.
With heavenly air conditioning, three movie channels in English and a big bed, we didn’t care about the sticky scabies ointment covering our skin.
Paress and Laura, the two stranded at the Planet Drum commune for the night, stopped by to see our pampered digs. They were wrought with jealousy.
When they left, Pessa said a goodnight phrase that has never before had any real meaning.
“Good night,” she said, knowing full well the irony in her next line: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
(This journalist’s full disclosure: The issue of bed bugs has been difficult for Pessa and I to deal with. We´ve fought because our approaches are different, and frankly, I might be too relaxed.)
The “Full House” moral here: Pessa´s splurging for a hotel made us appreciate its creature comforts all the more.
And while I failed to see it at the time, her moves were wise.