In October 2015, I was two weeks into my 2-month trip through South America. I had just emerged miraculously unscathed from the Amazon Jungle, and had taken a long bus trip to Cuenca, Ecuador for a bit of civilisation.
... to this...
... and this.
Cuenca is a small city full of colonial relics, and I stayed for two nights, mostly to recuperate. Unfortunately, while my roommate slept soundly, I found myself slapping away mosquitoes and getting bitten in the unlikeliest places.
They were super ambitious and persistent, these mosquitoes. As I struggled to fall asleep while simultaneously scratching awkwardly on my arms, my bum, my knees, the small of my back, I thought: They’re even worse than the flies in the jungle, honestly.
Of course, Cuenca isn’t the only place with an abundance of mosquitoes – the whole continent was full of them. I myself come from a similar tropical environment halfway across the globe, and am no stranger to pesky mosquito bites.
I scratched and scratched away, and eventually, the bites healed and disappeared as they always do. All except one, right above my right buttock, along my waistline, but I didn’t really notice.
I continued onwards to Peru, climbed up the Salkantay Trek, and poked around Machu Piccu. I then moved on to Bolivia, biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road and taking goofy photos at the Uyuni Salt Flats (because who can resist??).
Genies in a rice pot!
About a month after I left Cuenca, I crossed from Argentine into Chile, and signed myself up for a 5-day trek through the sublimely beautiful Torres del Paine.
By now, the one remnant mosquito bite had swelled and protruded off my back like a little hill on the otherwise flat plane of my skin. I definitely noticed it now, mostly because it kept spurting out blood and puss that ruined my shirts and pants. I was forced to buy a large supply of gauze and band-aids that I had to wear and replace every few hours.
Really, it was getting ridiculous. What bit me? The mother of all mosquitoes, and her massive proboscis?? Did South American mosquitoes have Queens like the ants do, who are ten times bigger than normal mosquitoes?
Something like this?? Source: Village-Lit
My trekking partner, Vicki, once saw the wound as I was replacing a soiled gauze in the girls’ bathroom that we shared, and had this to say: “Hmmm, that’s not normal. That’s really not normal.”
Tell me about it. But what was I to do? I was traveling too fast to have time to make an appointment at a clinic or hospital, much less stick around for treatment. Plus, the wound was right above my right butt – I was a little shy about going around shoving my pants down for strangers to inspect…
One and a half months after the bite, I boarded the expedition ship to Antarctica at Ushuaia, the ‘southernmost city in the world’ and a gateway to the White Continent. I found out that there was going to be a doctor onboard the ship and resolved to consult him or her, even if it meant I had to flash some butt cleavage.
In the medic room on a swaying ship, I had my wound inspected, and was told that the wound simply needed time to heal. “It seems to be getting drier,” the doctor kindly assured me, “so it should be okay in a few days. But let’s keep checking.”
We checked every few days, and every time it did seem as if it was getting better, but the lump remained in size, and I sometimes felt twinges of pain or a sudden itchiness that came and went.
It was so weird.
We arrived in Antartica, oggled at the penguins, kayak-ed in icy cold water, went mountain-climbing on some slippery slopes, and enjoyed the solitude of a mysterious, alien continent.