We set in for our power nap around 4:30 that afternoon. Our minds may have been sound, but our bodies were exhausted. We woke up the next day at 9am, having had completely uninterrupted sleeps. We were fully recharged and rejuvenated, we turned lemons into lemonade. The world and San Cristobal were our oysters, and there was nothing that could stop us now. Enter Universe. Click here to read Part One.
We began the day with a new outlook on life and adventure. We were feeling open to the world around us and were ready to take it all in.
We caught breakfast and coffee at our “local” and decided to wander the streets open-minded. We were able to nail the transit-day back in Merida, so San Cristobal de las Casas would be an easy task. It had a reputation to uphold and within our first steps it was fulfilling our expectations.
We wandered into a little pox (pronounced posh) shop, which is a traditional Mayan spirit made of corn and sugar cane. We had been told to try it and couldn’t believe our luck to stumble across this boutique so near our hostel. It’s a traditional beverage, but it’s not widely marketed, so we took this luck and ran with it.
The owner chatted with us for over an hour about all the incredible sights to see in San Cristobal. He drew a map, told us the best places for Chiapas food, showed all the cheap and free museums and sites, and served up some amazing pox. We promised we’d return on our final day to fill him in on our adventures.
We found a travel company that had tours on offer at amazing prices to see the rivers, mountains and caves in the area. We knew we wanted to do an excursion but we weren’t sure which one, so we thought we’d ponder during our day over food and drinks and decide early the next morning. We only had to book the morning of, so it was perfect! Things were really turning up Cossie.
We explored the main square, perused art galleries and eyed up amber and jade exhibits. We took in the beauty of the street art and the creativity the city exuded. We were en route to Oaxaca, a city we cherished for its artistic expression, and we found a sister city we would need more time to explore. 3 days would simply not be enough.
We found a store selling Catholic goods. Icons of the crucifixion, statues of Mother Mary, candles with pictures of the different Saints on them, and incense sticks for different occasions.
If only we’d had the foresight to buy the ‘pure house’ incense. That, or literally anything with a smell.
Two beers here, two mezcals there, four enchiladas and a visit to the cacao museum brought us to the evening. We had an incredibly full day, we embraced the foreign city with all that we had, and decided over margaritas that we’d done good. We’d earned an early night in with some Netflix and comfort food. Subway was across the street.
During our travels we do our very best to eat local dishes, street food and test the best locally made burgers (of course). But after a long 48 hours, we wanted something that reminded us a bit of the western world: cheap dirty chain fast food. I don’t think either of us have ever been more excited to eat a meal. We felt like we’d run a marathon and those subs were our trophies. We’d get back into the local food tomorrow and we weren’t going to feel guilty about the gorge.
The air grew cold. I bought a poncho and we skipped home, sandwich bags swinging at our sides. We tucked into our little bed, turned on an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on John’s computer, dug into our subs and talked about our day.
“We can tackle anything,” I remember John saying between bites. “Another perfect day, just going with the flow. Nothing can stop us!”
“Let’s not jinks it,” I replied, knocking on the wooden windowsill.
We finished our dinner, finished a couple episodes, and were sound asleep by about 10. I mustn’t have knocked hard enough though, because by 3am we were both loudly awake.
The bedroom door slammed but didn’t shut properly and I woke with a startle. It wasn’t like John to leave a door open, so I thought to stand up to make sure everything was okay. Then it hit me.
My stomach, trapped underneath my rib cage, was on fire. Not hot and spicy fire, but deep, blue flame, pain. I could barely roll to the other side of the bed to close the door.
I forgot to mention that we decided in our infinite wisdom, we would be ok with a shared bathroom. It was only 3 nights and saved us about $15… In 6 months of travel this was only the 2nd time we made that call (the other time was a quick 10 hour stay in Mexico City) and $15 has never been an amount we’ve pinched pennies over so I really can’t defend our logic here.
I mustered up all my energy and walked to the shared bathroom, folding over trying to harness the fire inside. “Are you okay, John?” I hesitated. Nothing worse than being pestered while you’re on the loo.
“No,” he grumbled. So did my stomach. I didn’t need to use the toilet but I knew it was coming soon. I danced around the landing, still clutching my ribs, paced in and out of our bedroom, and was about to knock on the door when I heard the toilet flush and John came out looking grey.
“No time to talk,” I pushed passed him.
When I returned to the room, John was still awake. He was clutching his ribs and stomach, and moaning for the rubbish bin. It was a plastic basket with holes. Great. I double bagged it and handed it to him, and he began to spew. He NEVER vomits. Only once in the time I’ve known him, with a violent 24 hour flu. I could barely help him as I was also in agonizing pain. Mine just wanted to come out the other side. Back to the bathroom.
After about an hour of fun, we were both feeling drowsy, and as I was dozing off, I thought, yes, it’s over. I knew it wasn’t, I was just doing my best to use the “power of positive thinking.” It doesn’t always work, but damn it was worth a try.
John and I had been planning our worldwide honeymoon for about 4 years, 2 years properly. We talked about it with our friends and family, discussed places they’d each visited and talked about places we wanted to go. With our dear friends MeloraLyn and Joe (the best cat-auntie and uncle in the world), we talked in even more depth. They’ve traveled a lot of Asia and love street food…so they have experience in the fast-to-the-toilet moments.
The best part of hearing their stories was John’s adamant denial, “There is no chance I will get sick while traveling. It’s all in your head and I’m thinking positive,” he would exclaim. It was always received by roars of laughter and a promise from me that the day he was sick and/or shit his pants for the first time, MeloraLyn and Joe would be notified immediately. He’d laugh back, “It’s never gonna happen.”
Not a single laugh was had at his expense that morning. I was too sick to have a sense of humor. Call it luck, irony or both, but whatever you call it, we were both suffering. The chills set in around 530am, the sweats came shortly after. My new poncho wasn’t keeping me warm, but when I was warm, it was way too hot to handle.
Then the pain. Literally pain all over. Every joint, every bone, every muscle, throbbing. The only silver lining was that we were expelling out opposite ends to each other, so there were no scheduling conflicts on the toilet or rubbish bin.
9am rolled around and we were both thinking, this is a nightmare. There is no way it can get any worse. Famous last thoughts.
I stumbled to the bathroom to have a cold shower in the middle of a hot flash and went to turn it on. Nothing came out. That’s ok, I don’t need a shower. I can just wash my face. No water came out of the tap. Shit. Thinking of shit, I’ll just use the toilet then head back to bed. Looking back on my logic, it’s very clear I was unwell and my brain was completely unable to process a very simple problem.
As you’d expect, the toilet didn’t flush. I went back to the sink to try to fill the cup full of water to put in the back of the toilet to help it flush. Oh ya, there’s no water here. I panicked and went back to the toilet and tried to flush it, again and again and again and again. There was no water anywhere.
I rationalized that it must be routine morning procedure and left the toilet lid closed. There wasn’t much else I could do. I went back into our room to let John know and was hit with a powerful smell as I opened the door. The double bagging wasn’t working well and small amounts of expelled water were seeping out the bottom onto the floor. I threw our towel down and opened the window, but we both started shivering uncontrollably with it open, so we had to close it again and become one with the odor. It was at this time we were wishing we’d bought some of those incense sticks. Even “Call Client” would’ve helped!
None of it made sense. We were both in excruciating pain, had fevers and couldn’t keep anything in. We’d had a few drinks the previous night, but this was not a hangover. It seemed highly unlikely that it was a flu, but the possibility of food poisoning seemed just as unlikely, as we’d eaten “safe” food from a western chain restaurant. Up until this point of our travels neither of us had experienced anything like this, and we had been eating street food, chicken that had been on the counter all day, drinking tap water when advised not to, and not a single problem. How the hell was Subway the culprit here. That’s often how it is though, isn’t it. The things that should knock you down never do, and the things you least expect it take you down for days.
We soon found out that the water stoppage was not routine procedure, and there was no water in the hostel at all. And to make it an even better adventure, they didn’t know when to expect it on again. We’d only heard this through the door, as we didn’t want anyone to see (or smell) us in those states. So much for our day tour. Today we were getting to know ourselves and each other.
While John was trying to ingest fluids in hopes of keeping something down, I was too afraid to ingest anything because I wanted the bathroom use to stop. Neither plan worked, we were both slaves to whatever bug was infiltrating our bodies and no running water was the Universe flipping us a real stiff bird.
At around three in the afternoon, we swapped places. I hadn’t rushed to the toilet in nearly 2 hours so it now seemed a good idea to drink some Gatorade. John had kept the Gatorade down for nearly 2 hours, and now he was off to the toilet races. The plastic bags were becoming less and less useful (and were highly unuseful to begin with) and the white towel underneath the bin was becoming blue. The pains were all over and we had no idea if we were going to survive. At least it would be like The Notebook we thought, and we could run to the light together.
We both barely slept that day, despite being bedridden for hours, and around 11pm, as we were finally dozing off, we heard the toilet flush. Impeccable timing.
We were supposed to check out at 11am and explore the city before our night bus to Oaxaca city at 1030pm. Not happening. We were also supposed to share our San Cristobal experiences with the pox boutique owner, and taste a few new blends. Also not happening. We were not exerting any of the tiny bit of energy we did have, until an hour before our bus’s departure and that was that.
We paid for another night and apologized profusely for the toilet situation the day before. Looking back now, we really should’ve had THEM apologize to US and give us a night free for failing to provide us water for nearly 24 hours. I guess that’s the trade off for a $20/night room. When they’re great, they’re exceptional. When they’re not, they really are not.
We slept basically all day, kept a bit of water and Gatorade down, had a tiny bit of chicken stock soup with garlic and chopped up spaghetti for dinner, and watched a few cheeky episodes of Dr. Phil. Nothing like hearing other people’s problems to remind you that yours aren’t so bad.
We were on the mend slowly but the thoughts of our coming night bus loomed over us like ghosts. We tried to push them away and focus simply on the present. Being present is easily when you’re exploding from within, but once that subsided and all you’re left with is pain, there’s a lot of regret and bargaining. There was no time to laugh at the irony or search for the lesson. We just breathed through the pains and told our digestive systems to calm the fuck down.
We made it to our bus in time, put our bags down at our feet and looped our legs through them a few times. Not taking any risks this time, thank you. I took note of the passengers around us and shared smiles, in both trying to be brave from our past bus experience, and to trick my body and mind into thinking I was happy.
Sleep came on quickly but didn’t last long. The bus trip was windy as hell and felt incredibly unsafe, but neither of us needed to use the bathroom in almost 12 hours, so that was a huge win on its own. There was no energy left in us to worry about our safety or any left in me to be motion sick. We simply surrendered to the moment and held on.
We pulled to a halt in the ADO terminal just north of the historic center in Oaxaca de Juarez. We grabbed our bags, everything was still in check. We weren’t robbed! What a success. We laughed and celebrated the tiny win.
We decided to walk 2km to our apartment we would be in for the next 6 weeks, instead of taking a taxi. Our bodies needed movement and this pilgrimage was going to end by our feet.
If it had all been smooth sailing, it wouldn’t have been so spiritual when we arrived in Oaxaca. This was the city John wanted to finish his manuscript in (and he did) and the Universe was making sure we paid our dues before she provided.
It may sound airy fairy, but what is the alternative? Being mad at Mexico, closing ourselves off and ruining the rest of our travels? I don’t even want to think about how many amazing moments we would have missed if we decided to let those few hours define our experience.
Again we made the conscious choice to learn, and to come out happier and stronger on the other side. Was there a lesson in the seemingly endless vomiting and diarrhea? We struggled to find it, but over a big bottle of water and some fresh bread we found a few.
We became a lot closer after those few days. We’d witnessed each other’s lows, and worked together to pick ourselves back up. We had to be dependent, independent, compassionate and empathetic under high stress and pain. We learned our strengths, both mental and physical. We were reminded to be grateful for simple things like running water. We were reminded that we have a choice in how we perceive the world around us, and although it isn’t always easy to change the way we look at things, we were reminded further that the power is always there inside of us. We learned that when we ask for a challenge, the Universe is going to test us, but it’s only to make us stronger.
And most importantly, we learned that Subway was the wrong way, and we should’ve stuck to street tacos. We won’t be making that mistake again.
Oh my goodness Nicole & John! :(( This is so well written! Of course we were well aware of what had and was happening at the time but reading this makes it so much more vivid and heartbreaking! I just want to give you big huge hugs! You are so right that times like these are sent to challenge and strengthen us and it was your time for the ‘test’. You clearly passed with ‘honours’, well done! Sending you both all our love and hugs. Kia Kaha xoxo
Nat and Kev