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Grounded in Guatemala

Sunday, April 6, 2008

blue-gray tanager, Via Maya, Guatemala

Earlier, I made reference to staying at Hotel Via Maya for the remainder of the Guatemala trip. Foreshadowing, all that. Somewhere along the way, after leaving Las Tarrales, I ran into some frijoles refritos that didn't want to submit to their duty to nourish my body. No, these beans staged a miniature version of the L.A. riots in my guts, complete with burning, looting, and Molotov cocktails. The Antibiotic Police were called in, but it took awhile for their forces to quell the uprising. Firehoses were deployed, to little avail.

Bad food happens. It happens anywhere, but it happens more often in the tropics, because there are more bacteria foreign to tender North American digestive tracts, because there's higher heat and humidity, and, well, just because. I always travel with Immodium, which sort of stops overzealous peristalsis in its tracks, and since this happened, I travel with ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that's effective against the kinds of bugs that cause dysentery. Having had dysentery for six continuous months while in Amazonian Brasil, I needed Immodium to function on a daily basis. Cipro is a new, delightful development in the war.

One thing you don't want to do when stricken with dysentery is get in a vehicle. You don't want to do anything, in fact, that takes you farther than sprinting distance from a bathroom. This unfortunately includes birding excursions, boat rides, and (sob) going to Tikal. But hey. I've been to Tikal twice; I've had some of them most magical experiences of my life there, and as I told Bill of the Birds as he was taking leave of me in the pre-dawn hours, there are way worse places to be laid up than a third-floor jungle hotel room with an open-air balcony in the Peten region of Guatemala. I had my camera, I had my laptop to download and edit 8 bajillion photos; I had birds just off the balcony; I had a book to read, and most importantly, I had T.P.

The hotel maid looked in on me midmorning, at my sunken eyes and prone form, and visibly alarmed, asked auf Espanol, "Don't you want me to call your husband for you?"

"No. Absolutely not. There's nothing he can do for me. He belongs in the forest, watching birds. Please, do not call him."

Which must have sounded kind of weird, even though it was my most fervent wish, albeit in stilted, Portuguese-tinged Spanish. Perhaps she deduced that I was hallucinating, because about two hours later the loveliest lady doctor appeared at my door, carrying a small black bag and wearing a stethoscope around her neck. There followed a most interesting conversation, again conducted entirely in Spanish.

She listened to my description of my symptoms. Her eyebrows shot up when I told her I'd uh...gone...8 times since midnight.

"Ocho viezes?! Ehhhhhh."

She thought for a moment, then said, "Here's what I want to do. I want to take you in my car to Sta. Elena, to the hospital there. I want to put you on I.V. fluids, because you are dehydrated. And then I want to get a sample of your po-po from you and figure out what kind of germ you have, and give you the appropriate drugs for that germ."

The thought of getting in a car paralyzed me with dread. I had tried it just that morning, thought I'd surprise the group by showing up late for the birding excursion, and had had to stop the van for a little roadside interlude, and get the driver to take me straight the hell back to the hotel. Oh, no. Not getting in a vehicle for any hour-long ride over bumpy roads. Nuh-uhhhhn. I thought fast. Spanish bubbled up from the deep limbic recesses of my mind.

"Pardon me. But I want to stay right here, in my bed. And you can take my po-po to the hospital at Sta. Elena, and figure out what kind of germ it has, and then somebody can come back and bring me the right drug. My po-po can go. But I am not going anywhere. And I promise that I will drink and drink and drink and I do not need to be put on an IV."

I held my breath, watching her face, hoping hard that the good doctor would

a. understand my emergency Spanglish and
b.not make me get in a car again.

She smiled, shrugged, and asked if I had a little container.

I dumped out the rest of my Origins fruity facewash, maybe $20 worth, cleaned out the container, and quickly, yes, merrily produced the sample the good doctor had requested. We hugged and agreed that it had been a pleasant and fruitful exchange.

She came back that afternoon with a diagnosis:

"Se observo la microbiota moderamente aumentada con campos llenos de leucocitos."

which I gathered meant there were germs and white blood cells in my sample. She handed me a couple of cards of ciprofloxacin; we hugged again and shook hands. "Con mucho gusto!" I started the meds, and by late that night was feeling steady enough to wobble my way over to the thatched-roof bar, where my husband was yukking it up with the rest of the gang. I just as quickly wobbled back to the room, realizing that I was not going to be leaving at 3:30 AM for Tikal the next morning.

Well, that's some rotten timing, to get dysentery and miss the crowning birding excursion of a too-short trip. I'd have to make the best of it. I had the pre-excursion to Los Tarrales, there was that. Three days of bliss and manakins..And I have to confess, birding off a balcony in Guatemala, even sick, beats gazing out on sullen juncoes and dreary ice in Ohio. I would stay put, and make the best of it.
agouti, Tikal, 2007


You poor baby. Ugg.
The first pic of the agouti with its butt up in the air....what a good image to go with a post about dysentery.

Ohhh, yikes! I am so glad it did not get any worse. What an interesting interaction with the doctor.

You poor kid! What a miserable way to get grounded.

Oh how miserable Julie. So glad the Cipro took care of it and that you were soon back on your feet.

Julie, I hear it can happen to the best of travelers, but beans, spicy?! Your pictures are great but I don't have a clue as to what they are. with thar said I did enjoy them.

Hope you are feeling better and remember to keep hydrated.

Oh, I'm fine, fine fine. Thanks for your good wishes. The Ant stores it all away for later. I'm not suffering in Guatemala; I'm having a fabulous time in Ithaca. One lecture/opening down, one to go.

What a rotten feeling that is. I remember laying in a tent in Baja thinking, "I hope Steve knows it's ok to just take my ashes back home on the plane." It was, of course, no where near that bad, but a sense of humor helps.

Enjoy Ithaca and all those amazing Fuertes!

Being sick is bad - being sick on vacation is terrible.

Had samonela poising right after we got back from Costa Rica afew years back.

The bathroom became my favourite room in the house.

And then there's that moment, when you're contemplating strapping yourself into a tin can for the 14 hour flight home, and you wonder: can I make it? And you ask for a seat by yourself, near the bathroom, and the agent looks you up and down and says, "Are you SURE you want to fly?" Ahhh... good times.

Oh Julie, I feel for you. I had this exact experience in Monteverde in Costa Rica. It was HORRIBLE. I've never had my stomach make such odd noises and I've never spent so much time on the toilet. The worst part was that it hit the day before we were headed several hours away on bumpy roads to the coast. I know that dreaded feeling you shared. I panicked the entire time in the car and somehow held out. It stayed with me for days though. Imodium was no help and I had tons of it (I work for the company that makes it). Luckily a friend had Cipro and I was saved. It took several days and a fever, but it passed. I was so physically spent that I actually flew home after the first half of the trip and missed 8 days in the Osa Peninsula.

I missed a chance to see the hawk migration in Veracruz due to a similar intestinal revolt. Instead of taking my chances on a bus overloaded with birders, I opted to hang out on the beach near my hotel. All part of the experience, I guess.

Glad you found some relief! Ugh.

You even describe an experience with dysentery gracefully...

Enjoy the rest of Ithaca!

You have my sympathy; I've had a similar experience, and it's no fun. But you made a miserable time sound humorous, and in the end it's good to be able to laugh instead of cry over disappointments, isn't it?
I hope you feel better soon and can enjoy the rest of your trip.

Julie, you probably never knew you had so many dysenterested readers... (sorry)

These kinds of po-po stories are what keep me from traveling to exotic warm tropic climes. The stomach riots are just too much.

At first glance, I thought the doctor said, Ocho viezes, in spanish for oy vey!

Nice pics of the wildlife in Guatemala.

I hope you and Baker are having a grand time in Ithaca.

Hope this helps you feel better! I heard your Starling Commentary on NPR today! It made me smile!! Hope your feeling better soon!

There I was, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, shrieking with laughter at the image a starling, arriving for dinner with a nickel in its beak. "Here's a nickel, Lady. Are we square?"

My grandfather, who was a deadline poet for the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia in first half of the last century, sometimes wrote under the byline of a kid, Little Polly. His collection "Late Lark Singing" included this poem:


I nursed a wounded bird today
And now I must arise and say
Of all the many birds I know
The starling has the worst B.O.

T.A. Daly

(So, does it?)

Oh my gosh. But that little agouti shot was pretty funny.

Oh you know we've so been there before! Life on the road in all its vivid detail - there's nothing better than empathetic "revenge" stories to remind us of our homosapien-ness. Clearly you weren't drinking enough tequila shots with those beans.

My most memorable was at the Mount Kenya Safari Club after a boisterous round of picnic sausage on the Masai Mara. The highlight was the two-for-one punch where you hold the trash can under your chin while your throned on the toilet -- the word simultaneous takes on new meaning. And to add insult to injury -- with every expunge - some little animal holed up in the bathroom somewhere would make the most disturbing noises, gutteral noises at my offense.

I find the best precaution is eating as many chiles as you can take, reqular tequila shots -- then backed-up, if need be, with a prescription of lomodil and cipro.

Happy Tails - er I mean Trails!

" . . .didn't want to submit to their duty to nourish my body" :0)

I may have read funny accounts of this condition . . . No. I don't think I have.

You dear, are a hoot and real trooper.

Always drink beer, wine, (or alcohol) with the meals. At the first sign of anything, take lomidil. since I have done this in Central America and the tropics, I have never ever gotten as far as the cipro.

Sorry about you trials. Before regular alcohol and lomidil, I used to get sick. Now nada. I can really sympathize.

Otherwise I am enjoying your posts and photos.

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