I’ve been feeling nostalgic about my travels lately. As I reflect on the various international trips I’ve taken since getting my passport in 2009, I’ve noticed the memories are fading. What were once crisp mental images are starting to become blurs. The bustling souks I visited while studying abroad in Morocco aren’t as vivid. The bus ride through rural Honduras seems like a dream more than a past experience. And I know I walked through a breathtaking bamboo forest in Japan, because I have a picture buried away somewhere in a shoe box, but the memory is hazy.
It’s probably correct to assume my cherished travel memories are going to continue to fade as years pass and I explore more of the world. But there are certain memories from my travels that are extremely vivid and I doubt I’ll ever forget. They all involve a certain experience: food poisoning.
It always starts with a bubbling in my stomach and a wave of goosebumps fan across my skin, warning signs that things just took a turn for the worse. That was the sensation I experienced on a three-hour train ride in Peru after being awestruck by Machu Picchu. I knew something was brewing 20 minutes after the train started chugging, but the funny thing about trains is, they don’t turn around. Ten minutes of willing my body to “just be cool” proved unsuccessful and I haphazardly stumbled to the train’s restroom like a drunk college chick trying to make it back to the sorority house after a night of keg stands.
My four-month study abroad in Morocco turned out to be a constant bout with food poisoning. I may not remember the exchange rate between U.S. dollars and Moroccan dirhams, but I remember soaking up the sun on the beach of Essaouria with my new friends during a long weekend. All of the sudden, my stomach felt like a kraken was trying to escape my body, its tentacles thrashing around in my abdomen.
“Give me the room key,” I hastily said to my friends as sweat began to bead on my forehead. It was a 15-minute walk from the beach, through the traditional medina and up to the beautiful riad where we were staying. Those 15 minutes felt like an hour as I made my way through the maze of crumbling walls, pushy vendors and baskets of fresh, round bread Morocco is famous for.
“This is it. I’m not going to make it,” I thought. “I’m going to poop myself in the street like Maya Rudolph’s character in Bridesmaids, only I don’t have a flowing wedding dress to hide my indecencies.” With a lot of controlled breathing, clenched steps and my classic anti-diarrhea pep talk — “You can do this, you’re almost there. Don’t give up!” – I finally made it to our room. On another occasion in Morocco, I had to be hooked up to an IV in the university’s infirmary because the nurse said I was at risk of dehydration.
Now, after a year and a half of living in Bogotá, Colombia, I never had to be hooked to a machine, but Bogotá isn’t exempt from providing ground zero code brown situations that will be etched into my memory.
One such instance happened in the bus station after a job interview for a marketing writer position I would later fill. I don’t remember which questions they asked me or how I answered, but I will never forget feeling like I was going to pass out afterwards as I waited to catch a bus and return to where I was staying. It was my first month in Bogotá and I knew if I passed out, I would most certainly poop myself on a platform full of people, then somehow would need to find my way home in soiled pants. “You can do this, you’re almost there. Don’t give up.”
Not all my travel experiences have crossed paths with food poisoning. I have to give props to Japan. I was there for three weeks and was eating everything within arm’s reach and I didn’t get sick once. This is very fortunate as the toilets I encountered in Japan were on polar opposites of the technology spectrum. On one end, you had very uncomfortable squat toilets that induced leg shaking if you hovered too long. On the other end of the spectrum were futuristic toilets that had control panel arm rests and would play music or squirt “refreshing” water towards various exciting destinations depending on which button was pushed. These toilets might sound luxurious, but I assure you, there’s nothing fancy about pooping yourself because you couldn’t figure out which button raises the lid.
I can’t say I welcome the next inevitable bout with food poisoning while traveling. But as recollections of my adventures fade, I am certain “the bubblies” will allow me to vividly remember certain portions of the trip far more than a photo ever could.