Malaria Round 2: The Play by Play

Day 1

Man, do I feel apathetic today.  The truth is I’ve felt a little lazy for a couple days now.  I didn’t do anything in Accra, and I didn’t really feel like doing anything either.  Where did this headache come from?

It’s 10am now and I had planned on heading to Wli Falls by about 8am to beat the heat. My back is tight.  I’m probably just dehydrated a bit.

Walking to the falls I feel fine again, maybe a little lackadaisical.  The sight of the stunning waterfall immediately quells my lethargic-ness.

I return home and go to bed well before bedtime.

Wli Falls

Day 2

I’ve woken up feeling decent, but that headache is still there and it seems to only pop when I turn my head a certain way.

While driving towards the border of Togo I sense my eyes starting to ache. Maybe there is was something in the water at Wli Falls?  Maybe it’s just the dust from the road?  Wow, they are really in pain.

Arriving at the border I’ve started to feel annoyed, but too lethargic to do anything about it.  The usual fixers push and shove to get close to me in attempt to gain a couple dollars out of me by claiming they know exactly what I need to do.  They’ve decided it’s best for me to just bribe the police and immigration officials, otherwise I’ll have to wait too long.  I’m opposed, and they’re annoyed.  I tell them all to f**k off and they look back at me with a terrified look.  I ended up just skipping the customs office where I’m meant to get a laissez-passer for Anne Murray.  Screw it.

I drive to my hotel.  I eat a giant plate of Wiener Schnitzel in German Togoland and then go to bed, again well before bedtime.

Wli Falls

Day 3

I feel like aces today.  My headache is almost gone, no fevers, my neck can almost turn all the way.  The fact I’m feeling better is one of malaria’s dirty tricks. It punches you with little jabs then tells you it’s done, then you let your guard down and it pummels you with a hay-maker.

Day 4

6:30am and God do I feel good.  A light breakfast in a mahogany chair carved with a lion and giraffes.

8:30am is it a bit chilly this morning? I look around the room. The others are drinking iced tea, and wearing tank tops and shorts.  I head back to my room for a jacket. A shot of pain stings trough my fingers as I begin to type some work. I must be overworking.  My headache is back. I beckon the 60-year old owner over to see if she can feel my forehead for a fever.  She looks me in the eye and tells me “maybe a little” and strolls off.

9:00am “maybe a little” has turned into 103 degrees.  I jump on the back of Anne Murray and race to the nearest clinic, which is thankfully just down the road.  The wind freezes as it hits my face, my arms vibrate as they attempt to clinch the handlebars and beads of sweet drip through my sleeves and drop down onto my legs.  The man behind the counter has me sit behind a curtain and pricks my index finger.  With a miniature turkey baster he sucks up the blood, drips it on a slide and squeezes it with another. “Sit and wait”. I do.

After what feels like 30 minutes, but was surely less than 5, I’m called to the counter where a stack of drugs awaits. “This is to soften the fevers, this is for your fatigue, and this is to kill the malaria.” Shit. Malaria? Not again.

I return to the hotel toss myself on the bed and under my -10 degree sleeping bag and close my eyes.

Day 5

The truth is I don’t really remember what happened yesterday afternoon and night.  It’s all fuzzy and dream-like.  I remember being hot, I remember being cold.  I remember sweating so much I thought that I pissed the bed.  I remember being thirsty and then puking up the grape juice I put in my stomach.  I have no idea how I’ve gotten to today already.

I’m lying in bed butt-naked in an X like the cover of an anatomy textbook when I hear a peeping through the window.  I turn my head to see the 60-something owner peeking her eyes through the wooden slits in the window looking at my nude body glistening in days’ worth of sweat.
“Are you OK?” She says in French unhinged by my nudity.
Magnifique!” I say quietly while turning my head back to its stare at the roof.
“You look magnifique,” she laughs. “Get some rest.”

For a second straight night I try to do that, but I’ve slept so much that my mind isn’t tired.  It rolls to thoughts of friends and family, past and future lovers, movie scenes that did or didn’t happen, and everything in between.  I find myself in a fight I can’t win: too tired to move too bored to stay still.

Chez Alice

Day 6

It’s amazing how when you begin to recover you realize all the ways the malaria had affected you.  That little headache, the stiffness in your neck, the weight in your shoulders, the lackadaisical apathy, the nausea, even that little bit of pain in your hand; it all goes away when the malaria finally dies.

This time has been much worse than the last time I got malaria.  This time, despite catching it sooner, the fight was more dramatic, the fevers more powerful, and even the mental aspect of things was harder.

I love my family and the love they give, but I think that travel must be the only thing in the world where people so often give you negative support.  When a marathon runner stubs his or her toe could you imagine their supporters cheering “Quit! Go home and get fixed.” Whenever things go wrong in travel, friends and family do the worst thing they can do to support you: they encourage you to quit, to go home.  It makes it tough, because in that moment of pain nothing would make you happier than home, and going home would leave you with nothing but regrets.

Day 7

The malaria is now completely gone, but it’s taken its toll.  I have lost about 15 pounds, most of that is water from sweat I’m sure I’ll recover in a couple days.  I have no energy left and my will to fight on is low.  I have possibly the hardest bit of travel coming up in the next couple weeks, and I’m not sure I have the strength to push on.  But, today my visa is set to expire, and I have to get back on Anne Murray.  I have to try and move.

For the first 10 kilometers I can’t stop thinking that I shouldn’t be driving.  My head is light and my strength is lower than ever.  But quickly I find myself singing to Biz Markie in the confines of my helmet and the cool sea breeze of the Togolese sea sweeps me to my happy place.

I cross into Benin and the smooth air turns a smile onto my face that just won’t stop.  As tough as the road is sometimes, one of the toughest things is to get back onto it once it has worn you down.  But once you feel that air on your face and get into that trance only the road can provide you all the problems seem to just melt away.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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17 Comments

  1. Whoa Brendan! That sounds like a helluva week. Now that you’ve got the visa fixed why not a week to recover before pushing forward. It’s no good to stick to a schedule if you’re just getting over being so ill. Readers will wait. We’ll still be here.

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  2. Really sorry to hear! Somehow I’ve managed to escape malaria. I met a lady in Honduras who had dengue and malaria at the same time. I can’t imagine.

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    • Adam, lucky you. I’ve heard of Dengue in Honduras but getting Malaria there is rare! Even on the Caribbean Coast… that’s one unlucky lady!

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  3. Rats. That sucks. Just to counter-balance your well-meaning family, hang in there! But I’m with Maria, maybe slow down for just a little bit to fully regain your strength?

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    • Strength has been regained… I’m back on the road haha

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  4. Just when I think malaria is not something I really need to worry about, I read something like this! Out of curiosity, were you taking any meds at the time? I’ve heard that the strain is so strong in Africa that generally even travelers who are taking anti-malarials often wind up contracting it anyway… I think South East Asia is a bit more tame by comparison! Still, it’s a good reminder that as blasé as some people can be about it, malaria is serious!

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  5. Hey Brendan,
    Glad to hear you are on the mend. I am praying for you and hope you spend the time you need to get stronger before doing too much. — I saw your niece and nephew last week along with your sister and brother-in-law. Hannah and I had a good trip to Toronto and area. — On another note I think it is good you documented your experince of being sick, it so puts the reality of your journey into balance. We have great, good, average and shitty days. Here’s hoping you will have some better days soon!!

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    • Thanks Lori – I can’t wait to see those little guys this summer!!!

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  6. Damn, I’m so scared of Malaria, especially when I was in Thailand, but it seems like you can just take some pills and be back in the game in a few days? That’s amazing/sad because it kills so many people that just don’t have access to the meds that can easily knock it out. Glad you’re better though!

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    • Yeah Jeremy, the truth is it sucks but if you catch it right away you’re back on your feet in 48-72 hours and at 100% in 5 days. The anti-malaria pills are so rough that I’d rather have malaria… as I’ve proven now haha.

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  7. I feel like spewing just from reading that…

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    • I have that affect on people Ash haha

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  8. It does sound that you had a rough time. Didn’t you take malaria jabs before you went. Its a must if you’re travelling to these exotic locations including India.

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    • Can’t get malaria shots Shalu, only pills. The pills had been causing some seriously bad side effects so I stopped taking them. I’m going back on them now though I think. That being said, the truth is 3 days every 4-5 months with malaria are better than weekly issues with the anti-malarials.

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  9. Oh you poor thing. That sounds dreadful. Luckily I never had malria, but a few of my fellow volunteer friends have caught it (and dengue fever). Glad you are ok again. Take care of yourself!

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  10. I can’t believe you’re still using that gravatar with a shirt and tie, meanwhile you’re riding down West Africa on a moped with Malaria!

    Hang in there, Europe will fatten you up nicely once you’re all done!

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    • Hahaha, Dave…. I’m a PROfessional! Even with Malaria.

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