A while ago, while enjoying brunch with my closest friends and travel companions, we somehow landed on the topic of stomach ailments when traveling. We were all in hysterics, literally falling off our chairs, as we reminisced our tragic traveling tummy tales.
At the time, some of us weren’t sure if would survive the night but years later, we’ve learnt to laugh about those awkward troubled tummies while in foreign and sometimes unusual locations. And thank goodness for travel companions who are integral to one’s recovery when in a foreign, distant land.
While I’ve been in Bali, these hilarious stories have been popping into my mind as I try my best to avoid getting the devastating ‘Bali Belly’. Luckily only a few of our group have been affected – unfortunately they have been uncomfortably weak and sore for days but are on the mend. Thank goodness for modern medicine!
Here are some of those stories:
This one time in South America
In La Paz, Bolivia, one of us had a cement stomach due to altitude sickness and probably also induced by multiple ham and cheese white bread sandwiches served on overnight buses. After days of constipation with a very sore and uncomfortable mid-section, we thought a strong cup of coffee and some fibre at a nearby coffee shop would do us all some good. Shortly after our breakfast, nature called and one of us dashed to the toilet. A few minutes later, said person returned to the table and anxiously exclaimed; “Um guys, we have to go now and we can NEVER EVER come back to this coffee shop.” After the cement stomach gave way, it was too much for the rickety third world loo to handle. The toilet blocked and the water slowly started creeping to the top of the toilet bowl.
While in Cusco, Peru, a few days before our booked Inca Trail trip, one of us was (wo)man down. She literally couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed but somehow found reserves to help her crawl to the toilet when necessary. After consulting a local pharmacist whose English was really good, she suggested that said patient should go to the travel clinic to have tests done as it may be a parasite or something worse. Needless to say, after numerous tests it was confirmed. She was hosting a family of parasites and the only way to kill it was to take the prescribed medication and to not eat any solid foods for a week.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince the company that we had booked the Inca Trail through to allow us to go with the next group so the patient aka. host was an absolute champ and completed the five day challenging Inca Trail on nothing more than liquids. Teasing questions like “How’s the family doing?” didn’t even dampen her spirit.
In South America generally and especially on the Inca Trail – the ‘facilities’ are extremely rural. It’s basically a hole in the ground and flowing water is hard to come by. Wet wipes, hand sanitizer and simply coming to terms that you’re going to be unhygienic for five days is the only way to deal. However, the conditions at extremely high altitudes sometimes result in some catestrophic stomach outbursts. Waking up in the middle of the night in a tent, and realising that it’s too late to unzip yourself out, is a reality. In fact it has happened to different friends on different occasions. That’s why travel buddies are friends for life!
I have popped a squat on my fair share of ‘facilities’ as seen above.
This one time in Thailand
After enjoying a seafood buffet on a gorgeous Thai island one evening, our group’s opinions quickly changed as we dropped like dominos from food poisoning. Most of us managed to make it to the snorkelling trip we had booked the following morning but it was not fun. One body was lying in the foetal position on the floor of the speed boat, while another friend turned green and vomited off the back of the boat; followed up by a third vomiting on another idyllic Thai island as soon as said traveler stepped foot onto land; only to have some kittens run up to lap it all up. Vom.com. Needless to say, the generous buffet lunch that day was hardly touched as we lay under the table mustering all our strength to sip energy drinks while keeping cool in the limited shade.
This one time while out at sea
When sailing out at sea in rough seas, sea sickness and tummy issues are inevitable. Once, en route to Canada in extremely rough seas where ‘The Perfect Storm” was set, I felt deathly. During a four hour night watch, my vision blurred as a heat flush ran through my body and I landed up stumbling out of the bridge, just in time to feed the fish. Sometimes there’s just no stopping it.
I later learnt some coping mechanisms like giving in to cravings for salty crackers and crisps and sipping on chilled cans of Ginger Ale. After snorkelling in very choppy seas last week and seeing a few people feed the fish, too, I really don’t miss working and living out at sea when sea sickness takes over.
So how can you prepare or remedy troubled traveling tummies?
Tried and tested tips to prevent and nurse troubled traveling tummies
Take a live probiotic each morning to ensure that the good kind of bacteria are keeping your belly in check.
Don’t drink the water. Buy bottled water and drink lots of it to constantly flush your system. Think of Charlotte’s in Sex & The City movie scene in Mexico – a moment on the lips will do far more than affect your hips.
Depending where you are traveling, it’s a good idea to avoid eating meat – especially in Asia and South America. I have avoided all meat and poultry while traveling in Bali over the past two weeks and, so far, I’ve luckily not had to sprint to the loo.
Make sure you have Valoid and Immodium on hand in case of emergencies. Also stock up on Rehydrate sachets to restore your body with all the essential nutrients it needs.
And when you’re in rural areas, always pack an extra pack of tissues, wet wipes, bottled water and hand sanitiser. At some stage, you are definitely going to need them.