The book said “whatever happens try not to get sick in Potasi” (Bolivia). I’m not sure why. Possibly because it is one of the highest towns in the world and getting in and out is difficult? Maybe because health care is sparse or there is a lack of expertise. It could be that altitude sickness masks underlying problems. Anyway, whatever the reason that’s where my body decided to malfunction, rebelling against all the travelling, dodgy food and other ailments I had overcome along the way. In desperation I staggered into a taxi and headed for a hospital recommended by the owner of the hostel I was staying in. I wandered around and found reception, paid and stood in line to see the doctor. Whilst watching the rugby scrum tactics of the other patients when a person exited the examination room and despairing of ever getting seen, a wonderful lady took me in hand and guided me to a different area. There a Doctor who spoke a little English and seemed to understand my pidgin Spanish carried out a few tests. Unfortunately, that’s where it all went wrong in terms of communication. They stuck me in a wheelchair despite the fact that I could walk and wheeled me off in the direction of a ward. After indicating that I should get undressed and into one of the empty beds I frantically riffled through my phrase book/dictionary and cobbled enough Spanish together to ask what was happening. Lots of shrugs and pointing in the direction of the wards reception area followed. There I collared the sister and established that she spoke Italian and Spanish, I spoke French and English. Not much help really, but as I was feeling shit I got undressed and into bed as it seemed like a good idea. Three bags of saline solution, anti-biotics, gallons of water laced with rehydration solution and a day later I felt much better and left the hospital with hardly a dent in my wallet. What I can say about this experience was that although the building was shabby, paint was peeling off the walls, beds were broken and mattresses torn, the staff including the cleaners and orderlies were amazing.
So it was at Sonkran, the New Year water festival. Celebrations in Chang Mai, Thailand have a reputation for fun. Vast amounts of water are chucked around, colourful parades procession the streets and a large amount of people die as a result of water borne related accidents. Once again at an inauspicious time my body decided to breakdown. Deciding it was more than a bad reaction to a dodgy kebab I had eaten I headed for a hospital. Staff were on leave and specialists were very thin on the ground but once again the service was excellent. Unfortunately, riding backwards and forwards to the hospital in tuk tuks we got soaked courtesy of the drivers who drove up close to the arsenal of water hoses, buckets and guns filled with ice cold water on every street. I stood in reception dripping water onto the hospital floor and froze in the air conditioned waiting room much to the amusement of receptionists, nurses, doctors and other patients. After the 3rd change of clothes and 4th soaking I was not so amused. But as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them join them, I caught a waterproof taxi back to the hostel, donned a raincoat, purchased the biggest water gun I could find and hit the streets.