In late February of 2005, we were excited about exploring the ancient temples and cities of Guatemala. I arrived late at night and my husband, who had flown down a few days earlier so he could climb a volcanic peak near Antigua, met me at the airport. Scheduled to fly to Flores / Santa Elena at 7 AM, we chose a hotel close to the airport. The women waited up for us until we arrived close to 11 PM. One of them, a young girl, was reluctantly up at 4 AM to serve us breakfast before the taxi came. She was a recent hire and had been quickly trained by the manager the night before.
Breakfast was typical: scrambled eggs, mashed black beans, a little fruit, and coffee with hot milk. We complained to each other that the coffee was really only lukewarm but drank it gladly since we had had only four hours sleep.
We made sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time for a thorough inspection of us and our luggage (TACA airlines). Our North Face outdoor apparel aroused a bit of interest as did our camping gear. Because we planned to camp at Tikal, among the howler monkeys and ancient ruins, we had brought a tent, sleeping bags, and small air mattresses. (Once we found out that we had to pay $80 for baggage weight over 25 pounds for the local flight, we realized that camping within the park was not such a great idea!)
Rumblings of the “Turista Quick-Step”
Once in Flores, we easily caught a minibus to Tikal and spent half a day exploring the ruins of what has been excavated of this Inca civilization.
Around 2 PM, my intestines started to rumble and grumble, never a good sign. Right after our late and light lunch, I ran to the toilet and discovered I had a case of the dreaded diarrhea. John, my husband, laughed uproariously that I must have eaten something bad on the flight to Guatemala City or even before I left. As we hiked through the 16 square kilometers and thousands of ruins, I rushed from toilet to toilet, hardly able to enjoy anything. At times, there were no toilets and I was forced to squat well off the trail, digging a little hole for the sake of sanitation. Yuk. And soon we would be camping!
After dinner, we set up camp and enjoyed the calls of the monkeys and birds. We had managed to camp fairly near the toilet so my frequent visits to the modern rest rooms were not so bad.
About 2 AM, John woke up with painful stomach cramps. It was his turn to run to the toilet where he spent quite a lot of the rest of the night.
We realized then that the lukewarm coffee had likely made us ill. The water had probably not been boiled the usual 3 minutes, due to the inexperienced girl who fixed the meal, and likely was not filtered or drawn from bottles the way it is in many hotels and restaurants. Fortunately, the diarrhea (often called “la turista” by travelers) lasted only a couple of (very long) days…
Rule of Travel: Make sure the coffee is made with safe water!! No exceptions.