I’ve always prided myself for having ‘guts of steel’ when it comes to foreign food in foreign countries. Bali belly? Never had it. And if I’m completely honest, when I hear about people getting sick from the food or water when traveling, I label them, well, kinda soft. Or at the very least, not the well traveled, cultured, ‘citizen of the world’, like, say, me.
Well, the joke was on me, when, on the very first night of a twelve day trek to the base camp of Mt Everest, I awoke to a not-so-distant rumbling in the pit of my stomach, which would mark the beginning of The Hardest Day of my Life.
Trekking In Nepal With Food Poisoning You Say?
I don’t want to sicken you with every, gory, gut-twisting detail of that night, but it involved a western style toilet (there is a God!), and a waste paper bin, used simultaneously, as the contents of my insides battled that damn bug out of my system, and then kept going, ‘cause it was such good fun.
As the sun rose over the village of Phakding, so did my dread- I recounted our guide’s words from the previous night, “Tomorrow will be one of the hardest, steepest hikes of the whole trek.” Yay. The tour leader, Chitra, came to see how I was doing- the paper thin walls of our modest cabins ensured everyone was privy to my not-so-private hell. I really must’ve made a great first impression!
Fear, stubbornness, determination, or plain stupidity drove me to get dressed, down some anti-nausea tablets, charge my drink bottle with re-hydration salts, and drag my sorry ass (excuse the pun) outside to begin the seven hour hike. With nothing left in my system, and thirsty as hell, I took a swig from my drink bottle, only to bring it all up a few steps later. I really didn’t know how I was going to do this!
Thanks to our ever patient guides, who padded along quietly behind me, as I moaned, heavy breathed, and felt like I was going to pass out, we slowly crossed suspension bridge after suspension bridge, resting every ten minutes or so. The rest of the group charged on ahead, their sympathetic looks and words of encouragement unable to mask their thoughts- “I’m so glad it’s not me.”
After three hours or so, we reached a tea house for lunch, and I was exhausted. I asked if there was somewhere I could have a sleep, and was shown to a beautiful comfy bed upstairs. There I had what was probably The Best Nap of My Life. Tyrhone woke me from my blissful slumber with a snickers bar. I couldn’t stomach much, but the snickers bar provided the nutrients I needed to continue the steep climb to the bustling Himalayan village of Namche Bazaar, 3440m above sea level.
The next three hours involved a steep ascent up a mountain via a series of large stone steps. Every step leached the little energy I had from my tired legs, and churned my stomach as my body searched in vain for nutrients. I was resting every few steps now, with Tyrhone offering kind words of encouragement as he carried both packs. My ‘rests’ started getting longer, and each time it seemed almost impossible to get up again, but I had no choice but to go on, one foot in front of the other, focusing on the gravel path beneath me, willing it to transform into a dirt escalator that would whisk me straight to Namche.
A few stray dogs started following us, pausing to wait for me when I rested- I started to think in my somewhat delirious state that they were encouraging me, along with the ever-patient guides and my saintly boyfriend. A mist rolled in, followed by a gentle rain, obscuring the view, which was lost on me, as the only view I cared about was that of my boots, slowly pounding the path. Each step was my ticket out- of pain, fatigue, negativity, and anger (that I had ended up in this state). Each step was getting me closer to a warm bed, hell any bed would do, I…just…needed…sleep.
We rounded a corner, and the coloured rooftops of Namche Bazaar appeared through the early evening mist. The guide’s reassurances of ‘almost there’ and ‘very close now’ were finally coming true, and as we eventually made our way into the village, greeted by staring children with large brown faces, tears welled up in my eyes with disbelief that I had, in fact, one step at a time, made it to Namche!
Welcomed by smiling, sympathetic faces and words of congratulations from the group, I managed to sooth my weary body with some toast and tomato soup, before showering, then rolling into bed for what was definitely, the most Well Deserved Sleep of My Life.
Needless to say, after regaining my strength, the rest of the trek was a breeze! Well, maybe that’s going a bit far, but I was just so grateful not to be sick anymore, that I found a renewed energy that carried me through the next ten days.
Yes, I made it to base camp, and I no longer think that people who get food poisoning in foreign countries are weak, fragile twits who should stay home and eat crackers. I’ll never know what made me sick, or how I later traveled through India for a month eating everything under the sun (or left out in it) and didn’t get sick once, but I know for sure that The Hardest day of My Life showed me that I have a strength I never knew I had.