Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Exit COS Trip: Thailand

 Onset of Dengue Fever in Climbing Transport, Chiang Mai

After the Philippines Libby and I flew from Manila to Bangkok, Thailand. In Asia's, perhaps, most dense concentration of vice and tranquility, we met Gabby, my Peace Corps site mate from last year. Our intent was to have an extravagant climbing trip in both northern and southern Thailand, trying regional foods and drawing distinctions between climate and culture. To our demise, Libby and I both got Dengue Fever, spoiling most efforts and energy for adventure. Although we were bedridden for the bulk of our trip (especially me), travel is not about what you do but who you do it with, strangers or friends. 

Ao Nang 

Arriving in Bangkok was reliving. Despite the azures, pinks, emeralds, violets, and golds of the Philippine sky and sea, it was hot. Not as physically disastrous as Chongqing, but the entire absence of AC meant no breaks from the heat and sweat. Bangkok was cooler and our penitentiary-esque hostel, Smile Society, had arctic qualities. Libby was bedridden for our entire time in Bangkok, surviving alone as Gabby and I went out to explore the Red Light District (RLD). 

As cities go Bangkok is the strangest I have encountered. Nothing opens until 11am, and on the weekends the local store owners will push it to 2pm. When things open, there are restaurants, markets, mango slice sellers, fried plantain stalls, Chinese snack vendors, hot dogs, McDonalds, Starbucks, sushi, streetside coffee stands, and light and fresh Thai style rice noodles, and can't forget fried chicken with squeezed lime.  It is difficult to tell whether Thai sincerity is genuine or not because of the fact that their country has been entirely retrofitted for tourism, but regardless, there is clearly a deeply spiritual and kind quality to Thai people that I have not seen anywhere else in the world. 

I have met two people who have done world tours, have traveled to every country you can think of and more (takes two years), they have no relation to each other, and both people said Thailand was their favorite country in the world. 

 Ao Nang Beach in the South

We stayed in the heart of the RLD. At night the district is entirely transformed, from a deeply polite place, full of quiet entrapuners, city goers, and cute children to a steamy sewer pit of ratty tattooed men soliciting prostitution, 'sex shows,' and 'pong shows.' There are done-up women sitting in uniformed clusters outside of red and green neon light massage parlors. Cat calls. Drunk, fat, sweaty, and smoking white men answering with English, sometimes accented, sometimes recognizably American without shame. Bangkok does not hide anything at night, everything crawls to and out of the darkness of humanity and into the neon lighting. 

In Bangkok we met some of our good Chinese friends from Wanzhou. There are so many Chinese tourists in Thailand, South East Asia really, but Thailand is the hottest and easiest destination for Chinese travelers. Funny part is most Chinese travelers can't speak English or Thai, and Thai people can't speak Chinese, but have minimal English skills. Both Thai and Filipino people asked me why most Chinese travelers can't speak any English. I just told them it is complicated. 

After day two we were scheduled to leave for Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and we were ready to leave by then. It has become clear to the three of us that we are not fit for the standard tourist thing: seeing temples, walking, sitting, eating, moving on to see the next site, then the beach, stuff like that. We flew to Chiang Mai in the afternoon. We stayed at Green Tiger Vegetarian House, which is probably one of the nicest hostels in the world. The price is high but every penny is worth it. 

 Swing Over Water in Ao Nang

To our good fortune one of our best PC China friends, Kayla and her friend from home, were staying at the same hostel at the exact same time. Thailand is the climbing Mecca of Asia, and Chiang Mai is the Kaaba. The next morning we were super stoked to finally get on the infamous Crazy Horse crag, an hour outside of the city. We arrived at the crag early in the morning. We picked an easy route to warm-up on. Dizzily, I led the route, realizing at the last bolt to the top that I was not aware of what I was doing, where my feet were being placed and the distribution of my weight. My mind was empty, yet my head was pounding. 

After finishing the route I needed to lie down, so I picked a semi-inclined yellow slab of limestone to lie down on. Pulled my hood over my eyes to guard my face from mosquitos. I sat there and attempted to fall asleep. Ants were crawling all over and around me, mosquitos buzzing in my ear just outside of my hood. Thankfully it was cooler and overcast with a breeze high on the rock or I would have been boiling. 

After eating a pre-packed pad thai lunch, in a hot festering delirium, I went down the mountain to lie down in the climbing transport. My heartbeat was in my frontal lobe, and frontal lobe and face on fire. A deep pressure induced pain formed behind my eyes, releasing a galvanized pain when I moved them from the straight-forward position. My lower back began to hurt. Then the sweat came in buckets. I was so out of it I couldn't tell how much time was passing, I was burning up, the sweat, arctic chills, the humidity from the rain, the light becoming unbearably bright, the incessantly irksome mosquitos, no sleeping, and the strangest part was that other than my lower back my body felt fine, so I didn't feel the need to leave the transport. 

Four hours passed. Libby and Gabby came down from Crazy Horse and we left for Chiang Mai proper. When I got back to the hostel all I could think to do was sleep. I crawled into bed. My heart was pounding too hard for sleep, then the sweat came again. Thankfully, Kayla is brilliant and she brought PC issued thermometers. When I took my temperature the first time it was 102F. You must understand I have had the flu once in my life, get colds twice a year, but other than that I have never been sick, not a broken bone, nothing. A combination of my mental state and my lack of history with sickness, I did not understand what was going on. 

My temp was 102F for two hours. I sweated out my fever in that time and I thought things would get better from there. I eventually fell asleep and woke up at 3:00am to the most unbearable chills, but in reality uncontrollable convulsions. They lasted 20 minutes. Until then I had never experienced being out of control of my body. At 4:30am I woke up to another fever. My temperature was 103.5F. At 104F your brain starts turning into scrambled eggs. 

I waited for 40 minutes to see if my temperature would drop and it did. Finally understanding this were serious I woke up Gabby for counsel because she is far more knowledgeable about this stuff than I am and she said we should go to the hospital. We walked to the hospital early in the morning. They ran blood tests and did a check up. The nurses were so nice I would need love poems to express my gratitude to them. 

In the waiting room of the ER I fell asleep across some chairs and was woken up by some nurses pulling me up. They brought me to a hospital bed in the hallway of the ER where I passed out. Another fever had taken me, rising to 103F. When I woke up I was not in the hallway, but in a room with a very charming and austere doctor in front of me, nurses staring and smiling down a me. Despite him clearly being at the end of his night shift he was attentive and careful of my condition. 

I had tested negative for dengue fever, but all of my symptoms matched, so they retested my blood along with some additional tests. At this point I was alert, my fever had broken, and I could tell I would be fine for at least half a day. I went back to the ER waiting room and the nurses were so nice to keep me company. They kept me entertained, asked questions about me, wanted to see photos of my family, and showed me the cafeteria on the 3rd floor, which had terrible food and wifi but some of the best coffee I have had in the past two years, there was also Muay Thai boxing on TV.  

The hospital opened and I was ushered into the main wing. There Kayla came to sit with me. She is so nice. I had to come back two days later for test results. I tested positive for Type #2 Dengue Fever. There are four types of dengue fever. It is transferred to humans by the nasty white tiger striped mosquitos which are rampant in hot and humid equatorial areas of the world. Dengue Fever is on part with Malaria as a world issue. There is no vaccine, treatment, or medicine for it, you just have to drink water suffer through it. 

It is likely that Libby and I picked it up when we were in the Philippines visiting the volunteers on their island. The rash on my arms I thought was heat rash, was likely a common rash you get right before dengue reveals itself. The good news is that since I have survived Type #2 Dengue Fever I am now immune to Type #2. The bad news is that if I get a different type of dengue, like the more common Type #1, the fever will hit me harder next time, and be very serious. 

 High Tide at Tonsai

The doctor was so nice. He said in a tranquil, polite, and austere voice, "We want to make sure you are safe. We think you should get blood tests every two days to make sure your platelet levels are ok. Here are some places you can go to in Karabi (our next destination, in the south) to get your blood tested. We hope you stay safe and are comfortable." Honestly, nicest people. 

As I found out most dengue deaths are not caused by the fevers, but by bleeding out. Dengue attacks your platelets and liver. The liver is usually fine in the end, but the platelets are troublesome. In short, most people who die from dengue do not keep track of their platelet levels and the levels drop super low to the point where your blood will not clot, get some injury, mostly internal, and they bleed out inside without knowing it. It is scary because the only thing you can do to prevent this is drink water, make sure you don't get cut or injured, and hope your platelet levels rise. 

Although we suffered for two weeks, Libby and I are both fine now. 

We flew to Karabi in the south after four days in Chiang Mai. We stayed in Ao Nang where there was a clinic to give me blood tests. Our plan was to take a boat to the mostly secluded Tonsai Beach. At Tonsai, just around the corner from the popular and expensive Railay Beach, there are tons of developed crags. Tonsai is another climbers Kaaba. After I was finally cleared by the doctor we left for the beach. There we met climbers from all over the world. The atmosphere is unique to the climbing community, and expected. Everybody is friendly, chill, there is beer and other substances. Everybody is highly supportive and encouraging of your climbing, providing insight. 

Throughout the Thailand trip I was super tired, and even now, writing days later I am still fatigued from the dengue, but as a consequence of my fatigue I barely took any pictures during the trip. I regret not having the energy. Tonsai Beach is brown and sandy, with jungle foliage, the beach bounded by high rusty orange and white crags. It is really a remarkable place. 

Caught in a monsoon on the water from Tonsai to Ao Nang, it was a little scary

Libby and Gabby climbed. I was too tired to do much, but I still had a great time because of the company. One thing I forgot to mention is that it was monsoon season while we were there. Randomly there would be huge gusts of wind followed by insane amounts of rain at blowing at crazy speeds. Everything is upturned and left destroyed. Amazingly, there was a large section of overhung rock on the beach that covers a large area of sand. We worked on a route with other climbers (a very very difficult route), had a fire, some beer, hung out, and watch the terrible power of the rain blow all around us. It was something magical. 

Even though the Thailand climbing trip did not work out as I had imagined, it was still a great trip. I learned things I wouldn't have learned if I hadn't gone. Mostly importantly I experienced it with good company, moments I would not trade for anything. 

Ugh. . . Dengue, Finally Over