After 2 very rewarding weeks in Mexico helping at the dog shelter and learning a bit of Spanish I left for my next stop, the beautiful city of Antigua in Guatemala. I was particularly looking forward to exploring this beautiful city, renowned for its colonial architecture and surrounding volcanoes. More importantly I was working in a wild animal rescue centre where I would be looking after snakes, tarantulas, racoons, and God knows what else.
I arrived in Antigua late on Friday evening, after a 4-hour taxi ride to travel the 25 miles from the airport in horrendous traffic. I checked into my ‘motel’ which was clean but basic. It had an ensuite bathroom but no air con or hot water.
Unfortunately, the next day I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. I decided to press on and spent 8 hours exploring the city on foot. By the time I returned to my room, I felt decidedly unwell. I spent a miserable night coughing, sweating, and shaking violently in my bed whilst wearing a coat, which is pretty unusual in sultry Guatemala. It did cross my delirious mind, on several occasions, that I might be about to become very sick. No-one knew my exact location and I doubted that Antigua had an ambulance service or indeed a hospital.
To cut a very long night very short I survived and concluded the next morning that I had needed medical help. I got dressed and staggered to the Spanish school where I was due to start the next day. Fortunately, there was a weekend receptionist on duty. I explained that I needed a doctor and, incredibly 25 minutes later, a little old man with a large leather briefcase arrived. He examined me and via the help of the weekend receptionist (now interpreter) he announced that I had a lung disorder and needed go to hospital. He then followed this up with ‘Unfortunately the hospital isn’t open on a Sunday’. I did at that point wonder what the death rate in Antigua was on Sundays, in comparison to the rest of the week. Perhaps people in the city subconsciously knew that they must not have heart attacks on the seventh day.
I decided in an instant that there was no way I was going into a state hospital in Guatemala on a Monday, or in fact any day of the week. I had to get home. A quick look on my phone showed that my shortest and fastest route to London was via Atlanta. The problem was that I hadn’t got an American visa, which was required, even though I would only be spending 3 hours in the States. I promptly filled in the visa application which stated I would get a decision within 72 hours. The following 7 hours were spent in a semi-conscious state checking my emails to see if there was a ‘status update’ on my application. To my relief at 2.00am my visa was granted. By 2.10am my flights were booked, and I left at 9.00am to start the 22-hour journey home.
Travelling 5000 miles is exhausting, even when fully fit, but with a raging temperature and lung infection it nearly killed me. I was so worried about failing the body temperature checks at each airport that I bought an ice cold can of Coke and held it against my head for several minutes before passing through the checks. Understandably no-one wants to sit on a plane next to someone who coughs and shakes violently for hours on end, even when wearing a face mask. I was eyed suspiciously by my fellow passengers and felt I should have carried a placard stating ‘I HAVE NOT GOT COVID.’
22 hours later I was back in Lingfield to a rapturous from my 4-legged family members. Even the 2-legged ones seemed very pleased and relieved to see me.
Sadly my 13-week adventure to see more of the world and make a small difference came to an untimely end. ‘Will I go again?’ Ask me that when my husband isn’t about….