Travel A to Z – U

Today’s travel recollections are brought to you by the letter U. U is for unwell it seems. Still, into every traveller’s life a little unwellness must fall.

Udaipur, India: The restaurant had a lovely setting, a green patch of grass surrounded by shaded terraces. Not that shade was needed in the evening. The tables were laid with white tablecloths and dotted with lit candles. We had a view across the lake and away from the noise and bustle of the city, this restaurant was beautiful, charming, and peaceful all at once. I strayed from my usual vegetarian menu choices and picked a chicken dish, earning disapproving stares from some of my fellow travellers. The food was delicious, we all agreed, and this relatively new restaurant was bound to be a success once people heard about it and experienced it.

Udaipur, city of lakes

Somewhere around 1:00am I awoke to a belly full of discomfort. It seemed I was having an opportunity to experience my restaurant dinner for a second time. I ran to the bathroom and then returned to bed, only to return to the bathroom at speed again and again as the night wore on. That ill-chosen chicken dish was determined to leave my system by one route or another and take everything else it could find with it. It wasn’t until the sun started to rise and I was purging nothing but bile and the water I’d drunk to try and rehydrate, that I was able to return to bed and doze without further disturbance.

At my request, Husband brought me water, lemonade, salty crisps and plain biscuits, and I spent most of the day in the hotel room, trying to gently coax my body into accepting food and liquid without fear and shuddering. By late afternoon I felt better, and was able to go out and walk around the streets of Udaipur.

Uist, South, Isle of, Scotland The journey to Uist from Glasgow was an arduous one. I was feeling nauseous from an as yet undiagnosed kidney infection made worse by the South African guy sat next to me showing me gruesome pictures from his Birds of Prey magazine (true story – I could not make that up). I remember at one stop I had to leap off the bus and be sick over a fence into a field. In Oban, the nausea cleared, but left behind a horrible kind of exhaustion, and after I boarded the ferry, I found a bank of seats and stretched out and slept as the ferry made its long journey to Barra, then on to Uist. We arrived somewhere around midnight, and I had not booked anywhere to stay, so I joined the queue at the tourist office. It was when I passed out into a heap on the floor the staff insisted on my jumping the queue, and they booked me into a room at Mrs MacDonald’s place* (luckily her husband worked at the ferry terminal so was able to give me a lift to the house). After a good night’s sleep and two pots of tea at breakfast I felt better and was able to make my way to the bus stop to catch the bus up to North Uist to the hostel at Claddach Baleshare.

(*her name may not have actually been Mrs MacDonald but MacDonald is a common enough surname on Uist for me to guess with perhaps a 50% possibility)

On the morning I was due to pack up and move on, I woke up exhausted and unable to get out of bed. The mother from a family staying in my room was concerned about how I looked, and how I was barely able to hold the cup of tea she brought me. My condition was reported to the hostel owner, who came to check on me. He wasn’t happy with how I looked either, and got me an appointment with a doctor for the afternoon (he even offered to take me there, which was very kind of him). So in the afternoon, me and my backpack and the hostel owner drove over to the doctor. After checking me out and listening to my symptoms, he worked out it was my kidneys and told me I needed to go to hospital. An ambulance was called to transport me (I don’t think the ambulance crews are terribly busy out on the islands), and I was able to chat with the crew on the journey about how I used to work in HR for the Scottish Ambulance Service.

I was checked into the hospital in Daliburgh and put on an intravenous drip to rehydrate me. The nursing staff were concerned that I was a young girl travelling alone with no family in the country to fall back on. Several times they asked me if I wanted them to call my parents. “You should have your parents with you.” “But it’s just an infection,” I protested. I told them my parents were in Australia and didn’t even have passports. And it would take them at least four days to get to Uist even if they left immediately and by then I should be on the way to better. The ward sister (an older Scottish woman whose facial expressions ranged from disapproving to very disapproving) was unhappy with me not having a proper nightie with me (my old t-shirt-as-nightwear was not appropriate for her hospital ) and she found me something more suitable to wear – a purple nightie with itchy lace around the collar. (It wasn’t until a few days later I had the thought – did this come from the dead box?)

After four or five days of enforced bed rest and intravenous fluids, I was allowed up to walk around the hospital (It was a small place, I think it had only 24 beds). One of the nurses found me looking at a painting.

“That was done by a lady called Mary,” she said. “Mary was a bit of a local historian.”

I knew Mary, I said, I’d met her when I was on the island previously. “How is she?”

“So sad,” the nurse said. “She painted that in her last days. She died a few months back, due to the drinking.”

I remembered being told Mary had a problem with alcohol on my first visit but I had only seen her as the clever woman who popped by the hostel now and again to sit by the fire and chat with people. She knew all about the local ancient ruins, she was available to hire as a guide to tell you all about the history of the island. I thought they must be wrong about her drinking problem until she turned up at the hostel one day while I was there alone. She was muddy, she was disheveled, she was shaking. I made her a coffee and sat with her while she drank it. I really was sad to hear she had died.

After a week in the hospital, the ward sister grudgingly admitted I was better, and despite my lack of family to take care of me, they had to let me go. I left the purple nightie behind, to go back to the dead box for someone else to wear, and shouldered my pack, and caught the local bus to Lochmaddy to leave the Uists behind. It hadn’t been quite the trip that I had planned, but it was memorable.

Uluru, Australia There is so much of Australia I haven’t seen, as I’m waiting for the “one day” when I move back there (whenever that day will be). When that happens, and when travel means exploring the island-continent I was born on, I want to visit Uluru. You can’t climb it now; the indigenous landholders finally were able to stop this happening as the rock is sacred to them. I never wanted to climb it. I would be happy to just sit and look at it, watch the colours change in the sunrise and sunset, marvel at the strange solidness of it, this large red rock mountain sitting on its own in the desert.

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