It's not all fun and games
As almost all long term travelers know, at some point in the journey, your stomach is not going to agree with you, and sometimes it will get very angry with you.
In many countries it seems almost impossible to not get the so-called Delhi belly at some juncture. While normally it’s just an annoyance, it can sometimes quickly turn into an all out emergency situation! And what this has taught most travelers is that it’s a damn good idea to keep some extra toilet paper around, because you never really know when you’re going to be scrambling to find that disgusting little squat toilet somewhere in southeast Turdmenistan.
Of course if you don’t have any paper, there’s always doing as the Indians do, ie using your bare hand! Although I’m pretty sure if I go the rest of my life without ever voluntarily touching my feces, I’ll have done something right. But even I myself have been caught without TP from time to time, but thankfully as an avid reader I’ve always had a book with me, one with, you know, a few pages to spare.
So while I’ve made it through all these years of traveling relatively unsullied I certainly met my match in the dirty little port city of Bhamo, Myanmar. All thanks to a vicious batch of guacamole. You might be thinking “they have guacamole in Myanmar?” Well no they don’t, but they do have an abundance of avocados, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and chilli peppers. So after seeing all of these lovely, fresh ingredients all in front of me at the market I decided something had to be done. Guacamole must be made. I hadn’t had it in months, and the serving I did have was more like mashed avocado than anything else, so I was starting to crave it pretty bad. When I was back home in Chicago I needed to have my homemade guacamole fix at least once a week. And now I’m craving it again as I type!
But anyway I bought all the stuff at the market, turned the hotel tray with tea and cups on it into my cutting board, washed everything in preboiled water and got down to business. After about half an hour I had a mash of light green, creamy, a bit salty, guacamole goodness. I was going to let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two, maybe share it with some of the other travellers I met, while having a few beers at sunset, but first I needed just a few more bites. And then a few more bites. And after a few bites more I already knew that there would be no stopping me from finishing every last morsel. Ah it was so just good. God damn it I love guacamole.
About an hour later I slung my camera over my shoulder and headed down to the port a bit before sunset to take advantage of that soft, warm evening light. And that’s when the trouble began. First it was just a little gurgle, but no worries mate! Then when I was walking along the beach things suddenly turned violent. Somewhere inside me a massive upheaval was taking place. The happy little lives of my stomach acids had been hastily disrupted, taken surprise by this intruding bacterial army.
Now at the first signs of severe pain most people would be making their way back to their hotel right away. But not me, nope nope nope. The sun was getting close to setting, that big red beautiful Burmese sun, the port was bustling, and interesting photos were just begging to be taken! I would tough it out. Don’t want to miss out on a good photo! However inside my stomach the invaders were smashing through my intestinal gates with an overpowering strength. I didn’t know it yet, but the brown tide was coming. Fast.
I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking by not turning back. I had been lulled into the Burmese photography trance, and even the severe stomach pain was not releasing me from its siren song. I was feeling a massive amount of pressure, which in turn was taking massive amounts of energy for me to hold off. I was sweating profusely and taking lots of quick little breaths as each cyclical wave of misery, or contraction if you will, pulsed through me. At one point I squatted down to get the sun lower in the frame of my photo, and then it hit. A surge so powerful and painful that it could not be stopped. Code Brown. We have Code Brown.
At 28 years of age I had shit my pants. Now it wasn’t that much, but nonetheless there was indeed a squishy brown residue residing in the seat of my beloved Illini basketball shorts. It had happened so fast. I heard a voice in my head say, “The game’s over kid, go home, you lost.” Except I knew it wasn’t over. Just a fraction of Hershey’s gang had gotten through, the rest was still pushing, anxious to get out and see the world, to be free at last. I had to consider my options.
1. The water. I could wade in waist deep and unleash. The pain will be over in seconds!
No, No, No, everyone would see you! Nobody ever swims in that pool of filth, ever! They’d know. They’d all know!!
2. Find someone on the street, and ask where a toilet is. You know how to say that in Burmese! Someone will show you the way, they must!
No, No, No. No f’ing way! You want to just barge into someone’s home and ask if you can go Pearl Harbor on their toilet? Were you raised in a barn?
3. Make the walk back to the hotel. 15 minutes, that’s it. You can do it!
Yes, Yes. I think I can make it! Just gotta toughen up. Bear down. It’ll be fine.
And so I set forth on the long journey back to the sanctuary, the Friendship hotel. Yes, what a good friend I had back at the hotel; ceramic and white, welcoming me with an open lid! It would be a lovely reaquaintance. But until then it would be a test of will as the waves of intense stomach pain crashed through my body, dissipated, and then came back again even stronger. I waddled along, cheeks lubricated, body rigid, and face scrunched into some sort of smiling grimace, as if someone had just punched me in the face and then started tickling me. It was a very long 15 minutes. At one point I almost caved, letting a few squirts go, but managed to get regain my composure. Near the end, as the contractions were getting worse and worse, I thought of William Wallace in Braveheart, facing the cavalry attack, shouting to his men: hold, Hold, HOLD, HOLD!!
And with the courage of the Scotsmen in my heart (and bowels) I did indeed make it back to the hotel. Looking sweaty and I disheveled I gave the staff a friendly grimace as I power waddled past, down the hall to my room. I fumbled with the keys for what seemed like an eternity, barged through the door and in one graceful motion flung myself at the toilet while flinging down my shorts and let loose the maelstrom. In the moments following I might have reached nirvana. Well not really, but it certainly was zen like! In the end, while slightly embarrassed, I came out of the day with my head held high, as to not smell my befouled duds. And while my Illini basketball shorts may have ended their long healthy life in the trash can, covered in shit, I will always remember the good times we shared, as they provided me years of silky softness, easy access, and collegiate pride, while asking for nothing in return. RIP Illini shorts.