Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sick In Guatemala: A Photo Travelogue

Most people, when they go on an exciting trip, will focus on the great stories and minimize any mishaps. Me, I like to maximize the mishaps because, let's face it, they're often more interesting and dramatic than the usual "wow-it-was-beautiful" stuff. So indulge me, if you will, my stream-of-consciousness narrative of my last few days in Guatemala. And then, I promise you, I'll tell more happy stories.

Humor me, amigos. Yesterday, January 27, went like this:

9:00 AM Arise in Antigua, Guatemala. Eat breakfast. Ignore low-grade fever, as Ibuprofen upsets the already-fragile stomach.
10:30 Depart for Guatemala City Airport. An hour on winding roads, thick fumes. I ride with a white cotton washcloth over my face. I am full of Dramamine.
2:55 PM Flight to Miami.
5:00 Arrive in Miami.
8:00 Board flight in Miami for Boston.
9:15 Be herded off airplane which is leaking hydraulic fluid.
11:30 PM Re-board another flight to Boston.
2:00 AM, January 28, Arrive Boston, elated at not having had digestive incidents or pain.

Immodium, immodium, immodium. Dramamine, dramamine, dramamine. Saludos, my wonder-working pills.

Wisdom earned:

I will never again travel winding roads without a good, sturdy plastic vomit bag within reach. But listen to me, estimados: if you must relinquish the contents of your stomach in a moving vehicle, relax your neck muscles, bow your head and let 'er rip. Don't, as I did, try to retain an elegant posture while you cack. You will find later that you have badly strained dozens of tiny muscles in your neck, tongue, jaw and face that you never even knew you had. They will protest. They will throb. You will hate every last one of them. You will think, How can my tongue hurt?

The body is home. We take it with us wherever we go, our touchstone, our spaceship. Wherever you go, there you are.

My cuerpo, my bodily home, was broken into on Wednesday by some kind of poisonous bug that invaded me after lunch first as an uncomfortably full feeling, then morphed into what I thought was an anxiety attack. Picture me sitting outside our little stone cabin, listening to birds screaming in the trees, gazing at volcanoes -- no, not gazing...staring glassy-eyed -- while my extremities begin tingling and some kind of gaseous brew begins stewing in my abdomen and rose up through my chest, leaving me breathless. Am I being possessed by some charocotel?*

Uh-oh. The body feels it before the brain registers it. Alarm. Stay calm, everyone. One doesn't want to be alone at a moment like this. I walk down the cobblestone hill to the pool by the lake to inform my comadres that I am in distress:
Guatemala Trip 2007 051
They don't think I was having a heart attack, do they? My forehead is felt, my pulse gently taken, my anxiety respected. No. Must have been something I ate at lunch.

When I say "lunch," you must imagine a tuna melt on a plate and hear the "Jaws" theme playing in the background.

Nighttime: my two comadres sleep in the cabin and I listen to sounds from my estomago (stomach). Is there a local god of these particular volcanoes? Can I pray to Him to stop the molten lava burning me? I have never heard noises like this inside my body. I would not be surprised if my abdomen burst open and one of those creatures from "Alien" popped out.

The next day, Thursday: We ride a tuk-tuk into town (picture a cross between a moped and a golf cart) and do a bit of shopping. The haggling is not fun, it is aggressive and hostile. We take a tuk-tuk back to the posada. We get out at the lodge.


Oh God, may I please have a very cold Coke, straight up? Something is very wrong.

I sit on a chair back by the computers and the bar, panting, in a cold sweat. An old hippie woman with long white hair and childish bangs sits on a couch opposite me writing on her laptop. I pant and sweat. She ignores me. I want to lie down where she is sitting so badly. I begin to dislike her very much. She feels this strong wave of feeling, no doubt, and regards me with a cold eye.
"Why don't you go to your room and lie down?" she accuses.

I assure her that as soon as I am able to walk up the hill to our cabin, I will certainly do so. For now, these stairs seem far too daunting:
Guatemala Trip 2007 041
She does not move from the couch. I want to be on that couch so badly. I continue to feel the greatest animosity toward her. She goes back to typing her all-important missive. It is probably a newsletter home to her friends telling them about her great humanitarian efforts on behalf of los indigenos of the Guatemalan highlands. As far as I know, her sacrifice amounted to staying at a gorgeous lakeside resort and spending an hour or two a day playing the guitar for orphans. She may have even contributed to the local economy by shopping in the village. Let's give her the Compassionate Gringa Award of 2007, shall we?

I stop hating the woman -- I simply don't have the energy for it -- and bang like Frankenstein's monster to the bathroom across the lodge. I slide my back down the wall and land on the cold stone floor. Sweating, sweating, panting. I become dimly aware of my amiga in there with me, coaching me as I finally begin to retch and retch and retch into a wastepaper basket which is mercifully empty. A gaggle of Guatemalan women -- hotel workers -- stand outside the door in a gaggle, giggling. Would not one of them have a better idea, something motherly and comforting? Are they afraid to harm the American? Would one of them consider wrapping me up in one of those warm blankets they carry their babies in and holding me to her? I would be so grateful. Like this:
Guatemala Trip 2007 033
So go my delirious thoughts.

Later, I start a dose of Cipro, which rips through my stomach. More volcanic lava. Acid. Pain.
That night: Imagine the most ridiculous possible pose one might take on a bed (hint: including bedclothes and four pillows). Use your imagination.
Whatever you have imagined, that is the only position in which I am able to find any comfort and in which I finally fall asleep. Don't ask me to describe it. Leave me a shred of my dignity.

We were supposed to go to the market in Chichicastenango on Thursday. None of us regretted missing it. A German woman was stabbed there last week, and none of us felt up to the crowds. I slept and read. I looked out the window at these lovely orchids:
Guatemala Trip 2007 079

Friday, we climb into a van for the return ride to Antigua. We decide to take the coastal route, as it will be less winding than the mountain route we took on the way in. (These guys did it standing up, Guatemala Trip 2007 032 but I did it in fits of nervous giggles and clutches at safety handle above the car window, affectionately referred to as the "holy s--- handle").

It is on this ride back to Antigua that I learn the Great Lesson of relaxing the neck and vomiting down into the bag. It has come to this: I am actually proud of my aim. For all the turmoil in my guts, I am neat and clean. The van is neat and clean. Small favors.

I begin to think about people who live with chronic nausea, for whom the world is a place of dangerously pungent smells, noxious fumes, and potentially stomach-churning foodstuffs. How much they must, as I have done, retreat protectively into themselves, shaky and vigilant, for the waves to pass, or to get less dramatic. I am excessively, ebulliently grateful for my general good health.

This guy, very debonair, hangs out with me:
Guatemala Trip 2007 070

* For some really great and wack stories about characoteles, read this:


Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Good thing you didn't have to ride a chicken bus while you were having stomach troubles. That would have been pretty stressful! Did you get to ride a chicken bus during your trip?

Blogger PeaceBang said...

HS, no chicken buses! Every time we saw one, we'd go, "CHICKENBUS!" They're very picturesque, but not for this queasy gringa.

Anonymous Lorna said...


Hope you are better now ...


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