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!

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The Brazen Charms of Kuala Lumpur

“KL Sentral, KL Sentral”

“You, Yes, You, KL Sentral, KL Sentral!”

“Come, Come!”

Without warning, the overwhelming cacophony of Kuala Lumpur had commenced.  Hawkers beckoned as passengers pushed and plowed their way through the antsy crowd. Moments earlier I had waited in a building I’d liken to my high school gymnasium as a family of Shi’ite Muslims had their passports checked by immigration.  How their covered faces matched a passport photo I will never know.  A moderate Muslim country, the room was an eclectic mix of Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.  It was eerily quiet.  Seconds later, an unrelenting chorus of clutter bombarded my senses, ushering me forward and welcoming me to Asia.

HEAT!  It’s the first thing I noticed exiting the plane in Malaysia.  The dense, humid air like a fortress-field coated my face with a permanent glossy sheen.  The faint smell of BO remained a constant presence and I roamed around in a damp dace.  Ferocious aircon trains shocked my body awake and left it perplexed as I shivered my way back outside.  Drops of sweat slid down hills of goosebumps as my inner ice cube melted into the gutter of KL’s frenzied streets.


The one thing you can count on in KL besides a 7-11 on every corner is the juice cart.  Fresh fruit, simple syrup, ice, and the occasional gelatinous bubbles are the ingredients for pure magic on a hot, muggy morning.  In a puritanical country like Malaysia, it’s juice for happy hour and juice with dinner.

Juice in hand, I traipsed around KL – and this was no easy feat.  Massive highways circled their way through city center, intersecting and spurting off in all directions.  A simple trip from A to B involved a hairy, high-speed crossing with shared bridges and no sense of pedestrian entitlement.  Ask for directions and everyone recommended the monorail.  “How about walking?” I’d ask, to which they’d invariably reply, “No.”

Yet, walk I did and, in doing so, I was able to witness the complex social order of this equatorial city that straddles several racial and ethnic divides with remarkable ease.  Although they generally keep to their own circles in social interactions, the Chinese, Indians, and ruling Malay peacefully co-exist.  I was told by a Chinese friend that slight prejudices exist (particularly between the Chinese and Indians), but all in all, this country is a complete rarity in this part of the world.

Barely 150 years old, Kuala Lumpur sprang from the Malay Peninsula like a magic bean sprout.  Chinese shops sit below towering mosques and Hindu temples which all hide in the shadows of modern marvels.  Petronas Towers (the world’s tallest building until 2004) burst skyward as KL races towards the future.  This burgeoning city makes its ambitions blaringly clear on all of its literature.  Kuala Lumpur, “seeks to become a World Class City” as Malaysia inches closer towards a “developed nation.”  A modern train and monorail system link the city’s sprawling quadrants and free WIFI is never far away.  In many ways, it is the business center of Southeast Asia with English posted on most public signs and used in both business and casual conversation.  All educated Malaysians speak at least something resembling my mother tongue.  In short, Kuala Lumpur is a soft landing in the region and a sturdy Launchpad for further exploration.

Yet, the full-on power of KL’s streets are sure to shock and delight even the most jaded traveler.  Take a country of over 1.5 million people and put its citizens out of their homes and into the street.  Throw in some competing boom boxes, wafting fishy smells, honking, hell-bent motorbikes and blaring lights and you’ve got downtown KL.


The sun shines in a cloudy sort of smirk and rain pounds in a sinister fury, but the streets of KL steam with food nonetheless.  You hear about the night markets in Asia, but nothing can quite prepare you for their brazen charm.  Hawkers point and push, tell you to eat instead of ask, and always have something “special for you today!”  Just when you find your diamond in the rough, you lose it to the labyrinth of carts and makeshift tables.

Not for the picky or faint of heart, street food can be a comical mystery of colors and shapes.  Have you ever been in a restaurant when a group of foreign tourists came in, took pictures of the food, pointed at it, and gawked quizzically at a dish you had eaten since you had baby teeth?  Next time you do, don’t laugh.  This is me in Asia.

Although I cannot begin to describe the street dishes I consumed, most were thoroughly satisfying.  That said, my first experience with Banana Leaf Curry set off a string of embarrassing events.  On my first day in Malaysia, I went to the planetarium.  Why?  Because, it was dirt cheap and promised a full thirty minutes of air conditioning.  Five minutes into the show my stomach began rumbling and twisting in knots.  Ten minutes in, I excused myself and shuffled past a row of twenty head-scarfed schoolgirls in the starry darkness.

In stall #1 and stall #2 I found only squat toilets.  This event was not about to take place in a hole in the floor so, to my relief, I settled into stall #3 which contained a familiar piece of porcelain.  I knew diarrhea was inevitable in a trip to Southeast Asia, but I hadn’t expected it so soon.   Nonetheless, I took care of business while simultaneously noticing the lack of a toilet paper dispenser.  In its place sat a thin wirey hose.  Welcome to Asia, I thought!

Truthfully, these sit down toilets are a relatively new novelty in the region and are accompanied by diagrams instructing the user not to stand on the toilet bowl and squat.  However, what they did not have instructions for, was this bidet…

 

Next Week MarkontheMap heads south to the historic city of Melaka