7:00 am on a Wednesday morning. I hear the alarm clock and swiftly press the snooze button. With my eyes still closed, I listen to the sweet sound of rain just outside our cheap hotel window. I open my eye just enough to see the sun coming out. Good, our day will be perfect, I thought. We were about to board a boat in just an hour and thirty minutes to go to the Islands of the Sun and Moon on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. I had heard the islands were just wonderful and I couldn’t wait to do some good hiking and visit some Inca ruins. I was beyond excitement.
UT THEN! As I lied in bed, debating whether I could afford to keep my eyes closed for another 3 minutes, I felt it, the rumble of hell! Maybe you know it, although I hope you never have the misfortune. It is the rumble that comes as a VERY short warning. It is your stomach ringing the alarm bell. Your tummy is telling you to run to the bathroom. No shoes, no time, you must run. Run! Before it’s too late!
So, I ran. I jumped out of bed without any shoes and speedily made it to my porcelain throne. Funnily enough, the famous quote “Run, Forest, run” came to mind. The fifteen steps from the bed to the throne seemed endless. What a wake-up call! As I sat there, contemplating my poultry mistakes from the previous day (more on that later), it became very clear I would be boarding NO boats that day. I had the worse diarrhea I’ve had in years. I crawled under the heavy blankets fighting a mix of chills and nausea and ended up spending about 80% of my perfect day in the fetal position. “Oh the irony!” I repeated to myself the entire day while I tried to maintain a positive attitude.
There are things no one really tells you about traveling. In most blogs or travel websites you can find stories about great adventures, breathtaking scenery, language learning, making friends, getting to know new cultures, etc., but rarely does one read about the challenges that come with a nomadic life. For example, you will get diarrhea. No way around it, at some point in your journey the gods of fluidity will visit you. Prepare yourself and take the good with the bad. Remember, the enjoyment of being a nomad comes mostly from remaining positive even in the face of adversity. For me, the encounters with the famous “shits” have been frequent. Since our visit to Cuba, I have struggled with constant stomach issues. After 6 months of tummy problems, where I used anti-diarrhea pills, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and anything else I could think of, I determined it was time to get some lab-work done. So, while we were in Mexico I very reluctantly pooped in a cup and took it to the lab to get examined. The results: nothing life-threatening, but something that could become serious with time.
As it turns out, I had picked up some bacteria that was destroying my intestinal flora and the only way to get rid of it was to build the flora back up (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron, but the doctor swears it makes sense). What to do: take the right meds (ones that turned my pee a radioactive yellow color), take ant-inflammatory meds after every meal, probiotics, activated charcoal, AND change my diet completely. Back to basics ladies and gentlemen. I had to cut out all dairy, gluten, red meat, alcohol, sugar, spice, coffee, chocolate, and other irritants. Basically, I could only eat veggies, rice, simple soups, and little more. I was to follow that simple diet until my stomach felt better – it could be weeks, it could be months, it all depended on how stubborn those bacteria were. With time, I would start to add foods back into my diet one by one, starting with chicken and fish. If anything didn’t feel good, I had to drop it for a longer period of time until my digestive system was healthy again.
“Well, CRAP!” I said to myself as I sat in the doctor’s office. No coffee!? How am I supposed to do that and still be a nice person!? If you know me at all, you know I derive a huge amount of pleasure from my morning cup of coffee. With a heavy heart, I decided I would enjoy a couple more days of freedom and relish all the Mexican food I had sorely missed. Then, I would dedicate myself to following the doctor’s instructions.
Health comes first and quite frankly I was tired of getting the famous “shits” at least twice a month. So, I buckled up and followed a pretty strict food regime. And it worked! After a month, I was feeling gloriously un-inflamed. My bowel movements started regaining normalcy, and with every passing day I became more and more in love with my veggies. On week 5, we decided chicken was OK. I started by donating most of my chicken to Douglas and eating just a few bites myself. Eventually, I made it to half a portion of chicken. What joy!
After crossing the border into Bolivia, we wanted to celebrate a new country and decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal. We were in Copacabana and planning to visit islands the next day! We found a Thai place that promised not to be spicy and went in to have our fancy meal. I marshalled my initial impulses and, exercising every ounce of self-control I have, I ordered a simple soup, chicken skewers with a peanut and garlic sauce, and a fruit salad for dessert. Everything within my food regime. We left the restaurant feeling amazing about our choice to splurge for once. After all, when you’ve been eating rice and beans for 5+ months, a little something different is pretty nice. We were on cloud nine. Oh, poor, innocent souls, little did we know.
This brings me back to the beginning of the story. After waking up and having my dreams to hike a mountain on an island shattered by the realization that I would have to stay VERY close to the bathroom that day, I sadly realized that all the progress I had achieved thus far was probably ruined by the raw/spoiled chicken I had the day before. The irony! We decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal and I got food poisoning from bad chicken. It was not the market food, nor the food cooked in a shitty hostel kitchen, but the food at a nice fancy restaurant that did me in! If I had ordered what I actually wanted instead of what fit my diet restrictions I would have been much better off. The gods of fluidity took hold of me once more. I could almost hear them laughing in the background, those tricksters.
Once we realized what had happened, Doug and I had a good laugh about it. You know the kind of laugh, the one that almost comes with tears. We walked down to the pier to change the boat ticket to the following day. The lady at counter was a bit reluctant to let us change the date and felt inclined to charge us a substantial fee to do so. But, once I explained very clearly that me and my diarrhea would get on the bathroom-less boat if they didn’t let us change the ticket, she had a sudden change of heart and changed the date. It was a total bluff of course. All I was willing to do that day was a marathon of Lord of the Rings, but it was totally worth trying to change the ticket. On the way back to the hotel Doug and I laughed for a good while at the shocked look on that poor lady’s face.
And here we are, back to basics, completely disgusted by the taste of chicken and eggs, and reminded of the importance of being positive. The most important lesson learned on the road for me is to adapt and enjoy life regardless of the situation. I loved our Lord of the Rings marathon, I was able to hike a few days later, and most importantly I was able to enjoy both by accepting the situation and deciding to make the best out of it. I sit here writing this post looking forward to a time where I can drink my coffee again.
(Side note – I drank coffee again 4 weeks after this post was written)