A disgruntled librarian packs it up and leaves fabulous New York City behind,
going on random global adventures,
while simultaneously promoting literacy
and spreading the love of the written word.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

the dark side of cusco

we have been to many places dear blog readers, many fabulous places: belize, costa rica, honduras, mexico, etc.  and we have never had any problems.  (well, except for in belize when it was SO hot it actually made me feel ill, and then later i was poisoned by one of their 13 varieties of poisonous trees.  but these were minor problems!)

anyway, when we were in lima we ate like kings. the food was fantastic and super cheap.  even when we went to divey-looking whole-in-the-wall places the food was very high-quality.

typically we would get these "tourist menus" which is kind of like a prix fixe deal where you get to pick an appetizer (soup, small potato dish, or ceviche) then you get to pick an entree, usually a grilled fish or chicken, served with potatoes and rice.  sometimes you'd even get a little glass of fruit punch and a strange but tasty gelatinous dessert.  all for the bargain price of about $3-$5 american dollars per person.  not bad!

but things changed when we got to cusco.  now, there are several problems stacked up against us gringos in cusco.  first, due to the high altitude and lack of oxygen, people actually digest at about half the speed as normal.  so if you eat a big meal, it stays with you for quite some time. second, and probably more important, cusco has several bacterias and parasites that the locals are immune to, but visitors are not.  we were told that if we stayed away from lettuce, tomatoes, all uncooked vegetables, thin-skinned fruits, raw fish (no ceviche!  so sad!), and of course tap water, that we would be fine.

week one, coming off of lima, we ate at one dodgy place thinking peru was a land of fantastic cheap food.  but unlike lima, this dodgy places was just ... well ... dodgy.   but we followed the rules!  no raw veggies, nada.  we were even brushing our teeth with bottled water.  but within a few days my beloved bolshevik fell ill.

he was a little annoyed that he was sick and i wasn't, considering my propensity for illness.  but he went to this little clinic known for treating tourists, got lab work done, was given some meds, and in a couple of days he was fine.

what was interesting though, was at this point, he and i had eaten the same food.  so why wasn't i sick?  the doctor explained that anything, ANYTHING, could make you sick.  a waiter doesn't wash their hands and then they touch the edge of your plate and touch your food and then you have a parasite.  or a fly lands on your food, spreading the local bacteria to you.  scary stuff.

so the following week, 2 days before we are about to head to macchupicchu, i get sick.  now, the bolshevik had waited a few days before going to the doctor, but i went immediately, knowing i needed to get some meds in me if i was going to recover in time for the inca trail.  again, we go to the clinic, get blood work done, they give me some meds, and by the next day i was notably better.

so by this time we think we're in the clear, right?  we've both gotten sick, now we are super careful about everything we eat, only eating at "expensive" restaurants, everything should be fine.  but then the week after the inca trail, the bolshevik falls ill again.  this time considerably worse than the first time.  so again we go to the clinic, and they say that he has a different infection than last time.  they give him the meds, and again within about a day or so he is feeling much better.

but now we are both kind of terrified.  how many different infections can we get?  we were in cusco for over 4 weeks, that's a lot of time to sample the local bacteria.

then, wouldn't you know it, about half a week later i wake up in the middle of the night vomiting profusely.  i try to sleep it off, but at about 5 am the bolshevik gets me into a cab to the clinic.

it is my theory that as time went on, each sickness was worse than the last.  by the time i got to the clinic i was in a lot of pain.  but they were so good to me!  they saw me immediately and gave me a pain killer shot (i will not tell you were they injected me dear blog readers).  and they even gave me my own room with a bed and a flat screen tv!  i laid down for several hours, had lots of tests taken.  at one point a nice older woman brought me tea and toast, and then seeing the bolshevik sleeping on the little couch next to me, brought him tea and toast as well.

eventually the doctor comes in and tells me i have "the most serious parasite" in cusco.  we debate for a while if i need to stay in the clinic overnight (which at this point would be over 24 hours in the clinic since we got there so early).  but then he agrees to release me into the bolshevik's custody to go back to the hotel.  but not before prescribing me the following medicinal assualt:
1 pain killer (3 x per day for 5 days)
1 parasite killer (3 x per day for 5 days)
2 antiobiotics (1 2x per day for 3 days, 1 2x per day for 5 days)
2 large bottles of electrolytes (in disgusting "anis" flavor.  gross)

given how ill i was, i was amazed that i felt so much better the next day.  tired, but much much better.  which leads me to believe that although the peruvians have some serious bacteria/parasite problems, they at least possess super fast-acting drugs to combat them.

so we spent our last week in peru terrified of eating (but loving food!  it's so unfair!)  at one point we took a little cooking class, which came free with our spanish classes, and i refused to add lettuce to my dish.  i think i insulted the teacher who continually told me, in spanish, that the lettuce was clean and that she washed it herself.  but then i was thinking, unless you wash the lettuce in piping hot boiling water that will sear off all bacterias and parasites, leaving the lettuce a wilted soggy disgrace, i'm not going near it.  i told her, in spanish, that i believed that she had cleaned the lettuce, but that i had fear.  FEAR!

and now i am just counting down to when we will be in buenos aires and i can eat a big salad.  mmmmm, baby spinach.


  1. Glad you are feeling much better. This sounds a lot like my first experience in India, where I was so sick so many times that I lost 30 pounds in 30 days. No exaggeration. But like I always say, the local doctors are fantastic at treating these sorts of things because they see it all the time and know exactly what it is. I'm glad this held true for you too. Sorry to hear you were so sick though! I hope BA is fantastic. Can't wait to hear how things go there!

  2. yeah, i remember you saying you were seriously ill in india. we were pretty lucky that the meds worked so quickly, and there wasn't any long drawn-out suffering. it was just so surprising that we could get sick multiple times in such a short time span.