thesticks

Thursday 23rd June

We are eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We have both chosen the "continental" menu and beginning to regret it. Stewart has toast, no jam or marmalade offered. I have a tiny "Danish pastry". Tomorrow we'll try something different. 

Hardly satisfied with breakfast we set off to visit Old Faithful. The park guide tells us it is 38 miles (61km) from here. My mosquito bites are very irritating and I am trying hard, rather unsuccessfully, not to rub and scratch them.

We arrive at Old Faithful at 11:00 and a sign informs us that the next eruption is due within five minutes of 11:20. A large crowd has already gathered and is sitting in the "arena". The area is very commercialised. Nearby is a large hotel and there are numerous cabins, cafes, gift shops, restaurants besides acres of car parking. The viewing arena has been fitted with rows of benches and most are already full. We decide to head to a different vantage point and make ready to "snap" the spectacle; expecting a large eruption we both remove the telephoto lens from our cameras and fit the standard lens.

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Spot on time Old Faithful erupted, apparently this is mainly luck as its reputation for regularity is myth. We estimate that the water shoots up to about 30 metres (100ft) and although it goes on for a few minutes, we are a little disappointed as we had expected it to be higher and more dramatic. What we had not anticipated was the accompanying clicking noise - not Old Faithful but the hundreds of camera shutters. Will everyone's memory of this natural spectacle be framed through a view finder?

Two people comment on my mosquito bites, expressing shock and sympathy. The bites are so large and numerous than no one can fail to notice them. As we walk the trail through the mud pools and water springs around the upper geyser basin, stopping now and then to take photos I can hear people commenting on my bites: "they look awful", but they feel worse. They are beginning to get me down.

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The mud pools and hot water springs are more colourful than those I saw last year in Iceland which I assume it is due to different rock and minerals, but colourful as they are they soon start to look much the same as each other, not that this stops me taking large numbers of photographs.

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We eat rather nice burritos for lunch and set off for the lower geyser basin tour where we expect to see more hots springs and geysers. My bites are becoming more painful and my limbs and joints are beginning to ache. I don't feel at all well and decide I need to rest, so I stay near the car and read while Stewart sets of alone. I am vaguely aware that I am missing some of the highlights and some great photo opportunities, Fountain Paint Pot sounds interesting, but I can't bring myself to try. The bites are making me miserable.

I don't know how long I have been reading when Stewart returns and the journey back to the hotel is a bit of a blur. 

We arrive at the hotel and I make my way to the reception desk to ask if they know where I can get cream to soothe the bites which are now throbbing; I ache all over and feel drowsy. The receptionist doesn't know about creams but immediately recommends I see the doctor. There is a hospital about 200 metres from the hotel. He gives me directions and I make my way to the out-patients department.

In the waiting room I talk to others waiting to see the doctor or accompanying them. A tour guide escorting one of his guests asks about our trip. I tell him where we have been and where we are planning to go and he says he thinks we will have seen more of the US than the average US citizen. It is difficult to believe that they wouldn't take advantage of the ease of travel and their amazing country, but I remember Brian telling me that most of the locals he met when he worked in Georgia, Atlanta had never been out of the state. 

The nurse calls my name. She takes my blood pressure and pulse. My pulse is 92 - unheard of, it is usually much lower. I assume it is a combination of the stress and the altitude as we are at over 2,150 metres (7,000 feet). She leaves and I sit and wait for the doctor. Nothing much is happening as I wait for what seems like ages before the doctor appears.

He takes one look and exclaims at the size and extent of the bites. He is sympathetic and understands the obvious discomfort I am suffering but he says he can do little apart from prescribe an antihistamine to relieve the symptoms. He says it should reduce the itching but I should expect about four more days of discomfort. It seems I have got away rather lightly.  He thinks the hotel almost certainly recommended I see a doctor because so many bites could cause a serious reaction including swollen joins and swelling in the throat. In my case however, the reactions were localised - the big lumps showed my body had rejected the poison and the reaction remained in the skin. He says my aching joints are the result of local irritation and pressure, nothing more serious. I have to take the tablets every six hours and not drive.

The hospital administration asks for my social security number. I explain I have a UK national insurance number and they take a note of it. That is it. I thought there would be a bill.

I return to the hotel where Stewart is waiting to go for dinner. We make our way to the hotel lobby and while we wait for a table in the dining room to come free I order a drink. I don't usually drink alcohol but I am feeling reckless and miserable. The drink combined with pills, or maybe just the exhaustion of feeling so uncomfortable makes me drowsy. The meal passes in a blur and I am not really aware of what I am eating. All I want to do is to sleep.

More pictures of our time in Yellowstone.