Thursday 2 June 2011

Gastro infection fun

It´s happened! It took a whole ten days, but then it happened.... I got ill.

On the day that Ollie left (last Saturday) I ate some very dodgy street food in Cancun, and while I´m feeling a lot better now, the intervening days have been.... interesting.

Isla Mujeres - perfect blue sea
As much as I´d like to place the blame elsewhere, I have to admit this was largely my own doing. I missed breakfast because we had to leave early for Ollie´s flight and by the time I got back to the city centre it was past 1pm and I was starving. The first food stand I came to was manned by a wrinkly, old woman and offered a choice of random meat baguettes or cheese and sour cream empanadas. I had two of each. I watched my chef prepare the food: no obvious cleansing to speak of before preparation, and rather grimy hands digging out the mystery meat from it's uncovered container. Disconcerting. Still, I thought, this is authentic Mexico - I have to get into the ´real´ street food sooner rather than later, and the grassroots local stuff always tastes the best. It didn´t. It tasted awful. I´m not sure if ´soggy´ qualifies as a flavour, but that´s all my tastebuds were getting. If I hadn´t been so ravenously hungry, and if there had been other food options in sight, I would have discreetly dumped it and gone elsewhere to eat. But there wasn´t. So I ate it (or half of it - as much as I could bear).

More beautiful blue sea!
I pretty much accepted whilst eating that I would get a little bit ill from this culinary adventure, but convinced myself that this could actually be a good thing: It's not a bad idea to get your gut used to the proper local cuisine early on in the trip; if you´re ill at the start you´re less likely to get ill further down the road. This is exactly what happened on my last trip: I was appallingly sick for the first few days in Nepal, but then never again for the next seven months - my iron stomach could take anything!

I was less convinced by my own foolish logic two days later, stuck in the toilet on Isla Mujeres. While I wasn´t as elaborately ill as in Nepal, I still had very painful stomach cramps and decided a quick trip to the pharmacy would be a good idea. The guy behind the counter could speak reasonable English and was very helpful, but he couldn´t really help me until I´d had a consultation with the resident doctor. So, I waited upstairs until the very young medical consultant called me in:

"Hablas ingles?", I asked hopefully. "No", she replied. "No hay problema. Hablo espanol!" I said confidently (while not-so-confidently rummaging for my Spanish language bible and quickly searching for the ´health´chapter).

My lengthy prescription note
I was in the consultation for a good 1/2 hour, using my phrasebook-assisted pigeon Spanish to stammer out various symptoms, accompanied by extravagant miming. It was during one of these elaborate dramatisations (I think with a reference to ´diarrea´ - which doesn´t need translating...)  that I noticed the following wording on the back cover of my phrasebook: "Chat with the locals and discover their culture - a guaranteed way to enrich your travel experience". Amongst the chaos this struck me as very funny - I don´t think this was the kind of ´enrichment´ the publishers had in mind!

During the moments that the doctor wasn´t laughing at me, she said a few things I understood, a lot of things I didn´t, measured my weight, height and temperature (through a thermometer clamped inelegantly beneath my armpit) and asked my age (one of the few questions I understood first time!)

My prescribed drugs
At the end of our extended exchange, she started to write a prescription... and kept writing... and kept writing... until the whole A5 sheet of paper was filled with a list of various medications and detailed instructions on how to take them (all different and all in Spanish). It's highly possible that I got into the whole illness translation and elaborate symptom charades thing a bit too much and the consultant came to the conclusion that I was at death´s door. Either way, when I presented the list to the pharmacist, he looked a little shocked at first and then spent five minutes gathering together a vast selection of drugs - 1 antibiotic, 1 painkiller, 1 long-term stomach protection thing, 1 rehydration drink, and 2 others I´m still not really sure of their function - all in vivid, pretty colours. I´ve been feeling remarkably better since taking them all (sometimes much, much better and sometimes a bit ´floaty´).

Lots of pretty colours
I was initially disappointed that I´d no longer be able to indulge at the beach bar - a fear that was confirmed when the doctor said, "No alcohol. No tequila, no rum, no whisky, no vodka, no mescal". Fair enough, I thought, I have to prioritise my health.... But then she finished: "Cervaza (beer) es OK!" :-)
(I have to admit this victory was shortlived, though - I followed the doctors orders and indulged on plenty of cervazas during my first drugged-up night: a unique drunken experience, but I felt so rough the next day that I´ve decided to abstain until I´ve finished the course of medication).

My ´office´ for the week (red building)
With all this excitement, I´ve not achieved a great deal else since the last blog. I have returned to, and remained on, the beautiful Isla Mujeres and have established a fairly productive daily routine: get up in time for breakfast at 10.30am, 2 hours proofreading work at a nearby internet cafe (note - this is the only productive part), back to the hostel for a quick workout, cheap lunch from the supermarket, and then to the beach until sunset, after which I fit in a couple of hours volleyball before dinner, and then head down to the (now sober) beach bar until the early hours. I could easily live like this for a very long time, but I am forcing myself to leave tomorrow (Friday) and get on with the ´proper travelling´. Next stop is Merida, and then I´ll continue heading inland across Mexico before dropping down into Guatemala.

Until the next (hopefully fully healthy) entry.....

(more pictures below)

Health and safety issues...?

My favourite Isla Mujeres picture so far (apart from the sunset ones below!)


  1. Hope your feeling better hunny!!!! Cant believe that both you and Ollie have been ill. The new pics are amazing and im glad that you are enjoying yourself. Hope that you are meeting lots of interesting people and from what i have read you are picking up the language really well. I look forward to reading your next blog. Lots of love and keep safe, Em, Lloyd and Olivia xxx

  2. Nice pics jamie james! Poor you... but hey, you were gonna get it sooner or later! now its over... hopefully!!! =P

  3. Glad you're feeling better, and i completely agree - getting the sickness out the way is the way to go. But maybe brush up on your ability to judge what constitutes a clean and healthy place to eat?! I'm very glad you're enjoying Isla Mujures.. good recommendation?! I am sick with jealousy :(

  4. Oh dear, well you were expecting it and as you say hopefully now that you've had that experience it wont repeat itself. Be well son and stay in touch. Lots of Love dad & Fay xxx