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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Drifting Down Doubtful

Like glossy green wrapping round a Christmas present, shrubs cling tight to their rocky core.  Water drips over the brink as ribbons spilling down a sheer face of emerald-green.  Meanwhile, my boat drifts along the dim water, stained a noble green with tannins and slipping sediment.

I have ventured into the most remote corner of New Zealand.  In the Fiords, it is possible to experience spring, summer, winter and fall all in one day.  It is a land of contrasts where sheer cliffs meet deep sounds.  In the Fiordland it doesn’t rain, it storms. The closest town of Manapouri receives 1 meter of rain a year.  Doubtful Sound receives 11.   Its hilly heights are a sloppy, bunchy, unkempt glop of goop glued onto the edge of the forest carpet.  Its icky roots are vulnerable to annual slides – whole mountainsides swiped to the sounds to gather again.  The lonely waters of Fiordland National Park are unlike any place I have ever been.

To get here I crossed the two-faced Lake Manapouri, setting out off the shores of a sunny pebble beach and emerging through a cloud into Jurassic Park.  I left the sloping foothills of the Southland behind at “Pearl Harbor” and entered into the violent landscape of the Fiordland.

This craggy corner of New Zealand receives more earthquakes per year than anywhere else in the country as the Australian and Pacific plates collide on the Southern Alpine Fault and join forces with ancient glaciers to carve this serrated stone.

At the far end of Lake Manapouri, our boat docked on the edge of on one of the world’s greatest engineering feats.  Wrangling the whirling lake water into pipes, Manapouri Power Station harnesses the local hydraulics with awing force.  However, its presence in Fiordland did not come without a fight.  The very talk of the power station’s creation sparked the nation’s first great environmental movement, galvanizing the nation as protests broke out over raising the levels of the regions two largest lakes.  In 1970, nearly 10% of the nation’s population and almost 1/3 of eligible voters signed the Save Manapouri petition.  The result: a power station built 700 ft deep into the mountain’s core.

Manapouri Power Station is the kind of place they make Modern Marvels specials about.  Deep in the dense stone of the Fiordland, this plant produces 1/5 of the nation’s power.  Yet, most of this goes directly to an aluminum smelter 160 km southwest in Bluff and the station’s above ground features remain an eyesore in this otherwise untouched land.

It was a dark, otherworldly landscape as we crossed the Wilmot Pass from the West Arm of Manapouri to Deep Cove.  We were like characters in a video game on a bus ride through some stoned animator’s dreamscape.  Beyond the foggy windows a fantasy forest drooped in the distance.  The bus driver rambled on a scratchy microphone about the waterfalls we might have seen had we come on a clearer day – about the 1000+ varieties of fern and the gaping cliffs.  He was coming off of a cold, but between each amplified cough, he painted a panorama of the mysterious mountain pass.

At Deep Cove we departed the rickety, cream-colored bus and paused on the dewy shore as our captain steered the dinghy to our waiting boat.  A bit of biscuits and tea and we on our way into the Sound.

“Doubtful Sound is not a sound at all but rather a fjord,” a tidbit we were reminded of throughout the journey.  Unsure whether or not the area was navigable under sail, Captain Cook named the fjord ‘Doubtful Harbour’ in 1770.  The area was renamed Doubtful Sound by seal and whale hunters and in 1793 a Spanish scientific expedition conducting experiments on the force of gravity using a pendulum coined many of the inlets and island’s names (the only cluster of Spanish cartography on the New Zealand map).

More than 200 days of rain a year ensure that this corner of New Zealand remains intensely green.  During a downpour, these abrupt hills can accommodate hundreds of waterfalls, some of which fall over 600 meters.  As this sediment-rich, forest freshwater reaches the Sound it creates a dark film on top of the cold, heavy saltwater blocking penetrating light.  As a result, strange communities of deep-sea species live in the comparatively shallow depths of the Sound.

There are virtually no roads and no human population in the whole of Fiordland’s razor-backed mountains and dusky passes.  Yet, there is one Hotel.  The Blanket Bay Hotel emerged from the fog as we motored around the edge of Secretary Island.  A drop off point for seagoing fisherman to store their catch in refrigerated containers, this beached barge sits on the edge of a tiny island in the heart of no-man’s-land.  In many ways, it is a relic of a bygone era in the Fiordland.

At the edge of the sound, the frosty green waves of the Tasman Sea lapped over thick fjord water while the looming, narrow passageways opened up to the familiar infinity of the sea.  Seals flapped about on small rocky outcrops and cliffs gave way to scraggly islands as we emerged from the miasma into a mist. Fiordland’s foggy furry, it’s feral, fickle ferns and shadowy submarine realm were surely a daydream – a hallucination lost to the stinging, sobering slap of saltwater.