There's this really ugly side of travelling that no one really wants to talk about. This is not an oblique reference to how dirty our clothes are, or how often we bypass a shower because it's just not worth it.
This is about getting sick on the road. Overexposure to sun (insolación in Spanish), dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, eye infections, infected cuts, injuries from sprained ankles to concussions, malaria, dengue fever, parasites from leishmaniasis to those worms that have to be wound out on a stick (guinea worm).
In a word, being sick or injured on the road sucks. It´s terrible because you feel like death, no one can help you and you kind of want your mommy. There are stories of folk remedies like the liquid tiger balm a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ivory Coast told me about, (drunk, not spread), teas and tisanes and hot rocks, and having an egg rolled over your body and the yolk analyzed. In No Touch Monkey, Ayun Halliday tells the story of having a dislocated knee relocated by a spuriously qualified healer.
I was once on a bus from Barriloche to Mendoza, Argentina and met a young Norweigan probably on the verge of going septic from a terribly infected tatoo. We trooped together, a nurse who happened to be on the bus, the norweigan with the oozing tatoo and me, the translator to pharmacy in Neuquén to get him antibiotics.
Being sick on the road is a royal pain. You want to be happy, and up and fun and OMG I just ate this thing from the market and who knows what it was. But then there's the urgent flight to the bathroom, the prayers to an unknown deity to please just make it stop.
It also becomes the sort of merit badge of travellers, whipped out at the most inopportune moments (during dinner, for example) in a grand game of one-up-manship. It also leads to some fairly hilarious and creative moments. And so I shall leave you with the following (warning, disgustingness ensues): Anyone who didn't cut the top off of a two-liter bottle to throw up into last night may now be excused.
What? Am I the only one left?
Thanks Bolivia, it's been real. Leavingon the 1:30 bus for Peru.