The Backpacker Trail Through Antigua, Guatemala

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua

As you may recall from Zach’s last entry, he was feeling pretty sickish during our time in Parque Nacional El Imposible.  Unfortunately, the day after our epic hike, I woke up with the same bug, and he woke up with the beginnings of a mysterious rash on his hands and feet.  So we were definitely in fine form when we got onto the backpacker trail through Antigua, the beginning of our brief stint in Guatemala.

The afternoon we pulled in, I did nothing but lie in bed and feel miserable.  What a lame-o.  The next morning I pulled myself together enough to walk around a tiny bit and take some uninspired picture of the old city.

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua
I think the Spanish really liked the color yellow.

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua
The Cathedral

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua

Every time we went into a church we had to sit down inside to rest.  This picture characterizes how we were feeling:

Backpacker Trail Through Antigua

Fortunately by the end of the day I was starting to feel much better.  Not so much for Zach.  His rash had spread to his face and was getting worse.  Stay tuned for his story of how we ended on the backpacker trail through Antigua…

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Quilotoa Loop, Part 4: You Probably Will Think That This Is Gross

So this tale starts on day three, after Carrie’s knee gave out and we almost had to sleep with the llamas.  We were so hungry from not eating lunch, luckily our hostel (it should have been called a HOTEL since it was the most expensive place we had stayed so far on this trip.  Hooray for hostel reviews!) had an included dinner so we were able to stuff our faces.  The food was alright, not as good as at Llullu Llama, but satisfying after a long, long day.  After eating, quite full, we went straight to bed.  But we were so sore that it was impossible to get comfortable and we were getting feverish from our terrible sunburns.  My stomach started to get queasy, and before long I was hunched over the toilet awaiting the inevitable.  Every half hour throughout the night involved running to the bathroom, vomiting several times, re-brushing my teeth (because you always assume each time is the last), drinking a little bit of water, then lying back down to strange fever dreams.  The night slid by at a snails’ pace.  Carrie also couldn’t sleep but only from fever and soreness, not from nausea.  It got late so all the stores were closed and we didn’t have our big backpacks full of an amazing amount of medicines to cure anything short of cancer.  Sometime in the night we ran out of bottled water.  Soon nothing else would come out of my stomach but, already dehydrated from hiking, my body wasn’t liking the lack of fluids in my system.  I feel back asleep for a minute and dreamed that if I cut off a piece of my pinky and sent it to South Africa, they would bring me a bottle of Fanta.  I remember only deciding not to do it because it would take several days to get my soda.  At this point I woke up and threw up some more (where does it come from!!!) and washed off my face in the sink.  The tap water was refreshing and cold.  “Well,” I told myself “how much sicker could you get.”  So I took a sip, then another, then a gulp.  It was the most delicious water, and I stopped dreaming of Fanta for a minute.

Before the sun came up, I woke Carrie and made her go in search of sanitary liquids.  She found some apple juice in the unlocked hostel kitchen which tasted good going down and coming back up.  After dawn, the shops nearby opened and I woke to her entering the room with water and a Fanta.  I checked to be sure my pinky was all there.  It was.  I was finally beginning to think that I might make it through this day alive.  Then Carrie found out that the last bus to Latacunga left at 10 am, so I had to get my act together.  The liquids were staying down and eventually I was able to weakly get myself out of bed.  “I can do this!” I kept saying before retreating back to my bed.  But by 9:45 I got myself dressed and we went to wait for the bus.  This three block walk shook me up enough that I lost all my Fanta to a trash can.  There were some interesting things inside that trash can that I examined for some time.

The bus came and it was a bumpy and miserable journey.  It was about a three hour trip to Latacunga but I made it without having anymore puking fits (this due to the fact that I didn’t put anything into my stomach).  Once in the city we had to go collect our big backpacks at the hostel where we had them stored and then we took a taxi to the bus company, Cita Express, that had direct buses to Otavalo, bypassing Quito.  We bought our tickets and waited for the 4pm bus.  When it arrived, they said they didn’t have any room and gave us our money back.  “No more buses today,” they said and we got so frustrated that we yelled at them in English.  Stay here?  Go to Quito?  What do we do?  We were quite discouraged.   But a guy came and said that there was a bus that passed at 5pm and hopefully they would have open seats.  So we sat around some more and I was able to get some more liquids down.  The bus did pass at 5 and luckily had just enough seats (though Carrie had to fight an old Quechua lady for the last spots).  I fell right asleep and didn’t wake until we got into Otavalo.  Once last taxi to our hostel and the horrible, miserable day was over.

So what do I think caused my sickness?  There were 16 other people that ate that dinner and no one else got sick.  However, Carrie and I were completely and utterly exhausted, so possibly, had there been even the smallest problem with the food, our bodies would not have been able to fight it off.  I believe the fever was from over-exposure to the sun, but I did feel fine up until about one hour after eating.  I’m officially blaming the food.  That means the two times that I got the sickest on this trip were after eating at a super expensive and fancy buffet, and after eating at a super expensive and fancy hotel.  So for all you people that constantly comment about how scary street food is, how about them apples?

Start at the beginning with PART 1

Let’s Talk About Poop for All the World to Hear

WARNING: The following post is definitely TMI.  But you know me, I have no filter.  And I thought this was hilarious.

Setting: In a hotel room early in the morning.  The door is wide open to the outside hallway.  Carrie is concerned about the morning’s digestive problems, and she and Zach are speaking at a normal conversational volume.

Zach: Don’t worry, I had some diarrhea this morning too.

Carrie:  Really?  What did we eat?

Zach:  Remember lunch yesterday, when we said, ‘We probably shouldn’t eat these raw vegetables…’ and then ate them anyway?

Carrie:  Oh yeah.  ‘Cause we always eat everything.

Zach:  It’s just some small diarrhea.  It’ll be over soon.

Suddenly, a random white guy walks out of the bathroom next door and gives the two a weird look.  He surely understands English and surely overheard the whole conversation.


Culture Shock! Everything is OTC

Guys, we totally forgot to post a Culture Shock! on Wednesday!  Woops!  We were too focused on finishing the Inca Trail epic.  So here it is for this week, better late than never!

So far on our adventure we haven’t needed to use our health insurance.  That is not because we haven’t gotten sick (we have), but because everything you need is sold over-the-counter at your friendly neighborhood “farmacia.”  The only thing you need to do is diagnose yourself!  It’s sometimes actually fun playing doctor.  The process usually goes like this.  Day one: stomach pain and diarrhea.  Day two: usually everything is better once it’s all out of your system, but if you are still feeling problems, wait one more day.  Day three: If you still feel terrible then get yourself some Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic for bacterial infections which will knock out just about anything.  If the Cipro doesn’t clear it up, then you are in trouble and should probably go to the doctor.  Carrie and I have both taken the Cipro once and both times within a few hours we were feeling much better.

There are some potential negatives to this system, of course.  Firstly, you really can get anything you want over the counter.  It is of course possible to abuse this for recreational purposes.  Secondly, pharmacists are not actually educated or trained like they are in the United States.  When we went to get some Cipro for Zach the pharmacist actually tried to sell us more than two times as many tablets as we needed and tried to convince Zach he needed to take a large dose for 10 days.  Either she was being totally dishonest to make a sale or we really knew the drug instructions better than she did, because you’re only supposed to take a small dose for five days!  You have to be smart and research to find out what you really need when you’re sick.  If in doubt, you should see a doctor first!

However, I think needing a prescription to cure yourself of obvious problems is part of what makes medical care super expensive in the United States.  Sure, pharmacies shouldn’t hand out addictive drugs over the counter, but there’s also no reason it should be necessary to pay a doctor to tell you what you usually already know.  Maybe instead of forcing money out of people’s pockets, we could focus on educating people on how to help themselves.  But no, let’s continue to let the drug companies tell us what medicines we need.  We all know that they have our best interests in mind.

Dealing with Sickness While Traveling

WARNING:  This post is probably TMI.  Read at your own discretion.

Getting sick:  it’s an inevitable part of the adventure for most budget travelers.  You never quite know what did it–street food, allegedly potable (but later you find out the pigs live upstream) water, or just weird and new germs in a new country.  It’s really hard to avoid occasional illness if street food and living with locals are things you consider integral parts of the experience.  So let’s sympathize.

My first real problems on this trip just popped up out of nowhere on Monday night.  One hour and 4 bathroom trips later, I knew something had caught up with me.  I spent the night tossing and turning, stuck with that horrible nausea where you can never ACTUALLY just get it over with and throw up.  The next morning I felt a bit better.  It was to be a long travel day involving three different vehicles.  I decided I could eat some breakfast before beginning the trek–BAD IDEA!  As soon as I ate I realized my error.  I had to do what every poor sick bus-rider does in this situation:  gobble Immodium!  That little pill essentially turns your insides into concrete, thus working miracles for bus ride survival.  I’ve heard that it’s actually really bad for you, though, and should only be taken when absolutely necessary.  Soon enough I found myself perched in the back of a covered pickup truck, and of course this drive involved the craziest, curviest road ever, which the driver sped down without any regard for my troubled stomach.  Hanging out the window for fresh air and making sure to drink lots of water to at least stay hydrated are my best ideas for surviving this situation.  At least this road was paved.

The next minibus grumbled over a narrow dirt road up and over the Andes for hours.  Zone out, iPod on, try to enjoy the scenery and forget about my warring intestines was what I tried to do, with mediocre results.  Of course by the time the Immodium was wearing off and we were within an hour of Pasto (our final destination), the driver had to stop for dinner.  I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, but I could still feel my rebel intestines growling angry threats of mutiny.  Finally, finally, we got to a hostel and I flopped into bed in misery for another nauseous night.

This morning what I mostly felt was the shaky, low blood pressure feeling from barely eating in the past 24 hours.  (At least being sick saves you food $$!)  I sent Zach out for bread and juice (what a good guy I have!) and the ultimate test began.  Was I on the road to recovery?  Would said food be accepted or rejected?  Almost as soon as I ate I began to perk up and it seemed my rebellious digestive tract was behaving once again.  A true hurrah indeed, since having the travel sickness for more than 24 hours is usually a warning sign that something more major is wrong (think: critters).  We decided a rest day was called for which sucks because we wanted to take a boat out on a beautiful nearby lake today.  But when energy is not up to snuff as you’re recovering from a nasty bug, sometimes a “stay in PJs” day is just necessary.  This hostel, The Koala Inn in Pasto, is actually the perfect place for a lazy-bum due to it’s comfy beds, fast WiFi, and cable TV!  There are even English channels and I’ve gotten to watch some No Reservations, Project Runway, Scrubs, and new It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia online.  So we’re spending my recovery day vegging and working on the website.  (What do you think of the changes?)  And now I must torture Zach by holding the computer hostage as I catch up on Grey’s Anatomy (my guilty obsession).

What are your tips for getting through those problematic little stomach bugs while traveling?