Diarrhea Diaries: A Guide to Surviving Traveler’s Diarrhea

***Caution! This post contains serious potty humor that may not be suitable for those with a weak stomach. Reader discretion is advised.

It all started in Agra when I discovered the best deal ever: breakfast for 15 rupees. For 15 rupees (roughly 30 cents) I got two eggs any style, four pieces of toast, butter or jam, and coffee.

Amazing, right?

Wrong! And here’s why: I wouldn’t have a solid poo for the next two weeks.

Now, solid poos were already few and far between on my trip through Asia, but two days after that breakfast I went from having what doctors call “loose stools” to what I call “sporadic waterfalls.”

I had Yosemites, I had Niagaras, I had all sorts of waterfalls – and lots of them. If they sold Depends adult diapers in India, I would have bought them in a heartbeat -it was that bad.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s go back to that café in Agra, as there are a few details I forgot to mention.

The first thing you should know is that I ate at this café four times. It’s not that the food was good (it wasn’t), or the coffee (it was made from powder and had mysterious oily swirls in it), but I certainly filled up on the eggs, butter, and toast. Also, I came back for dinner and ate more extremely cheap food of questionable quality. Call me incredibly cheap or call me a glutton for pain. Either would be accurate.

The next thing you need to know is that the restaurant was run by a seven-year-old and his five-year-old brother. They both worked in their pajamas.

You may be thinking to yourself, what were you doing at a restaurant run with child labor? The answer is simple: I was in India.

The five-year-old worked in the kitchen while the seven-year-old served the tables at the rooftop restaurant overlooking the Taj Mahal. He seemed rather sick, but then again, most of the kids I saw in Agra looked pretty sick.

An old man overlooked the operation from a mauve couch in his house below the restaurant. He didn’t move, but he barked orders (at what were presumably his kids) throughout each meal.

Looking back, I should never have eaten at that place. But, it had a great view and I kinda felt sorry for the kids when they lured me in with their 15-rupee deal.

“Best deal in town,” they said, and I couldn’t argue with them. It was true.

Fast-forward 36 hours later. I’m on an overnight train headed from Agra to Jodhpur, “The Blue City” on the edge of the Great Thar Desert.  I awake in the middle of the night feeling funny, search for my dung roll (aka toilet paper) and head to the toilet. Squatting over a filthy stainless steel hole, feeling the breeze from the tracks below, it began.

I wasn’t in waterfall mode yet, but that time was fast approaching.

When I arrived in Jodhpur, every guesthouse was booked… except the Green Guesthouse. The concrete walls were textured with chipping flakes of sea foam green paint and the door to my room was made of mesh. Oh, and the toilet just so happened to be up two sets of stairs and on the far side of a rooftop patio.

The next two days were a workout in more ways than one. Not only was I running up and down stairs, but once I got there, I spent several minutes in squat position (a serious quad builder). And let’s be honest, this wasn’t the kind of toilet you read your Chicken Soup for the Soul on.

I still managed to roam the town. What can I say? I’m a zealous traveler who won’t let massive stomach cramps and bouts of waterfalls cascading out of my bum let me down – not when I can go to the pharmacy and self prescribe myself a magic cocktail.

After spending most of my first day in Jodhpur in bed, I vowed to walk around the second day, exploring both the massive fort and the hilltop Umaid Bhawan Palace. I clocked in three waterfalls at the fort and thought I had nothing left when I reached the palace. Right after taking a decidedly bizarre picture with a wildly mustachioed palace guard, I turned in a panic and made a mad dash for the outhouse. It seems there was a never-ending supply of geysers just waiting to erupt from my butt.

On an evening walk through town on my last night in Jodpur, I did something I haven’t done in 26 years. I pood my pants. Not a lot. But enough. It wasn’t Niagara Falls; it was more like leaky faucet.

Miraculously, things improved after that. The waterfalls became less frequent and more bearable and slowly I graduated to loose stools (a vast improvement).

Once you poo your pants, you’ve hit rock bottom. It’s all uphill from there!

——–

Back home I never talk about my poo, but on the road in less developed countries, it’s a daily topic. Sometimes an hourly topic. And it’s not just me. Strike up a conversation with strangers in a café in India and the conversation will inevitably harken back to poo.

“Did you get sick yet?”

“Whole day on the toilet?”

“Hospitalized!?!?”

Just when you’re knee deep in a stranger’s poo story, someone in the group excuses themselves, reaching into their bag for some toilet paper with a knowing smile.

“Wish me luck,” they say, winking.

Your gunna need it buddy!

Introducing: Strange World

A new bi-weekly edition to MarkontheMap (as if there is any real time frame for this site), Strange World is just like Big Shots, but weirder and occasionally more R-rated.  Each Strange World has a few odd shots from around the world loosely organized around a theme (expect to see ancient erotica and disco chickens).  Enjoy and, as always, feel free to comment.

Strange World: The Message

24 Hours: Border Crossing – Laos to Vietnam

4:00am:  I wake up in a sketchy guesthouse that, with crooked floors and hexagonal dimensions, better resembles a funhouse.

4:30am:  A gang of saber-toothed street dogs chase me through the dark alleyways of charmless Muang Khua all the way to the river.

5:00am:  Standing with two backpacks (big and small, front and back) I balance on a rocking canoe as I cross the Nam Ou in the pitch black of night.

5:05am:  The boat captain’s friend pushes me as I’m balancing, demanding money.  Am I buying into some illegal crossing?  Are we about to storm the Alamo?  I give him what he wants.

8:00am:  It’s light out and we stop, waiting for the dirt road to open in our direction.

8:10am:  I squat over a hole for my usual, early-morning bout of diarrhea while cursing myself for the mystery meat I ate the previous week.  Knees trembling, I vow a strict vegetarian diet.

8:17am:  I am invited to join four Vietnamese men for breakfast (Beer Lao and some rice whiskey).  We drink and smile while watching psychedelic music videos on the television.

8:30am:  I feel dizzy.

9:00am:  I get back on the bus and squeeze into a seat where I (small and thin) can barely fit.  To my right, men laze atop piles of rice as if on bean bags while, up front, women plopped on a mat primp each other’s hair.  The bus cum party chugs along.

11:00am:  On a dusty road that looks destined for the moon, the bus loses its traction, sliding backwards.  I scream, everyone laughs, and we continue forward inching closer to China than Vietnam.

12:30pm:  We reemerge above the clouds at the alpine border with Vietnam.  The guards are on a lunch break.  We will have to wait.

12:31pm:  But while we wait, a prim comrade leads us to a statue of the great leader Ho Chi Minh.  Do we know about him?  Do we know about the American War?  Are there any Americans here?  Would I like to know more about Ho Chi Minh or some destinations in Vietnam where I can learn about the atrocities of the war?

1:00pm: Everyone’s visas have been processed… except mine.

1:15pm:  I am free to enter Nam.

3:00pm:  I arrive in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam after ten hours of travel.  We have gone approximately one-hundred kilometers, averaging an astonishing ten kilometers an hour.

6:00pm:  I catch an overnight bus to Hanoi sharing a pink bed with a mentally retarded man.  He smiles a lot.

4:00am (the next day):  I arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam with zero stampable pages left in my passport.  (I will be stuck here for a while!)