Sorry to lure you here under false pretenses, but this post is not nearly as romantic or sentimental as the title would make it seem. Fair warning: bodily distress of the “oh god, I am going to throw up” kind discussed in this post.
Sometimes I get a bit cocky when traveling. Despite having been to more than twenty countries and eating some pretty suspect food, I’ve only been drastically ill once. (And it wasn’t pretty, but at least I was back on my feet in a day or so.) My immune system is pretty robust. After a week in India and not a single instance of intestinal distress, I thought I’d escaped the dreaded “Delhi Belly” experience that nearly every traveler encounters. One by one, other members of the group had confessed to feeling under the weather, but I’d stayed energetic and upright. Aside from my stomach being unused to the immense amount of spices I was dumping into it, I wasn’t experiencing any major problems. Between the general catch-all stomach tablets that I was preventatively popping every morning and the UV water filter that I was using, I felt on top of the world. “My stomach is made of iron!” I thought to myself. “I am unstoppable. Come at me, India, I can take whatever you throw at me!”
Oh, what foolish prattle that was.
I must have angered a Hindu god with a wicked sense of humor, because on our very last day in India, when we were leaving Varanasi for Lumbini in Nepal, I got sucker-punched. It took roughly fifteen minutes into our eleven-hour bus ride before I started feeling a bit queasy.
On one hand, this was the best possible day for me to get sick, because we were on a bus for around eleven hours, so I wasn’t missing out on anything. (If I’d been sick the day that we’d seen the Taj Mahal, you best believe that I would’ve dragged myself there even if I had been bleeding out of my eyeballs.) On the other hand, this was also the worst possible day for me to get sick, because we were on a bus for around eleven hours.
At first, I just chalked it up to the roads that were more crater-sized potholes than smooth pavement. Every once in a while, I’ve gotten motion sickness, and I figured that that’s what I was dealing with this time, too. I hung on till our first rest stop, promptly parked myself on the warm pavement with my head between my knees, and tried to breathe through the growing urge to empty my stomach of its contents. Luckily, one of the other women had motion sickness pills, so I popped a few, moved to the front of the bus, and hoped for the best.
For a short, blissful break, I thought that the medicine had quelled my stomach. I didn’t feel great, but it no longer felt like there was a demon residing in my stomach. Maybe it was just my brain trying to convince my stomach it felt better, but whatever the case, that little interlude did not last long. Every time the bus swerved to miss a pothole, my unsteady stomach lurched again. Before long, the urge to blow chunks was growing stronger every minute, and finally, I’d asked our guide how much longer until we stopped for lunch. Food was out of the question; I just wanted to lie down on a solid, unmoving surface. This was the conversation that followed:
Me: “Will we be stopping for lunch any time soon?”
Guide: “Maybe around forty-five minutes…an hour, tops. Will you be okay until then?”
Me: “I can make it.” * approximately thirty seconds later* “We need to pull over. Now.”
Insert gratuitous vomiting noises here. I’d say I made it off of the bus with about .6 seconds to spare, and it was a very good thing that I’d been sitting near the front. And that’s the story of how I ended up puking my guts out on the side of the road, somewhere near the India-Nepal border. I literally got sick as I was leaving the country! I was so close to making it out with a clean record!
I hate being ill to begin with, but even more so, I hate being ill in front of people. It makes me feel vulnerable, embarrassed, and like I’m being a nuisance. Thankfully, emptying my stomach proved to be at least a temporary remedy, because I fitfully dozed until lunch, during which I heaved myself off the bus long enough to grab a bottle of water, and then curled up in the fetal position to sleep until we reached the land border crossing at Sunauli.
At this point, I was basically dead on my feet. I was cranky, tired, hungry, dehydrated, and basically just wanting to crawl into my bed at the next hotel. Suffice to say that I had just enough sanity left to wait for our visas to be processed and issued…so when one of the other group members offhandedly remarked, “Wow, it’d be so easy to smuggle something across the border here,” I couldn’t help but respond in incredulous and derisive frustration. Not one of my prouder moments. (Though my guilt was somewhat assuaged when a few other people later remarked that they’d been glad that I’d said something.)
From Sunauli to our hotel, it was another hour by bus, and I prepared myself for one last, pothole-ridden drive. There were literally no words to adequately describe my thanks when we discovered that the roads in Nepal – or at least that road – were as smooth as if they were paved in silk. From the time we checked into our hotel, I think it only took about six minutes before I was collapsed in bed and dead to the world.
Did I mention that this was also New Year’s Eve? Sleeping for around thirteen hours was quite different from the usual debauchery and reveling that I usually indulge in to ring in the New Year. It was definitely a holiday to remember…just maybe not for the best of reasons.
In retrospect, I still really don’t have any idea what made me ill. Maybe the last meal we had in Varanasi was a bit dodgy…maybe it was a dirty fork that I used…maybe I swallowed a mouthful of contaminated water when I was brushing my teeth. Whatever it was, it taught me that it doesn’t really matter how vigilant you are when traveling. You can take every precaution in the world and you’ll never be completely guaranteed to escape unscathed. Such are the risks you take. You have to be willing to roll with the punches, because if you let one kind of obstacle – like getting sick – stay with you, you’ll always have that chip on your shoulder. It’ll prevent you from enjoying future experiences, just because of the slight chance that it’ll happen again. Getting sick in India certainly doesn’t make me less likely or willing to return in the future.
But, hey, silver lining: any time that people want to trade “worst sickness” stories, now I’ve got a doozy.