Food poisoning is a tricky thing. When you are on your home turf, in your regular environment, it’s much easier to suss out which unique or suspicious food you ate that was the genesis of your suffering. When your environment changes on a near daily basis, however, it becomes much trickier to identify the source.
We may never know what truly caused our food poisoning in Laos, but I’m convinced the meal we had at one of the most highly recommended and highly regarded restaurants in town deserves the blame. This particular restaurant prides itself on teaching Westerners how to eat Laos food, and has its own wildly popular cooking school. We had eaten there in an attempt to sort out exactly what Laos food entails – in our two days of experience we hadn’t been able to place any local flavors. About a third of the way into our meal at the nice restaurant we sorted out why this might be the case – Laos food is not particularly good. (Or to be more polite, at least we don’t have the refined pallettes to enjoy it.) We struggled to finish our meals, and in fact didn’t do it, which is a feat for my Clean Plate Club loving husband.
Once the meal ended, the suffering truly began. I spent the rest of the night in aching stomach pain, and the following morning puking up things I don’t dare to describe. It only got worse from there.
You may wonder why I would bring up food poisoning in a post about a lovely waterfall. The two are related, however, as the day we were set to view this waterfall I spent the morning puking. We decided to put off our visit to the following day, our last day in Laos, but when I woke up the following day still feeling like rubbish we couldn’t put it off any further. Knowing that we were leaving on a flight to Thailand the next day, I put on my game face, got dressed, and tried to believe I wasn’t going to yak over the side of the tuk tuk on the way there. I really wanted to see this waterfall.
After a 45 minute bumpy tuk tuk ride and a twenty minute hike, I still hadn’t had a gastrointestinal incident, and was very happy to have made it. The water in the falls is spectacularly blue and very beautiful. The terraced falls just keep going on and on – they’re surprisingly large. There are several larger pools (not photographed) where you can swim, and there’s even a rope swing. I didn’t have the energy to climb to the very top of the falls (John claims I didn’t miss much) or up the tree for the rope swing, but I did manage a swim in the freezing cold waters.We were there early enough in the day that there were only a handful of other people enjoying the falls. On our way to leave, however, was a different scene. All of the drunk and disorderly backpackers were just starting to file in for afternoon swimming, and we were (un)fortunate enough to meet the first American traveler we’ve seen in a while.
This particular guy is the kind of American who makes all of us look bad. You could smell the booze seeping from his pores, and as he approached us (wearing aviator sunglasses, brandishing a cigarette and drinking straight out of a liter beer bottle), I immediately wanted to run in the other direction. Fortunately, he seemed more interested in swimming than chatting, and after a few moments he jumped into the pristine natural waters with his beer and cigarette still in hand, and floated off under one of the waterfalls, aviators still on, to continue drinking alone. I apologize to the country of Laos that we in the US produce deuchebags like that. (Sorry, but that’s just the best word to describe him.)
Seeing it was time to leave, we headed back to town, and not a moment too soon. Once I got back to our hotel room I was practically immobilized, and didn’t leave again until we had to leave for our flight to Thailand the next day.
At some point, John got sick, too (though we think his was from the hotel food in Thailand.) The two of us then spent the first four days of our time in Thailand laid up at a hotel in the outskirts, trying to recover enough to take a four hour winding bus ride through the mountains from Chiang Mai to Pai. Finally, after nearly a week of illness, we decided the universe was trying to tell us not to go to Pai. Instead, we cancelled our mountain trip and found a high rise apartment in Chiang Mai where we will be living for the month of April.
I’m now finally on the mend (and on antibiotics) over a week later. With any luck this will be my last episode of stomach illness on world tour, but I’m not crossing my fingers. If I can get at least through April without further ailment, that will have to be good enough.