It used to be, everyone wanted a mariachi band at their funeral. Now, we’re lucky to get customers.
Why do you think that is? The economy?
Yes, maybe. Also the culture. Things have changed.
—Bogotá, Colombia on September 26, 2014
The significant other didn’t want me to write this post. He protested loudly and prolongedly last night as I thoughtfully made notes. The female parental unit (who taught me the diarrhea song!) would also advise against hitting “publish.” But, I’M DOING THIS FOR YOU, GUYS, so here it goes.
If you make the trek to Peru from the United States, your weak, little gringo stomach is probably going to hate you for a bit. And your intestines? Well, those suckers are about 30 feet long collectively, so when they’re ticked off, you’re definitely going to know. They don’t call it “Montezuma’s revenge” for nothing, y’all.
Nobody wants to talk about diarrhea (except these guys) because, well, who wants THAT kind of imagery floating around in their noggins? Any way you slice it, diarrhea is the worst, and—in some cases—pretty dangerous. Unfortunately, odds are you’re going to get it at least once while traveling. If you live in Peru (or any third-world country, really), you’ll have it multiple times.
Here’s how to handle this crappy situation:
BEFORE You Go, Things You Really Ought to Know
Eat foods that will please your intestines. Repeat after me: “When my intestines are happy, I’m happy.” We all need to start paying more attention to our innards—especially ones that cover so much real estate!
You don’t want to start a trip on the wrong foot so avoid foods that you know upset your digestive system. Start taking prebiotics/eating foods that have prebiotics several weeks before you leave. The science on this changes all the time so ask your doctor for recommendations!
Stock up on Pepto and Tums before you leave. It’s difficult to find U.S. quality in Peru. And get chewables whenever possible—they work faster.
Also make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. You can get a lot of gnarly bugs via contaminated food and water.
(Ladies, if you’re prone to infections down there I’ve got you covered. Insertable pills—oral pills don’t work well!—containing one or more of the following are helpful for warding off illness: Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus salivarius and Lactobacillus plantarum. Avoid anything with Lactobacillus acidophilus because apparently it’s not effective. I wrote an article about this one a few weeks ago so it’s relatively up-to-date, but check with your doc!)
You’re Gonna Have to Poo so Don’t Neglect the Loo
Yes, your foray into the wonders of diarrhea is just beginning! Assume that you’re going to get it at least once. How awful would it be if you had to go through the process while in a gross bathroom?
When you’re apartment hunting (or hotel shopping!), the loo is top priority. The majority of toilets I’ve seen in Peru don’t even HAVE seats so consider yourself ahead of the game if you’ve got one and it’s latched on correctly.
If you just love the apartment, but the bathrooms are dingy, ask your landlord to fix it up before you move in. This is a simple and reasonable request!
When it comes to hotels, ask to see the room before you check in. This is a standard practice here, and no one is offended.
Hey, Gringo, Let’s Be smart! Don’t Eat at That Food Cart!
Adventurous eating is awesome. You cannot truly experience a country without sampling its cuisine.
But please be smart about your food choices. American tourists are already the butt of SO MANY jokes. If y’all keep making me look bad, I’m gonna go “Soy de Canada.”
Go to a nice restaurant and order that guinea pig—don’t eat it off the street.
Avoid anything that’s not cooked or peeled (unless you’re at a really nice place). Salad that’s not washed in a cleaning solution is especially dangerous. #LifeExperience
You’re Feelin’ Kind of Slow, and There’s Grumbling Down Below
When Your Stomach’s Feeling Sick, And You Need Help Real Quick
Peruvian pharmacies sell LOTS of medications, including antibiotics, without prescriptions. This is great for travelers because who has time to find/visit a physician while on the move?
But, be warned, the pharmacists at these counters are not highly trained like in the U.S. If you’re buying medication do not expect them to know what you need. Always look up the generic drug name and dosage beforehand. Write it down on a piece of paper, and give it to the pharmacist to avoid any confusion.
Before you leave the pharmacy check to make sure the pills are correct, and keep your receipt. You do not want to accidentally take bad medication.
Don’t Suffer Another Bout, Just Get Up and Throw it Out
Your intestines are on fire. Was it the chicken? That burger? The salad?
If you have any leftovers THROW THEM OUT. For someone like me who absolutely hates waste, this was a problem. But it’s always better to just chuck possible offenders than make yourself (or someone else) sick once again.
When You’re Sitting on the Pot and You Really Think You’ve Got…
Check out this Jezebel article “You’ve Been Pooping All Wrong.” Yup, there’s a right way and a wrong way. And when you have diarrhea, you better poo correctly. Seriously.
If Your Intestines Are on Fire, and the Sitch is Rather Dire
If you’re in pain and losing lots of bodily fluids, go to the hospital. For about $100 they can hook you up to an IV and pump you full of great medications that will take care of your food poisoning problem. It’s much better than waiting it out and potentially hurting yourself.
Got any other Pro Tips? Share ’em with me! Always happy to talk health, prevention and, more specifically, poo.
Last weekend I climbed a mountain.
It was a planned expedition—as much as you can plan anything in Peru. We had a destination (sort of), and a map (kind of), and an idea of when we’d get there (vaguely).
This lack of concrete scheduling is very counterintuitive to my detail-oriented personality. But after stress eating for the first three weeks I was in-country, I realized I’d either have to go with the flow or risk diabetes.
So the patiperros in my life got together and hailed a sleek car service outside an old theater in Lima. We drove for three hours through the capital’s Friday night traffic. Unlike NYC (or D.C. or SF or…) cab rides here are incredibly inexpensive. I plunked down 9 soles—the equivalent of about $3—at the end of the trip.
Upon arrival at our destination I was immediately ejected from the vehicle and sucked into the swirl of lightssoundssmells that consumes Chosica every weekend. Chosica is a tourist town, a place Limeños go when the doom and gloom of the capital gets on their nerves. With this influx of out-of-towners, everything is pretty big and bright for a mountain town.
There was a fair in the main square, and blinking, raucus rides flung screaming children in all directions. Along the park, vendors sold anticuchos de corazon (skewered cow hearts) dripping with oil, pollo y papas (chicken and potatoes) and Turrón de Doña Pepa (a pastry topped with candies).
For the first hour, we veered away from one commotion only to throw ourselves at another. Along the way, the patiperros picked up fresh cheese, avocado, anticuchos, two bottles of pisco too many and a $1 chicken sandwich. Satisfied, and praying to The God of Food Poisoning for mercy, we made our way to Chosica’s bus “terminal”—a shed just a few blocks from the park.
That night, we had to take a 2-hour bus ride to a much smaller town called San Mateo. The plan was to grab a hotel room and sleep for a bit before our crack-of-dawn jaunt into the wilderness. Reaching San Mateo before bed would also give us a few, precious hours to pay our respects to The God of Altitude. Acclimating to the new, much higher, elevation is important. Altitude sickness is a thing—and it’s a bitch.
So when we made it to the terminal, we were ready to get on the road. But there was no bus. I mean, there might be a bus, we were told. About 30-something people were waiting in line, convinced this bus would appear. They’d been waiting for more than an hour for their chosen mode of transportation to materialize.
Since the patiperros and I weren’t on good terms with The God of Late Transporation (there must be one, right??), we had to slightly alter The Plan.
Now, when I’m having a one-on-one conversation, I can understand Spanish. I won’t profess to know everysinglelittledetail, but I get the gist of the conversation. Add hunger, lights, loud noises and sleep deprivation to the mix, and I don’t even try anymore. At that point, my brain barely responds to English.
So I stood on the side of the road in a city whose name I kept forgetting and dodged cars and foot traffic while waiting for the patiperros—who were chattering away in a mixture of Spanish and Polish—to come to a decision about where/when/if we’d be sleeping.
People generally panic when everything is out of their control. Their cortisol levels rise to an uncomfortable level, their palms get sweaty, and their stomachs churn. But this is Peru. Maybe Plan ABCDEFG didn’t work out, but there’s always Plan H. The same “flexibility” that spirited away our bus also provides plenty of other workarounds.
We ended up bunking with a friend of a friend for the night and heading off early in the morning for San Mateo. In San Mateo we bought mountain bread (it’s a thing!) and water and found a cab willing to drop us off in the middle of nowhere.
There were sheep and cows and women tending to a shrine. After realizing no one in our group had cell phone reception, the cab pulled away, and I climbed a freaking mountain.
It actually wouldn’t be so impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that this mountain was almost 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level at the base. This means there were very few oxygen molecules getting to my li’l cranium. The mountain danced around a LOT during our five-hour trek (less mamba, more waltzy).
There was wind and rain and hail. I not-so-melodramatically thought I was going to die on several occasions, or at least dizzily stumble off said mountain and break a few bones.
The patiperros were hunting for a lake at the top of the mountain, said to have gorgeous vistas. At hour three we figured we were getting close. Halfway through hour four, we knew it was just over the next ridge. By hour five, the sun was beginning to set, and we called it. We’d conquer just ONE more ridge, and then we’d start the two-hour hike down.
In case you were keeping track, we’re now on Plan Q.
We never found the lake, but I climbed to the very top of that mountain, and despite the lack of oxygen (or maybe because of it) felt oh-so alive.
I wrote this headline and blog post (below) last year and thought they were clever and funny. But they’re neither of those things. They’re just sad and ignorant.
I’m leaving them both as-is to remind myself how easy I have it. As a member of the majority, I can make these kinds of “jokes,” and I have the privilege to think they’re funny. Because when a cop pulls me over, I don’t have to be afraid. The authority figure with the gun is my friend.
For so, so many others, that’s not the case. Living in my little bubble of privilege, I cannot begin to imagine what a life living with discrimination is like. So I’m listening and reading and learning, and you should do the same. I won’t take my misinformed blog post down, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it. Instead, check these out:
Police officers are always picking me up.
When I lived in NYC (and wasn’t reporting a story—that’s an important distinction), I was driven from the Morningside Heights precinct all the way up to the east side of 125th by two very nice gentlemen who also gave me tips on what to order at Sylvia’s.
As a Washingtonian, cops literally pulled me off the streets once a week. I was driven to a soccer game, a metro station and, once, to my house. (Aside: It was WAY better than Uber.)
Perhaps I walk around with a sign on my back that says, “EASILY ROBBED. SAVE HER. FILLING OUT A POLICE REPORT WITH THIS ONE WILL BE A NIGHTMARE.”
It was really only a matter of time before the local authorities here picked up on my trail. I was walking around San Isidro, a neighborhood about an hour north of my house. And FINE, I was admittedly lost, but just a little bit! I was only three blocks off. I would’ve found it eventually.
Anyhow, the Serenazgo—Lima’s version of police officers—found me and walked me to my destination.
I finally feel like this is home!