I knew as soon as I woke up: Bedbugs.
Oddly it seemed I was the only one bitten, I must be extra tasty? I have been bitten once before and freaked out quite badly about bringing them with me to new beds, and so far on this walk we had made sure we lifted the mattress, untucked the sheets, checked seams and corners and bed bases, even the walls and floors around the beds checking for bugs, eggs, droppings, anything. It takes one minute out of the day and then we can sleep better. Please don’t take chemicals to spray on your bed every night! Imagine how toxic the mattresses will get over time … better to check before you lie down, and make sure there are no signs of them.
However, on that particular 30 km baking hot day we ended up in a badly lit room with dark walls (now we know why?), and we arrived separately, so we must have forgotten or just not checked properly.
I recognised the bites from last time – they say bedbug bites come in threes: breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they do often cluster in threes. Some feel them straight away, some don’t notice at all, and sometimes you can keep getting new visible bites over as many as five days after you have been bitten, so it looks like you keep getting new ones though you are not.
I saw very few bites the morning I woke up in Atapuerca, but this is how my arm looked two days after:
Now what to do?
Main thing is, don’t chuck everything into your pack in a panic and run out of the hostel. Calm down and check yourself, your night wear (seams, tucks, pockets), your liner or sleeping bag and any other items in or on the bed for bugs. I always pack evening clothes, walking clothes, sleeping bag etc in separate drybags, and this is one of the reasons. We didn’t have any sleeping bags to check but went over everything else that had been out of the packs. Once we felt pretty certain we hadn’t brought any with us, we packed up as normal, closing all the drybags properly, and left the room.
Next important step is to let the hospitaler@ know! I can’t promise that it will get through – I told the man he had bedbugs in the room, he said it was impossible; I showed him the bites, he said it must be mosquitoes. Not convinced he would do anything about it to be honest but at least I had done my bit and let him know.
Next bit of bedbug related to-do would be to find a washing machine and dryer, to try to kill any potential surviving stowaways. The man in our hostal was in complete denial and wouldn’t have offered to help even if he had access to a washing machine and dryer … but normally the hospitaler@s are happy to help de-bug pilgrims, washing and drying on high temperatures and even spraying and wrapping backpacks in black plastic bags and leaving them in the sun to bake. Luckily we were going to Burgos that night, and to quite an upmarket hotel with laundry service, so that would solve that problem.
I knew from last time that I didn’t suffer much with the bites, so I just made sure I had my antihistamine tablets to hand if I should start itching, and put on my sun protective shirt over the bites to hide them from the sun (and other pilgrims). I wasn’t going to let them ruin my day, so off we went!
For more info on bedbugs and what to do to prevent, treat and handle bites, here’s some info from the NHS: Bedbugs advice
So, moral of this little interval story:
- Check your bed. You’ve probably brought a flashlight: use it.
- Don’t leave lots of stuff on or around your bed.
- If you want to spray toxic stuff anywhere, do it at home, to your own stuff, not in albergues.
- Tell the hospitaler@ or the people running the place if you see signs of bedbugs or have been bitten, and ask them for help de-bugging your gear. If they won’t, ask at an (other) albergue or find a launderette as soon as you can.
- Get your clothes washed and dried on high heat, treat and bake your pack and other stuff that can’t go in the washing machine. Try to chill while this goes on – it’s not the end of the world. Or even your camino.
- Ask at a farmacia if you think you need something for the itch or just need advice. Seek a doctor if bites seem infected or you have other side effects.
Buen bug-free camino!