The experience of living with a stomach parasite is not something a decent person would ever want to share. Which brings me to the point of this article: the parasites I contracted in Guatemala.
My bowels were bleeding, my intestines sounded like a rockslide, I was diuretic, bloated and weak. So, I had some reason to believe I may have contracted a slight stomach bug.
After a lifetime on the road, I recently settled for a little while in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala — an average town in the developing world, simultaneously a remnant of the past and a glimpse into the future of civilisation. Nature and tribal traditions yet to be covered by concrete; hot, steaming and lawless. Violence, disease, debris and dystopia; it’s a jungle out here.
I’m not sure if my previously sturdy disposition is the result of surviving exposure or existed in spite of it. It was probably just luck. In the Belizean jungle, I complained about the sand flies, but they did me no real harm while my friend Robert contracted Leishmaniasis from them. In West Africa, a fly laid an egg in an open burn on my leg (contracted in a motorcycle crash), resulting in a staph infection that did me no real harm, but which nearly killed my partner when she simply touched it.
Now though, my luck had run out and something inside me was letting me know it.
I could have tried antibiotics, like in the civilized world or simply swallowed a whole cigarette, like in Vietnam, but both cures seems like too much of a scorched earth tactic. Strangely, it’s somewhat sad to think about killing parasites living inside you for, in a primal way, they feel like progeny, blooming in your stomach. An immaculate male maternity, maybe. Perhaps it’s fitting that we get to suffer them just like our environment suffers the human species.
Having a parasite may make you feel like a badass, but it also makes your arse feel bad. A trip to the clinic in a backwater country frequently results in misdiagnosis. But I was curious to find out what it was, and there’s nothing quite like standing in line with a bunch of Mayan mamas cradling fragrant stool samples in old jars.
My friend Colocho worked at the clinic, along with some American volunteer babes I knew, so I handed those my jar. “Come back after lunch and we’ll have your results,” said a dimpled intern. Chicks dig scars. Who digs parasites?
“You have an amoeba,” they announced on my return.
“Oh yeah? Everyone has those,” said my climbing buddy Denise.
“This one chick, she pretty much had her brain swiss cheesed by amoebas and had to fly to Europe to get her head blasted by radiation,” Kevin recalled.
For less than a dollar, the clinic sold me some sketchy pills about which I could find no information online. They were those no-name pills that are sold only in developing countries. And I wasn’t going to fall for that; obviously a WHO conspiracy to sterilize the masses. Nothing that cheap could possibly be healthy. So, I decided to explore natural alternatives.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in medicine. I’ll take a dollop of vaccine-induced autism over Typhoid or Meningitis any day of the week. But most lesser diseases don’t have a silver bullet vaccine and treatment of them by western medicine can be expensive and bring serious side effects. I’m particularly wary of antibiotics; undeniably over-prescribed and inarguably deadly to the billions of good organisms my gut needs to help me fight the bad guys.
So, I ate papaya seeds and raw garlic like they were popcorn. I cut pork from my diet, drank gallons of strong black tea and even made efforts to keep the big, dirty labrador named Ramona out of my bed. I wore long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquitoes, figuring Chikungunya would only compound my problems.
Little by little, the symptoms went away. I’m back to feeling 100 per cent and, indisputably, a better, smarter, wiser traveller for the experience. Now, where can I find a taco truck?