I'm out front of a colonial style building. Mayan women are being thrown out the window. Some roll down the long steps, and others get up and walk towards the waiting truck. It's a scene from the Holocaust. I watch in horror, as the women explain in great detail - and in English - how they are about to be executed.
I wake up, sweating in my sleeping bag. It's pre-dawn, and all is quiet at the CONAVIGUA offices where I'm sleeping. Man, I have got to get off these drugs. Wait, wait, wait! I don't mean THOSE kinds of drugs!
I'm leaving today, headed South across the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia and within the week I will be in high risk malaria areas. I've started taking my weekly dose of Larium, a seriously heavy-duty drug that offers better protection against malaria than a slightly weaker drug sometimes used called Chloroquine. I don't really want to be taking anti-malaria drugs, but doctors and fellow travelers have told me enough stories about how terrible it is to have malaria, that I've gone and done it.
One common side effect, however, is intense, bizarre dreaming. I've heard stories of people who have stayed on it too long and gone insane. Great, like I need any more help with that! Kavitha comes by to get me, and we're off. I feel a little relieved to learn that she, also, is having intense dreaming because of the Larium. "I woke up at four a.m., alone, in a hotel in Puerto Barrios." She told me. "I had the most horrible dream, and I was so confused, I didn't know where I was!"
Anyone travelling in Central America is supposed to take a "malaria prophylaxis" for two weeks before, during, and six weeks after possible exposure, although, the warnings and possible side effects of Larium are very scary. For example:
It takes away a little of the romance of travelling doesn't it? The guidebook's section on health concerns in Central America reads like a Steven King novel, with all sorts of rare, tropical diseases explained in great detail. Symptoms of Malaria can show up eight days or eight years after you were infected! A few of the ailments associated with Malaria are:
Periodically, as I read this section I groan or say "ooo," or "yikes." Kavitha, who's reading her own book on the bus ride to San Salvador, says, "Will you stop reading that stuff! You're only going to make yourself scared". She's right, but I can't stop!
We got the full arsenal of recommended vaccinations before we left, so I feel like the bionic woman now. Still, it's rare to travel for a while without getting pretty sick at least once. Usually it's some diarrhea and/or a flu-like illness, which doesn't do any permanent damage, although, is mighty unpleasant while it lasts. For the sake of anyone who might be inspired by our journeys and goes adventuring, I'll share a little advice.
My strategy is to avoid sickness and there are a few simple, cheap, and natural tips I've learned along the way. For example, I eat LOTS of raw garlic. It doesn't make me smell too good, but it's a natural anti-biotic and immune booster. Fortunately, the entire trek team smells this way (we're training Kevin), so no one is offended. Here in Central America, I've learned papaya seeds-about 4 or 5 a day-and epazote, an herb that is used in cooking beans, are both strong anti-parasitics. Also, squeezing lime or lemon on anything that might be suspect - fresh veggies or food cooked by anyone except me - helps kill whatever germs might be on them. Eating yogurt helps keep up the natural flora of your intestines, which is important when you're eating so many anti-biotic things. These foods are cheap and easily accessible here in Central America, and provide another reason to head to the local mercado.
Simple things, like washing your hands OFTEN, drinking lots of clean water (either purified from a bottle or with a water purifier), and making sure to get enough sleep can make the difference between a fun trip and a miserable one. Also, watch what the locals do. If they're not swimming in the river, there's probably a good reason. I do my best to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. Not by just spraying on Deet, which is the recommended insect repellent, but wearing light colored clothes, trying not to be outside at sunrise and sunset in mosquito infested areas, and not wearing perfumes or using sweet smelling soaps or shampoos.
If you're really going travelling, read up on the areas where you're going to be, and check with a doctor or friends who have been there. Whatever you do, don't let all the hype scare you away from going out there and enjoying the world. Eat the food, hike the jungles, and meet the people. You only live once, you know, so make it good!
Kavitha - The Branding of Puerto Barrios
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Kavitha - Elections in El Salvador--A Hopeful Future from a Tragic Past?
Monica - Of Drugs and Dancing: Social Change in Quepos
Kevin and Shawn - Students on the Streets to PROTEST!
Help Protect Guatemala's Street Children!
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