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Happy Eyes, Sad Tummy, Reflective Heart in Long-Term Solo Travel

Throwing up twenty-one times in twenty-four hours stinks. Being able to drag oneself two flights up to the hotel roof, however, and look out at the sawtooth karst mountains and glistening river of Vang Vieng, Laos… well, that eases the pain somewhat.

Beautiful Vang Vieng, Laos.
Beautiful Vang Vieng, Laos.

I think it was the squid soup that did me in, but who knows. A traveler is bound to get sick in some way at some point, and we all knew it would happen sooner or later. The miraculous upside is that such downturns can ultimately help a gal reflect and reassess for the better. It’s happened before.

Mountains of Vang Vieng in the mist.
Mountains of Vang Vieng in the mist.

My second year of teaching in Boston was brutal. I won’t go into the details now because they still make me too upset, but suffice it to say that come February 2005, I was hellbent on quitting. Confidantes tried to talk me out of it, but I was sad and hurt and just wanted to run.

Then, after one and a half years of never taking a sick day, I got smacked with the flu and was laid up in bed for three days. For the first time in forever, I had time to stop and think– to get a little perspective.

Me feeling sick in Laos.
Me feeling sick in Laos.

When I came back to work, the results of the do-or-die MCAS state test had come back, and all of our students had passed. “Thank you so much for helping us do it, Miss!” the kids squealed, welcoming me back with bear hugs, almost crying with relief.

Oh! Everything changed. We started to appreciate each other.

The river in Vang Vieng.
The river in Vang Vieng.The river in Vang Vieng.

The year finished, better and better each month, and for the next four years I absolutely adored my job and the students. And I still do! Together, we figured out how to make the whole “learning” thing work… and we figured out how to care for each other.

This is to say that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that I was yuking like crazy for the past day here in Vang Vieng. It has forced me to lie back for a spell and realize: “I’m a little exhausted after three months of two to three days in each town! Maybe I need to find a place soon to set down some small roots, even for just a few weeks. Maybe it’s time to get to know people and places a bit deeper, again.”

Such a great view of Vang Vieng, Laos!
Such a great view of Vang Vieng, Laos!

It took until about five at night yesterday before I could walk again. Dizzy, but mobile, I crawled down to the river bungalow inhabited by my 30-hour-bus-from-Hanoi-bonded friends. While I swung like a jellyfish in their porch hammock, they patted my head and soothed my hurt a bit.

Night fell and I inched back along the rickety river bridge to my hotel, where some bad American television was playing in the lobby. A Lao man and an Australian lass with scrapes all over her face from tubing down the river were there, too, and it was healing to talk with them. The woman guided me to finally put something in my stomach: a bit of bread and a lot of water. On advice of friends and family back home, I started taking Cipro antibiotics.

A wooden bridge in Vang Vieng.
A wooden bridge in Vang Vieng.

“The Family Guy” flickered off after the third episode and the hotel owner turned on his favorite Simon and Garfunkel CD. The voices harmonized through the dimly lit lobby:

“Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, I’ll play the game and pretend… But all my words come back to me, in shades of mediocrity, like emptiness in harmony… I need someone to comfort me… homeward bound…”

A comforting kitten in Laos.
A comforting kitten in Laos.

I felt sad and missed home. Suddenly, something nudged my leg, and I looked down. The owner’s tiny, grubby white kitten had leaped onto the couch and was snuggling right up against my dirty shorts! She looked straight up at me and meowed, then cuddled closer to my warmth.

The baby kitten didn’t know me, but when people are going in and out of your life at such a heartbreaking pace, you take warmth and comfort where you can.


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Elizabeth Do

Tuesday 18th of October 2011

The baby kitten is so cute! I really like drinking squid soup. My dad makes it all the time. It is very good if you pour it over rice. I am not sure the version you drank is the same thing as what my dad makes though. My dad also makes it with fish maw and shrimp.

32 Travel Health Tips from 32 Travel Bloggers

Tuesday 23rd of August 2011

[...] realized when I was violently ill in Laos that, as long as you survive, being sick and thus forced to lie down and just think for a while [...]

Imported Blogger Comments

Wednesday 26th of May 2010

Dana Grossman said... Aw, Lillie -- let me send you a figurative bowl of chicken soup, plate of toast, and mug of tea to curl up with as you heal!

November 3, 2009 3:16 PM

Jeff Headd said... Sorry to hear about the stomach issues Lillie, but glad that you came through that okay. I'm sure the kitten knew you needed some comfort, too...cats are very good at sensing illness and discomfort and they help out where they can. I'm a big believer in purr-therapy. :-)

November 3, 2009 4:49 PM

Joanna said... Hey Lil, glad to hear you're feeling a bit better. Repeated puking is never fun, though eventually it does make you feel better! Sending cozy, healing thoughts your way!

November 3, 2009 8:12 PM

Anonymous said... Cutest kitten ever! You really deserved the love. I'm so glad you survived being sick and I hope the worst of your travel illnesses is completely over. xoxo g

November 4, 2009 3:49 AM

Luddy Sr. said... Oh man! Great song, but bad timing. Hearing that may have put me over the edge.

Way to power through and make the best of being sick.

December 20, 2009 12:04 AM

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