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The “Complete” Peruvian Experience

By Tiffany Harelik

Last May, I was traveling in Peru with a friend. We packed in as many adventures and historical marvels as we could into our weeklong vacation, wanting to experience everything Peru had to offer. Little did I know the “complete” experience would include a trip to the ER in Cusco.

Our packed itinerary included: the Amazon Rainforest, staying on the beach in Miraflores, sea lion and penguin tours, flying over the Nazca Lines, having beers in Cusco with a local, drinking coca tea at ruins, sandboarding in Huacachina, taking a train to a soccer game, observing ancient astrological zones and hiking on the Inca Trail. I felt I was dodging the food-poisoning bullet with a vow of momentary vegetarianism. Mostly I ate avocados, protein bars and fresh-squeezed orange juice. The few times we had restaurant food, we were in reputable locations and we shared every dish.

The last day of our trip, we hiked up to Machu Picchu at 3 a.m., got to the top in time to witness the sun peeking over the mountain and spent most of the day soaking in the magic and mystery of this world wonder. We took a bus to Aguascalientes and walked to the hot springs for a soak in the outdoor baths. Around midnight on the bus ride back to Cusco, I felt my first wave of nausea. I made my way to the front and vomited all over the stairs. The bus pulled over, and I continued throwing up on the side of the road. Embarrassed, I got back on the bus, and we wound down the mountain to Cusco, where the throwing up continued. Adding insult to injury, I spent our last hundred dollars on the cab to the hotel, and the driver gave us false money in return.

I felt as if my body had been possessed; even my skin hurt. I wrenched in pain every time my friend offered a banana or sip of water. In the morning, we called the hospital. A doctor came to the room but was unable to issue an IV there. He put me in the back of a minivan and drove to the ER. There, I was told to use my friend’s travel insurance to cover the medication since I didn’t have any. They took blood and diagnosed me with salmonella. I received shots, pills and IVs. It was freezing cold in the room, and I was miserable to the core. We missed our flight back while I writhed in the hospital bed. Once the “worst” subsided, we caught the last flight to Lima where we had a wretched eight-hour layover. After returning home, it took three days before I felt well enough to tackle something as minor as laundry.

So what was the culprit? Though I’ll never know, I suspect it involved water from the shower in Aguascalientes the night before our Machu Picchu hike. This was the only action I took that my friend did not,  and it was the only time I brushed my teeth in the shower. Though miserable at the time, I can now look back on my Peruvian experience and smile.