How an attack of bedbugs gave me a lifelong love of travel
Waking up in a Spanish hostel to find your body covered in bites from an invasion of bed bugs might not seem very likely to imbue a person with a passion for travel. In fact, it would probably put a lot of people off for life. But for me, that morning in Malaga was, although pretty unpleasant for the first half an hour, the start of a life-changing experience.
I was about halfway through a short backpacking tour around France and Spain, and was planning to make my way up the coast to Barcelona over the next few weeks. At the time I was feeling quite lonely. I’d met several people along the way, but never felt any real sense of connection, and was spending most of my time alone, sightseeing or reading on the beach.
That all changed in Malaga though. The other inhabitants of my dorm, about seven of us all-told, had also been bitten and we were soon out on the balcony comparing bites and vaguely mentioning compensation from the hostel owner. Pretty soon he came out himself, but not to hand out refunds for our accommodation. Instead he told us he was shutting the entire hostel for a week to fumigate it thoroughly, and we all had an hour to pack our bags and find somewhere else to stay. Given it was peak season, our options seemed limited.
But it transpired that our entire group were all free-wheeling. We had no firm destinations, no schedules we had to follow, and were up for an adventure. So we came up with a plan, to visit somewhere that had not been on any of our itineraries previously, and see what happened.
We moved south, to Tarifa, at the very tip of Spain, a popular surfing area. From there, we hopped on a ferry, and within a few hours we were in Ceuta, Morocco.
The port area at that time was pretty awful and none of us felt at all safe, so we bailed almost immediately. We got a bus to Chefchaouen, which has long been on the hippie trail, Surrounded by fields of kif, the Moroccan form of hashish. An amazing place, totally chilled despite having become quite touristy, we found an awesome, palatial hotel for just a few dollars a night, and dined on the finest tajins every evening. I could have stayed there for months.
But after a few days our group began to fragment. A couple of American guys, and a French friend of theirs, were really into surfing, and they had decided to head back to Tarifa. That left four of us, myself, a Dutch guy called Sjoert, an American girl, Lindsey, and a French girl, Severine.
Packing up, we headed further inland to the city of Fez. This place was unreal. It was dirty, crowded and noisy, but we absolutely fell in love with the place. It just seemed so alive, throbbing with activity 24 hours a day. We ended up sleeping on the open roof of a hostel, overlooking a busy street. The four of us would eat out, then head to our balcony, drink beer, smoke roll-ups, listen to music through some tinny speakers, and watch the world go by.
Our next stop in Morocco was Meknes, from where we got a taxi ride over to the beach. Expecting a day of sunbathing, we found tents for hire right next to the water, so we returned to our hostel, packed up again and rented a tent for a week, for only about 30 dollars each. Every morning we’d wake up and have a dip in the sea, then spend the day lazing around, jumping in the waves, barbecuing and generally behaving like total beach bums. Evenings would see the locals bringing their horses down to the sea for a wash, and we’d talk with them and help them with their mounts.
After a week of that, we were all ready for more travel, and we decided to head back to Spain, this time going inland. In a couple of days, we found ourselves in Granada, which was to be our final destination as a group. We stayed in a great hostel near the caves in the mountain, just out of the centre. There, I got a job as the night manager, while after a short while Sjoert and Lindsey went their separate ways, and Severine found a place to stay up in the caves.
A month later, I quit my job, and with a couple of Americans staying at the hostel, took the bus to Valencia for La Tomatina (one of THE worst experiences I ever had at a festival, but that’s for another blog) and eventually returned home, tanned, broke and happy.
This was over ten years ago now. I’m still in touch with Lindsey, and hear now and again from Severine and Sjoert. Our lives have gone in totally different directions, and I don’t know when, or if, we’ll ever see each other again.
But there is a bond. We met entirely at random, in a bed bud-infested dorm room, and we set off for a month-long adventure, entirely out of the blue, where we got to know each other inside-out and became firm friends, and shared some memorable experiences on the road.
What’s more, I realised I couldn’t wait to get out on the road again, and now every time I have a week, or a month free, I get a cheap flight or train, and head out with no plans, no expectations, just looking to see where the day takes me.
I’ll always remember my three travelling companions and the time we spent together, and I hope they will too. But if it hadn’t been for those bed bugs, the chances are we’d never have gone beyond saying “Hello”.