45. Bedbugs

Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Photo: Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Recent reports of bedbug issues in major cities (New York, Toronto, Montreal, Prince Albert — you know, big cities — etc.), stirred a faint but disturbing memory of my first run-in with the aptly named bloodsucking pests, which are as familiar to globetrotting backpackers as communal bathrooms.

It was in Amsterdam, on the last night of my buddy Mitch’s and my first backpacking trip to Europe (beenou). We were set to fly home to Canada. We’d wanted to stay at the Flying Pig Hostel ‘cuz it was recommended by an English dude we met in Prague as “the best party hostel in Amstahdaahm,” but given its bacchanal reputation, it was full. So we picked the cheapest place(1) down the street, and it was a little grimy(2), but would have to do.

Of course, we partied like rock stars that night and passed out in a fog, in our 16-bunk dorm room(1). I vaguely remember a burly, hairy orc of a man(3) drunkenly opening the dorm door to the bright hallway lights, stumbling in with a giggling wench(3) literally carrying her over his shoulder, caveman-style. Our cohabitants sneered at the light like vampires, rolled over and went back to sleep. He grunted and tossed her onto his bed, incidentally the bunk below Mitch’s. He proceeded to make it with her(3), beneath Mitch (a light sleeper to begin with), who was tossing and turning, kicking the creaky aluminum bed frame out of sheer frustration.

As white Greg Oden thrusted away, I lied there on the hostel sheet thinking: a) I hope they fucking wash these sheets well, and b) THIS is why you bring a sleep sheet — what if there are bedbugs in these mattresses?

We eventually fell back asleep, awakened by the alarm, the sunlight coming in and the disgusting stench(2) of 17 drunk people’s unconscious breathing. Always running late, we didn’t have time to shower(3); we simply grabbed our bags and rushed to the airport. On the train to the airport, I felt itchy under my t-shirt. Really itchy. I peeled back my shirt to find red little welts all over my chest. Bedbug bites. Just as I was coming home. Perfect. These were itchier than mosquito bites. It was terrible. I didn’t want to scratch them, ‘cuz I would’ve easily scratched ’til the skin broke, so I remember slapping myself constantly while checking in and going through customs.

But then on the plane, my face got mumpy and flushed. My cheeks were hot to touch. Mitch got worried, saying, “Dude, drink some water or something. You look terrible. They’re gonna think you’re an OD’ing drug mule.” It was unbearable. I asked the flight attendant for some anti-histamines(4), which she promptly brought me. I kept slapping away at my chest, arms and behind my knees. Then, my face cleared.

“Oh, the anti-histamines must be working. You look better,” Mitch said. I peeled back my shirt and my whole chest was mumpy and flushed — the rash was just moving downward. Mitch was laughing his ass off. “Sorry to laugh, man. It’s just so funny.”

Mitch later wrote, in an e-mail: “This bedbug thing is true. On our way home, Al developed some strange rash from what we think are bedbug bites, making his skin swollen and red. He looked like Woogie from Something About Mary. I was also covered in tiny bites but didn’t develop quite as painful a rash.”

In closing, I’ve compiled a list of reasons/red flags/considerations for possible bedbug encounters while backpacking:
1. Low budget
2. Second-rate hostel hygiene
3. Second-rate guest hygiene
4. Allergic reactions

– Nov. 22: It seems for some people, hostels aren’t all “dirty, noisy (or) packed with party hounds.” Jane E. Fraser of the Sydney Morning Herald explains: Youth hostels: how the dorm became the norm

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2 Responses to “45. Bedbugs”

  1. Mitch says:

    Jesus, I was laughing out loud reading that. That fucker in the hostel banging that chick… I had to piss too but had to wait for him to finish and then fling himself up to the bunk beside me, his balls flapping mere feet from my face. You forgot that we spent the last night in Utrecht (didn’t we?). I remember you woke up that day with the rash and it looked like you had slept on a welcome mat or something. Sorry I laughed at you on the plane… but that was damn hilarious.

  2. Poon says:

    You’re right: We spent our second-last night in Amsterdam and our last night in Utrecht, with Inge. Yeah, the bedbug bites and subsequent allergic reaction took a day to settle in, LOL.

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