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Verbatim: Vanessa Fuller

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Vanessa Fuller grew up in Port Angeles. She “ended up back here” after completing a degree in travel and tourism at a particularly bad time for the industry. “Just in time for 9/11,” she said.
These days she works at the Dungeness River Audubon Center.
She recently recalled a few of the events of an extended backpacking trip to South America. What follows is, believe it or not, an abbreviated version of her tale of woe. Fuller is quick to say these were just “a couple of bad weeks” in what was otherwise a months-long wonderful adventure. “A trip of a lifetime.”


“I was working at the Olympic Peninsula Visitor and Convention Visitors Bureau.
Two guys from Ireland and Scotland had just cycled from the most northeastern point in the U.S. to the most northwestern point. They came into the office and wanted to be toured around. My boss had the hots for one of them, so we ended up spending the entire weekend touring them around.
I ended up having a great connection with one of the people and we kept in touch. He was doing this multiple-year around-the-world trip, including South America for a year. He was doing conservation projects; he asked me to come with him.
I’d never done anything like that.
After getting to know someone the way you do on the road, and being the only ones who spoke English, we eventually parted ways.
I was most impressed by the different cultures — not just South Americans, but the people who were traveling, too.
I found one person after Gordon left, a girl, and we did a lot of traveling together.
Once we had a 20-hour bus ride, somewhere in northern Chile, and I was behind a kid who was coughing like crazy the whole way. We were going across the salt flats to Bolivia. It’s also the highest desert in the world.
The trip to Bolivia started out OK, but after a while it was so cold we were all huddled together trying to get body warmth for heat. We couldn’t get warm. Amazingly beautiful, but by the end of the trip I started coughing and my throat started swelling. And then I started coughing up blood.
That night we decided to take the only train out of town — at midnight. We stayed in this hotel that supposedly had power for part of the day so I could get warmed up.
My friend went to the market with instructions I’d written for a doctor there. It was a doctor next to the cow head stand. Where they sell cows’ heads.
He gave her a prescription for me and she went to the pharmacy and got it. She didn’t speak any Spanish and when she came up I was just delirious. She told me to take one every two hours. She was great — she got me fresh-squeezed orange juice and took care of me. When we were packing for the train we realized the prescription was for one every 12 hours. She mixed up doce and dos.
We literally had to crawl-walk — there were no taxis. The only way out was by train, so there was no need for cars. We got to the station and were sitting there waiting and I passed out. The next thing I know I’m on the train and there are people force-feeding me water by the gallon. They had to keep taking me out to pee in between two moving train cars. Strangers were holding me up. I was too sick to care.
When we got off that train it was still dark out. In our Lonely Planet book it said how much it should cost to get from the train station to the bus station. We were still in the middle of nowhere. We had to swap to the bus get to the capital so I could go to a doctor.
The taxi driver took the price immediately, which was weird. By this point I couldn’t talk. I had no voice.
We got in his car and it was obvious he was driving around aimlessly. Most drive direct, especially down there. They go on a mission.
The next thing you know he pulls over and some guy is there and he jumps in the front seat.
And the driver says, this is my friend, it’s OK. Then all of a sudden the guy says he’s a cop and he needs to see our passports.
We were saying, ‘no, no.’
I was trying to mouth to my friend in English what they were saying in Spanish. And I was trying to mouth in Spanish what to say. It got more and more heated.
They kind of gave up that hoax. And you could tell we were just driving for the hills. It was getting to that freak-out point.
They made us pull up our shirts to see if we wearing money belts. And Lowenna was. I religiously did it every day, but I was so sick it was in my back pack. I had a small purse with must enough money to get me from Point A to Point B.
Lowenna had just gotten out $1,500 for a few months of traveling.
They took that out, then it looked like they put it back in there. And then they made us get out. The car hadn’t even stopped. We jumped out and we were on the very outskirts of this town. Dawn was just starting to crack. Twilight.
Luckily they kicked out our bags after going through them. They didn’t find my money belt, which was good.
I’m weak and sick and coughing, and she’s crying, and we just had to crawl. We went to what seems to be the town square sort of area. We found the bus station.
I don’t know how far we walked. It seemed like hours.
But it was still barely light when we got on the bus.
We thought about calling the cops, but thought, ‘Why?’
We got to the hostel where all the rest of our friends were staying. I hadn’t died from an overdose of antibiotics, so I just crashed for a couple days. After that I was feeling pretty good.
I met a guy who said he was a prince of Bolivia. He wasn’t, but he said he was going to the American embassy for the 4th of July. He asked me to go.
I’m in the bathroom getting ready and everything goes black. I couldn’t see anything. And then my equilibrium went. I couldn’t see and couldn’t tell which way was up. So I crawled to our hostel door and pounded on it. She got the people who were running the hostel and they called the doctor to come see me.
The “prince” ended up carrying me down into a taxi and came with me to a clinic sort-of place. That night I still didn’t have vision.
When I woke up, I woke up to the nurse shaking me and asking me where my passport was. I said you have them. And she said, ‘We don’t, we don’t.’
My friend said she gave everything to the staff the night before. They ended up finding my insurance papers, but my passport ended up at the airport. Some doctor had it with him when he went to treat people there.
As it turns out, I had altitude sickness, strep throat and pneumonia.”

Everyone has a story and now they have a place to tell it. Verbatim is a first-person column that introduces you to your neighbors as they relate in their own words some of the difficult, humorous, moving or just plain fun moments in their lives. It’s all part of the Gazette’s commitment as your community newspaper. If you have a story for Verbatim, contact Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

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