I opened my eyes, blinking as the world slowly came into focus. It took me a few minutes to remember it was Christmas day. Things were hazy and I realised my head was pounding. I tried to move but my body was arguing strenuously, every muscle aching. What the hell did I do the night before? We did have our Christmas celebrations a day early, European style, and I did have a big day, including more than my fair share of Lao Lao whiskey (rocket fuel.) But I wouldn’t have expected a headache like that? By the evening I’d replaced the booze with water, usually a good ward from headaches. And the sore muscles? I figured that must have been from the swimming and jumping into the river. “Shit,”I said to myself, “I must be getting old!”
It was only the next day on way to Vientiane I realised I had developed a fever. Ah, it all suddenly made sense. Then the rash appeared. I met a travelling Aussie doctor who confirmed my amateur diagnosis.
And so began the most relaxed Christmas, New Year week of my life. Usually at home this time of year is crazy. Busy and social, not to mention the annual 3 day music festival I usually attend. I didn’t expect anything that special this year (hey travelling is the perfect chrissy present) but it was different spending most of it in bed.
I was pretty philosophical. Hey I’d been travelling nine months, it had to happen sometime. And I was aware that dengue can be much worse. I spent the week catching up on some reading and watching a couple of TV shows. I made an effort to keep eating and a sweet Austrian girl kept me in a ready supply of tea. All in all, it was probably as pleasant as a bout of dengue fever can be. I could still function, but I was pretty exhausted most of the time and the muscle and joint pain was pretty annoying. I can see why dengue used to be known as bone-break fever.
By new years day I was in need of a change of scenery (Vientiane is not my favourite city in the world) and made my way north. Despite the continuing dengue, I was well rested, having slept my way through the new year. My original intention was to head to the far north of Laos, up to Phonsali and Luang Nam Tha, but I was now a week behind schedule and made for the small village of Muang Ngoi Neau instead, the first leg being the 10 hour bus trip to Luang Prabang. It was a strange trip with my continuing fever, but sitting in a bus isn’t too different to lying in bed. The lunch stop confused me. I lined up to get a noodle soup and realised everyone had small yellow tickets, i tried to ask some of the Laos passengers where you got them from and one pointed at a separate counter selling the rice dishes, I lined up there, but was then sent back to the noodle counter, everyone seemed confused. It was only after a circular conversation with the woman behind the stand that I realised the yellow tickets looked familiar. I rummaged in my pocket and retrieved my bus ticket stub. Ah ha! The lunch was included in the ticket. Who would have known? Of course by this stage I barely had time to consume my lunch and had to pour the remains of the rather spicy soup down my throat as the bus driver leaned on the horn. I stumbled back onto the bus in a feverish daze sweating and eyes watering from the chilli. When we arrived in Luang Prabang I was totally spent, and began my search for accommodation. A feat that proved tough at 8pm on New Year’s Day. I grabbed the first available overpriced room and fell straight into bed.
The next morning I awoke to find the fever miraculously gone, and in surprisingly good health. I packed my bags and continued my journey to Muong Ngoi Neau, and began one of the best bits of my trip....