By Mariana McCready
Everyone has wild tales about their twenty-first birthday, from that double keg party to the twenty-one shots of cheap tequila. But we all end up in the same place, no matter what the path.
It was the summer I turned twenty-one and I was traveling through Peru following a semester I spent in Argentina. My roommate and I were on a ten day tour through various points of interest: Machu Picchu, the lines of Nazca, Lake Titicaca, and returning to Lima to visit a friend.
While standing in the middle of the mountains of Machu Picchu, we felt the complete awe one feels, when we became at the mercy of these immense mountains, completely powerless. Looking down at the lines of Nazca, we felt that we were not alone in this solar system, that other beings were indeed among us; and the lake, oh the lake.
We set sail from the lakeside city of Puno on a rickety motor boat to the island of Anapia, a somewhat booming town in the middle of Lake Titicaca. After a day in Anapia, we were to set sail again to another island community, a much more rugged and remote island. The people there have lived the same way for thousands of years. Our adventure tour package included a night stay on the island with a local family. We were excited to board the thatched canoes, which would take us through some communities of man-made island homes and then to our final destination. Upon arriving, we were greeted by our families and taken to their farm, which included a few small farm animals, 2 huts and a hole in the ground, otherwise known as the bathroom.
My friend and I walked around the island and it was like going back in time. There was no electricity or running water, just people working the land as their ancestors had for thousands of years. In the evening we watched as the mother prepared the meal, potatoes and some thick vegetable soup. She prepared it with food from their own gardens, and we watched as she threw the vegetables in a giant cauldron over the outdoor fire. Dinner was tasty, as I had been on an eating frenzy since Argentina. All the food I tried in Peru seemed to taste like heaven. This was no different, seconds? Yes please!
We went to a community gathering after dinner, and our family had dressed us in the local wear. The typically women wore about 15 layers of dresses, which is why they looked like small balls. That night, we dressed as locals, ate like locals and learned the song and dance of the locals in the village plaza, a very merry night evening, indeed. I felt very satisfied as I lay my head down on my straw bed and closed my eyes inside the mud hut which was our home for the night.
I awoke at sunrise with the roosters to a strange feeling. It wasn’t the awe of the Andes or the mystery of the Nazca lines that I felt. It was a tranquil but eerie feeling, Something was going to happen, but I was unsure what. It was the calm before the storm. Lying still in my straw bed, I listened to the animal noises and waited. I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t or wouldn’t move. As the stillness dragged on, I realized I should perhaps spend some time at the hole, aka, the bathroom. Scared to go alone, as there were only 3 short walls at the hole, I awoke my friend. “Hey, I need you to come with me to the bathroom.” I could then feel that there was jarring going on in my stomach, the kind that sounds like rusty metal gears grinding around slowly. Uh-oh, this is going to be a doozy, I thought. But, best to get it out now, before the 5 hour boat ride back to Puno. So, I hobbled down over and hovered and waited. Not aware of what was about to ensue. Ten minutes passed and nothing, I was perhaps gun shy, since my friend was standing guard nearby. I knew it was going to be bad. When it finally happened, it was… with no other word to do it justice… explosive.
Well, I was glad to have that out of the way, as this has happened to me many times before, I knew I’d be better. Or so I thought. We left the island and boarded the motor boat that would take us back to Puno. How long is this boat ride, I kept thinking? The choppy waters were not helping the mess I felt brewing inside me, and of course there was no bathroom. “Keep it together McCready”, I said to myself. I kept running through the list of things that I ate and drank in the days before to identify the culprit. When I consulted with my travel friend, she did have one piece of information that I was unaware of. She said she did see some of the farm animals eating from the same bucket that our island mother was using for dinner. Oh sweet Jesus!
It was the late evening before we got off the boat, and my face was blue. I didn’t think I could hold it much longer and was sweating bullets. My friend tried to help me calm down, but she knew. I felt like I just ate 20 Taco Bell tacos and needed to run for the border. We needed to get to the hotel or hostel, STAT! So the only method of transportation that we could procure at that time was a rickshaw. One little old man that barely looked like he had a pulse was going to drag us across town to our hotel. Yeah, I was at the point of complete delusion, laughing and crying at the same time about the fact that my only ride back to the hotel after a 5 hour ride without a toilet was this little old man on a taxi bike. The situation just kept getting sweeter. Cotton mouth ensued as I focused on not focusing on my problem at hand. After a very bumpy ride we arrived to the hotel. We were only going to be there a few hours before our tour bus would pick us up and take us back to Lima, on an overnight trip. I was pulling out all the prayers and hoping for a miracle. Please God, Please God!!! As I busted in the hotel, I just ran to the front desk and pleaded for a room key. Without much hesitation, I made a dead spring to the bathroom.
It was heaven, miracle number one.
A real bathroom, with a toilet I could sit on. I spent the next 8 hours on that toilet. Fortunately the night bus had forgotten to pick us up, miracle number two. I was a complete mess, as one would be in this dysentery disaster.
After a night in the bathroom, with a high fever and the runs, I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. All I knew was that I was going to have to sit on a bus for 8 more hours before we would reach a friend’s house in Lima. What would become of me? Would there be a bathroom on the bus? Could I hold it for eight hours if necessary?
Fortunately for me, there was a bathroom. And we were sitting close to it. Unfortunately for the rest of the passengers, they would have to “aguantar” (Spanish for put up with) the aftermath. The bus ride was interesting, because every time I had to use the bathroom, I had to hold on to the support bars with all my strength because the road was so bumpy. It was the rodeo and I felt like a cowboy riding a bull.
This was unlike any Montezuma’s revenge I’ve ever experienced, and boy, do I have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. I really didn’t know where all of this mess was coming from? Perhaps from the previous six months of packing on an extra 15 pounds in Argentina. I just didn’t get it.
Relief at last, we reached my friend’s house in Lima. I told her the detailed version of the story as we drove to her house, and said that I wasn’t sure if I should eat anything, but that I was so hungry from not eating for 2 days. She advised me not to eat anything and that she was having a party at her house. I tried to follow her instructions but the food was so good, and there was so much of it. One little sandwich couldn’t hurt. No faster than I finished the last bite was I running upstairs to the bathroom. I proceeded to destroy every bathroom in the house, my poor friend and her family.
My story continues for 2 more weeks of issues. But I’ll stop here. As I said before, my 21st birthday was no different than anyone else’s. We all end up in the same place where we hang our heads low and pray for the best, the toilet.