Never drink the water.
This was the first rule that was drilled into my head when I started traveling. Never drink tap water in any country, even if it’s an industrialized or westernized country. Use bottled water when brushing your teeth. Be careful about eating too many raw fruits or vegetables because they too contain water. I’ve been told to not eat ice cubes. International water bad. Bad bad bad.
For the most part, I have followed this advice as stomach issues are the last thing I want to experience on any trip. I always have bottled water handy and I convince myself that the alcohol kills any issues ice cubes may give me in my margaritas. I was proud of my track record of 19 countries visited without incident.
Then I went to Morocco.
Casandra and I were extremely excited about visiting our first African nation. Armed with basic Arabic phrases (although the majority of locals spoke French – do your research prior to the trip!) we bebopped through Fez…Marrakech…the Sahara…on trucks…in motorcades…on camelbacks….and filled our bellies with the nationally renowned tagine dishes. We ate every variation available with any protein source that the locals recommended. It was oh so delicious. And of course, we both were diligent about drinking only bottled water and ensured the water was boiled in our teas. On the fourth night, we checked into this beautiful riad and began settling in for the night.
Casandra: Ummm…Michelle, do you want to go for a walk?
Michelle: Nah, I’m pretty tired.
Casandra: You sure? Why don’t you go outside for just a little bit? Ok fuck it, I have to use the restroom!
<not so silent>
Michelle: Ohhhhh myyyy goodness. Don’t worry, I’ll turn the music up!
Casandra: What the fuck?! My stomach! Turn the music up louder!
I laughed my ass off! I laughed and I laughed. Even Casandra laughed as her ass was glued to the toilet. Poor Casandra had been hit with a stomach bug….and just as I started to sympathize with her, it hit me. Fuck. So I ran to the lobby bathroom since Casandra was still in ours and let my bowels scream. Now, it was a very quiet riad and the bathroom had one of those saloon kind of doors that don’t go all the way to the floor…oh the agony of trying to be quiet but also not giving a fuck. All I wanted was to get the gut wrenching insanity out of my body at whatever the cost. After what seemed like a solid 30 minutes, I completed my expulsions and walked out to find an employee standing right outside the door. Fantastic. Perhaps he thought my innards were about to explode so was on standby to help? Or perhaps he seized the opportunity to record the gringo losing it in their bathroom and hoped to create a viral moment? I was too exhausted to even feel shamed. The only thing I knew at that time was that it wasn’t over. And I was right.
Over the next few days, both Casandra and I couldn’t keep anything down. But as dedicated foodies, we didn’t stop eating. Oh no, we just ensured there was a bathroom nearby at all times and came up with a system so that we could guard the door and keep passerby’s from earshot distance. Even though Casandra and I had known each other more than 14 years by this time…I never felt closer to her until this trip. This must be how war veterans feel with their fellow soldiers…Casandra and I had waged our own Saving Private Ryan kind of opening war scene and we came out knowing that we could travel through anything after Morocco.
Till this day, we still don’t know what caused it. It had to be something we both ate since we ruled out the water factor. Our best guess was that it was a spice that was used in the tagine dishes or maybe it’s because we ate so many of them so we had spice overload. Our next guess is that it could have been all the mint teas we drank and maybe our system wasn’t used to having so much fresh mint. I never would have guessed that after all this time worrying about water, that something completely different would be the one to get me. But the one thing we will never guess about again is whether or not to bring that anti-diarrheal pack. Take our advice and bring it.