HELP!!! There’s a Vampire in My Bed!

The horror of bed bugs and how to ditch the bloodsucking buddies.

One of the best facets of travel is making new friends, sticking together and going off hand in hand on an adventure. Other travel companions are not so pleasant — especially ones that you can’t really shake, leechy freeloaders that follow you around until you scream “When!”

the blue fishing boats docked near the fish market in Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira is a coastal town just north of Agadir in Morocco with strong winds off the Atlantic making it ideal for surfing and kiteboarding. The fresh air cut through the summer heat and the August evenings were chilly and damp. The waves were rubbish for the first 10 days, making it easy to fall into bad habits and I got sucked into the seaside city for almost two weeks. It could have been travel burnout, the brisk nights, the sexy people, or the good vibes of a large hostel that attracted charismatic and interesting people. My Hotel California of Morocco. Hours floated by cruising the shops in the medina, lunch at the fish market, some yoga at the beach, maybe a massage at a hammam, or splayed out on the rooftop lounge smoking, drinking endless cups sweet, minty tea, cuddling small rescued kittens and listening to music.

Each afternoon the manager of the hostel would prepare large traditional Moroccan feasts of tagines, couscous, samosas, and soups. He was in his element in the kitchen and when word got around that I had been a cook by profession, I was ushered into the kitchen as extra hands and free Berber cooking classes. I felt comfortable back in the kitchen with a renewed sense of purpose after bumming around for months as a tourist. Each evening the manager would host the large family meals and that would lure not only the backpackers, but travelers staying elsewhere in town. We would sit shoulder to shoulder on the floor poufs and cushions, gathered around low tables lit by candles, passing food with the constant buzz of conversation. Once dinner was over, troops of us would head to the clubs and bars for the night and finish the evening with shisha.

The hostel employees encouraged group activities and set the tone — to chill during the day and party at night, the allure of late nights and days with no responsibilities. They did not necessarily work much, and for the first few days I was not entirely sure who was employed there, with most people lounging around. There were two floors of dormitories, each with three rooms and each room with four sets of bunks, for about 48 beds total. I think there were a handful of private rooms as well, and although it was the off-season, this place was always at capacity. Like I said, the place had a vibe. Most of the staff crashed on the cushioned covered pallets in the common areas or on the shaded area of the rooftop’s sundeck. While several of us got swallowed up in Essaouira, the hostel saw a fair amount of turnover.

Two older Berber ladies did most of the work — they would clean the rooms and showers in the morning and then move in to help in the kitchen in the afternoon. There was a greater language barrier there, but they always wore a kind, knowing smile on their delicate faces as they shared new cooking techniques with me. The hostel’s casual attitude overlooked formalities and the two older Berber ladies were never quite sure which beds were occupied and which beds had become vacant.

It was about a week and a half until I noticed they were making all the beds each day by stroking down the sheets and shaking out the heavy wool/acrylic blankets necessary for the cold nights.

I have a strong image of one of them shaking the blanket out over the balcony and smiling at me before laying it back on the bed my roommate had just moved out of. Call it an omen or a premonition but when I brought up what I had witnessed to the manager, he assured me that all the bedding was fresh.   

The damage was done. The result of not laundering the sheets and blankets, led to a massive outbreak of bedbugs. First, it was a young German girl, then a few other weary tourists, then some of the staff. Every morning another two or three people would wake up to the inflamed and raw, itchy bites. I stayed for three nights after the initial sighting until I woke up in my personal travel sleep sack invaded by one teeny, tiny, bloodsucking, bed invader crawling up my stomach. I served up my crushed up sanguisuge on a tissue to the manager and he could no longer deny the accusations that were spreading through the hostel.

Early that morning I sent my clothes to be laundered, wrapped everything I owned into a large, black trash bag, left it to roast in the sun. I figured since I spent almost two weeks paying $5 per night for a bunk bed, I could swing $11 for a plush private room in a bedbug-free Riad. I stayed in Essaouira for a few more nights, embracing the cool weather and ensuring that my belongings would be properly bedbug free before heading into the Sahara Desert where you are less likely to find an apothecary.

About a month and a half later, the manager hit me up on Facebook asking for money for a “surgery.” The once amiable and gregarious manager really turned out to be quite a scumbag. I reached out to one of my friends to corroborate his story, since the whole thing sounded a bit sketchy, and heard news that he never closed the hostel for fumigation, causing the bedbug problem to get out of hand, got fired, and the owners had to clean up his mess.

An illustrated image of a bedbug.  Yikes!


How to Avoid Bedbugs

  • Launder your clothes regularly. (According to a study, bedbugs like the smell of your dirty laundry — check out this article in Popular Science.)
  • Bring your own sleep sack.
  • Don’t put your luggage on the bed and ideally on an hard un-upholstered surface.
  • Keep your shit together – packing cubes are great! Bonus it makes packing your bag a breeze and your hostel roommates will thank you.

How to identify bed bugs and what to do next

  • Check the seams of the mattress for dark bugs and exoskeletons.
  • If you see them, take photos or pick them up with a tissue and show the management.
  • Signs of bedbugs are itchy, inflamed, red dots in a line or grouped together.
  • Take antihistamines.
  • Get your deposit and run — you do not want to drag them around with you!

How to ditch your parasitic travel companions

  • Wash your belongings in hot water, then dry on high heat.
  • Stuff all all your belongings in a large black trash bag and let it cook in the sun for a few days.


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