Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Just when you thought I was getting so serious

In the last couple of months when friends and colleagues found out I was heeded to Peru, many of them strongly recommended that I try the ceviche while there adding that it’s one of the best things on a Peruvian menu. Some of you already know where this one is headed, and I’ll just go ahead and say, “You’re welcome,” ahead of time. Those who come here for the fart jokes, have I got a present for you.

For those of you who don’t come here for that, here’s a pretty picture:

ceviche

Haven’t ever tried ceviche? It’s a little bit like fresh salsa, but the main ingredient is raw fish or shrimp. My father has now stopped reading this post because he saw the words RAW FISH and is mad that I have just reminded him that humans consume such horrifying things. And now I’m realizing, WELL DUH. If I’d just called my website RAW FISH in the first place he wouldn’t have ever read a word.

From now on all posts involving sex, salacious illegal activity and affordable healthcare will be titled “Sushi.”

I first tried ceviche and loved it while on a trip to Mexico in 2011. TANGENT: this is one of the reasons why I could never live in London or New York or any other place where Mexican food is seen as some sort of exotic, alien creation and resembles nothing that you would get off of a truck in Ensenada. If I had to eat one type of food for the rest of my life it would be Mexican, and I don’t ever want to use a linen napkin when I’m dipping chips into salsa or biting off half of a taco filled with carnitas. I’d much prefer to be standing next to that taco truck wiping the sauce from my face with my fingers onto a receipt I found at the bottom of my purse, probably a receipt from 2012 when I bought a bottle of water at the airport and the reason it’s still in my purse is because I keep meticulous records.

On a Monday night that we were in Peru I finally got my chance to try out Peruvian ceviche, and holy fucking shit (my dad isn’t read this, remember?), it was nigh unto indescribable. So good, so bursting with flavor and aroma and punch that I actually got to the bottom of the dish and then poured the juice of the whole thing into a goddamn glass and drank it. Everyone sat and stared at me with incredulity, like is this really happening? And I was like, dude. Kristen. You are from FLORIDA. Kissimmee to be exact. I AM SPEAKING YOUR LANGUAGE.

Wow, it was good. I mean, damn. Wish I was your lover. I’d rock you til the daylight comes, make sure you were smiling and warm.

Everyone else played it safe with cooked chicken and beef which is pretty much standard traveling procedures when visiting a developing country. You’re not supposed to eat uncooked meat (see: RAW FISH) or vegetables and fruit that do not require peeling. I am very well versed in these practices, except… I had ceviche in Mexico in 2011 for six straight days! No problems there! That must mean that my stomach can handle ceviche anywhere in the world! These are the totally addled thoughts of a privileged white woman who isn’t forced by birthright to weigh her every fucking decision in life.

Because within twelve hours I was… not okay. Hm, let’s rephrase that, shall we? My condition was grisly. What I thought was an upset stomach very quickly turned into what I thought was a small case of diarrhea. That very rapidly turned into every single liquid in my body trying to exit like a firehose out of my butt.

Dad, when you call mom to ask her about this post and she tells you that you do not want to know, BELIEVE HER.

I started with a Pepto-Bismal and advanced like a scholar to Imodium. We had a couple of hours that last afternoon in Peru to visit some ancient Incan ruins at Pachacamac, and halfway down a path to see a carved-out temple I realized I wasn’t getting any better and did not want to deface that kind of national landmark. So I very discreetly turned right back around, performed advanced calculus in my head to distract my body from this biological urge and then promptly chewed off four of my fingers.

That’s when I took my first Cipro, the first of what would be a full prescription. Somehow I managed to keep my shit together (DID I REALLY JUST TYPE THAT) until we got back to KK Peru headquarters where I crawled inside a bathroom, put my arm into my mouth and bit down to muffle the sound of my pain. 

If you’re visiting a country where you’re required to get vaccinations, a travel clinic will talk to you about traveller’s diarrhea and ask you if you know the difference between it and the normal kind. I am somewhat book smart about this kind, I understand it intellectually and have shrugged it off as being not much worse than what you might normally experience. BUT I AM HERE TO ADMONISH YOU TO BELIEVE THE TRAVEL CLINIC. Pay attention: It is so much worse. Phenomenally worse. This one goes to 11.

Normal diarrhea is a field of flowers. Traveller’s diarrhea is a forest fire where instead of hosing things down with water they are spraying the landscape with oxygen.

My flight back to the states left at 4 AM the following morning, so I had to leave the hotel at 1 AM in order to make the drive and get through all the security measures. This means that I did not sleep that night and left for the airport in a state of total panic. The Cipro had not yet slowed things down, and I was trying to map out in my brain how I was going to get through the next 18 hours of travel. Three different airplanes. Two layovers. Minimal access to a toilet. I had no idea that educating myself, preparing for and actually enduring a drug-free childbirth would come in so handy. Except, at the end of this ordeal they would not be handing me a very cute and dimpled baby. They’d be handing me two hours of uninterrupted time with a goddamn commode.

I tried to appear as inconspicuous as I possibly could, as inconspicuous as one can be when the urge to purge the entirety of my body out of my butt far outweighed my body’s physical capacity to keep it all in. And that’s where the preparation for childbirth came in: it was all mental. My brain had to override my corporeal being at a molecular level. If I had to compare what that mental strain felt like I’d say that I was somehow focusing so hard that I could have conducted mitosis through concentration alone. I was multiplying cells with my mind. I could have granted you three wishes, and yes, you’d have gotten your fucking pony.

The pain came in waves every five minutes, and I’d close my eyes, rock ever-so-slightly back and forth and let the sweat pool in the hair hanging around my face. On both the flight from Lima to El Salvador and the flight from El Salvador to LA, my access to the bathroom was limited for hours at a time. There was only one bathroom at the back of the plane that was blocked the entire time the staff served drinks and snacks. And when it did open up, a line of 20 people would form. So I’d stand in that line and divide a cell in half into two daughter cells, each with the same kind of chromosomes as the parent nucleus, over and over again. I managed to generate two extra kidneys while flying over Ecuador.

On the layover in El Ealvador I had to go through a security line where a woman in uniform thoroughly patted down my body, very slowly, and you guys, I kinda think I understand what a drug mule must feel like at the airport. Except, of course, I was smuggling poo.

Sweat was dripping from every part of my body due to the physical and mental strain, and I was afraid that if I made eye contact with anyone that I’d lose my concentration. So I was looking everywhere, anywhere, eyes darting around like a lunatic, and when she’d ask me questions I’d whip my head around as if startled. What? Huh? Me? Did you ask me if I have poop I am hiding from you YES THE ANSWER IS YES.

Any outside stimulus meant that I had to think about something other than not pooping my pants. The last part of that sentence sounds like it was written by a five-year-old, oh my god. You guys, I spent over a day of my life concentrating my mind specifically on not pooping my pants. That one thought alone. That was it. And thanks to the Cipro kicking in at about 17 hours into my travel time, I can say that the concentration worked. 17 hours? That long? Guess what the most common side effect of Cipro is? Go on. Yep. That’s right: DIARRHEA.

And then this… the photo the machine took of me at Global Entry when I reached customs in LA looks like a still image from some spy thriller:

ceviche2

That chick is SO not amused.

I look like a weary fugitive on the run. With the runs.

  • Susan

    LOL. I’m sorry.

  • lisajey

    I am speechless… because now I have to poop!

  • Ralph

    For the last two days I have had a horrible stomach virus… and you somehow just made that all ok.

  • Saxyrunner

    Hahaha! You are the poet of poop.

  • Jen Moore

    The horror. My god. The absolute horror.

  • acm

    but the ceviche! with all the citrus killing the bugs!! you mean it’s not enough? :((

  • Heather Armstrong

    NOT ENOUGH.

  • bethtrue

    i canNOT even imagine how you did it. I mean, wow. I’ve been there but not even 25% of what you must have been experiencing and I cannot imagine hours and hours and hours of that. You are winning, Heather. <3

  • jen

    Welcome to a day in the life of a Crohn’s diagnosis.. The struggle is real. Good news – travelers diarrhea has a cure! (Seriously though, you have my sympathies.)

  • Aundrea

    I’m headed to Mexico at the end of the month. Ceviche is one of my favorite things, but I don’t think I’ll muster up the courage to enjoy it this trip. Yikes, Heather!

  • Yolanda Machado

    I’m Peruvian (1st generation born), and I have eaten ceviche many times (sometimes daily cause it is SO DAMN GOOD) and I have to ask if you ate anything else? Cause I nor anyone I know has not had that experience. Or you got some bad fish 🙁

  • M Black

    Something similar happened to me in Guatemala. I had gone to the local pharmacy for prescription strength Imodium thinking that would stop it. At 4 am my daughter and I headed to Tikal (ruins) by van and plane with a small tour group. Sweat was pouring out of me the 2 1/2 hours of travel. I had NO WHERE to “go”. We get to a restaurant before we hit the rain forest and the bathroom stalls were right off the dining room. They were STALLS!! RIGHT OFF THE DINING ROOM. No hall, no separation, just right there! I looked at my daughter, and the ungrateful wretch was laughing at the look on my face. I ended up sweating through lunch and pooped in the rain forest with 2 monkeys watching and hoping no one from the group came back looking for me. Fun day!

  • Beth Foster

    Yep, I was thinking of my CD the whole read. Except I get to stay in bed and/or nestled in blankets at the foot of my commode (or just on it, like the poop queen). My CD pro suggestion (too late at this point) would have been adult diapers. Got me a stash under the sink. Here’s a thing: Telling your 5 yr old he’s too big for pullups when you yourself are wearing one. Good times…
    But, I digress.

  • jen

    Very, very true. Agree with your recommendation … plus a change of clothes. So much shame in bodily functions … wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Sending good GI vibes your way!

  • RzDrms

    Ohmygosh, have I been reading you *waaay* too long, or am I misremembering … but weren’t you actually MAJORLY constipated on that trip to Mexico (Isla Mujeres!) in 2011?! So the cerviche there worked oppositely?! (I didn’t even go back in your archives to refresh my memory either; I’m telling you, I CAN’T QUIT YOU!)

  • Wow, what a nightmare. I had something similar years ago when I had terrible colitis and I was on a bumpy flight from Florida home to Tennessee, on a tiny commuter plane. I locked myself in the bathroom and ignored the flight attendant who was screaming at me to get to my seat and put on my seatbelt. / However, there is another aspect to it. In 2007 when I was staying in Kazakhstan trying to finish the adoption of my son, I got constipated. No vegetables around. So I just drank a glass of tap water and waited. Should have bottled some of that stuff and brought it home to my aunt who is always constipated. The gross part was that in that hotel, which is old, you cannot flush TP down the commode, you have to put it in a wastebasket. Phew.

  • Rebecca

    Lived in Peru for a year, and we were told then (10 years ago) that traveler’s diarrhea is worse there per capita (of tourists) than it is in Mexico. Having traveled (& been very ill) in both places, I can say from personal experience that it’s bad in both places. Let’s just say I was very, very thin after living in Peru for a year. That won’t stop me from going back, but it did mean that I wanted to wait until my children were old enough to not drink the bath water. By the way, it’s pretty unlikely to get it from ceviche. Not to say you didn’t, but the lemon juice sort of “cooks” the fish. However, it’s very easy to get it from a glass that wasn’t entirely dry before your drink went into it, that sort of thing, unfortunately hard to make sure it never happens even in a good restaurant.

  • dailysnark

    Years ago something similar happened to me when I was in China. We were in some slightly less modern areas, which meant that a lot of bathrooms had big holes you had to squat over. There is nothing more miserable than having diarrhea over a squat hole with no privacy. And because it wasn’t excruciating and humiliating enough, a couple of Chinese women came over to me while I was precariously perched over gallons of my own poop and wanted to touch my blonde hair. The whole thing was horrifying.

  • Michele

    OMG, I could totally visualize this.

  • savine

    I would love to print this and hand out copies as an educational tool. I’m a pharmacist in an area where every one of my patients thinks they are immune to such things.

  • kmpinkel

    I realized halfway through that I was eating my breakfast while thoroughly engulfed in this story. Not a single problem with that, is there something wrong with me? Sorry about your issue, but glad you made it without any accidents.

  • Karen

    Happened to me in Italy many years ago. Told us not to drink the water but i had ice in my drinks and next thing you know…I had Kaopectate and I think I drank the whole bottle before it kicked in. Then an 8 hour bus ride with no bathroom. Thought I would die. The guide let me sit in her seat so i could look out the window and it did help not being cooped up in the back of the bus. I could totally relate to your story.

  • Fredda

    I was fortunate to have eaten ceviche in Lima unharmed, but I once brought my 15 year old son home from Mexico so sick he was hospitalized. Although once on a trip in Baja (after eating abalone) and attempting to hide behind a bush (not many bushes on the peninsula) I discovered in mid-poop that I was exposing myself to a Mexican road crew. They were kind enough not to stare. My sympathies to you and your gut.

  • Kate

    the anxiety that crept into my system as I read this is palpable. My.WORST.fear. I clinched my ass the whole time I read. Heartfelt sympathies to you.

  • lisa

    Best Post Ever! How could your Dad not love this post?

  • Erin

    You just brought back a whole shit-ton (haha) of repressed memories from the time I was traveling through Turkey and got traveler’s diarrhea. I didn’t have antibiotics, but I did have lots and lots of imodium, so I spent 3/4 of my week there plugging myself up. (I was in college. I really didn’t know any better.) Made it back home and thought “surely this has cleared itself up” and STARTED MY INTERNSHIP. Spent a whole day in the office bathroom and finally realized I should go to the doctor. On the bright side, I learned at the tender age of 20 that one should never travel ANYWHERE without cipro and imodium. Good life lesson. Anyway, you have my sympathies!

  • Marie McDowell

    Oh my gosh, laughing so hard. Thanks for taking one for the team Heather!

  • Noemi

    I once had travelers Diarrhea in Mexico from having a milkshake made from unpasteurized milk. It started the night of and continued onto the whole day after. To make matters worse, we had to go visit my dad’s family who lived like 2 hours away from where my mom’s family is from, and since my family didn’t think I was that sick they decided to make a day of it. A. DAY. OF IT. HOLY. SHIT. Literally and figuratively. I lost so much water form my body that day that by the end there was no more poop, no water, nothing coming out, my body was going through the painful motions, for HOURS. when my parents finally noticed that I wasn’t getting better, they had one of my aunts take me to a local doctor and they had me hooked up to an IV and fluids and an hour later I was perfectly fine but I had to eat plain food for the rest of my trip :/ It was one of the worst experiences of my life and now I stay away from dairy products in mexico.

  • Kim Broom

    Sounds like my first experience eating sushi – I was voiding in two directions – on the toilet with a pail to my mouth. Fun times.

  • Lauren3

    Dude your website is KILLING IT this month. Poop story? Always enjoyable. Stories about KK Peru and EMC? Can’t wait to read & spread them.

  • Sarah Dillon Hart

    Were you complaining about your broken toe while going through your diarrhea labor?

  • Oh Heather, we do not drink ceviche juice in Kissimmee. But we might snack on the small pieces of greasy fried batter left over from the gator tail . . .

  • Tracey

    My food intolerance is the same way (to corn, soy, wheat, eggs, sesame, shellfish, or peanuts). “No, I do not want a bite. I’d like to keep everything moving normally….”

  • Holy crap. (Oops, sorry)

  • Tish

    Note to self: When going to Peru eat the ceviche two days before leaving. 🙂

  • Lainie Thornton

    OMFG! I haven’t laughed so hard at another person’s misfortune as I did just then reading this brilliant and so very accurate take on traveller’s diarrhoea in Peru. Spending three months in Peru, I know this terrible tale all too well.

  • KathyB

    Glad you survived and they let you back into the country. From the looks of things you might have had mayhem in mind. Really terroristy looking photo. Misery at the bottom of violence you know.

  • readiness

    Re your ETA. YES!

  • readiness

    NOOOOOOOOOO

    Stuff of nightmares right there. I mean, “No ma’am, please don’t touch my hair my hair while I attempt not to die of pooping” is a phrase I never want to have to think about

  • Ari

    It’s true that food poisoning can sometimes cause very similar symptoms, but traveler’s diarrhea arises from a variety of sources (mostly bacteria) to which locals are usually immune–hence the “traveler’s” part of the name. We all usually develop immunity to the most common bacteria in our regions, and tend to run into trouble when we travel, particularly when going anywhere rural where water treatment may be less thorough–sometimes protozoa are the culprit where fresh water is unprocessed–but it can happen anywhere to any non-local person.

  • Ari

    Also wow I want ceviche now. I’m not sure if that was meant to be my takeaway here, but mmm.

  • Jennifer

    Pretty much the exact same thing happened to me in Peru, except I don’t know the cause. I endured a 21 hour journey from Cusco back to Seattle. I thought I would die. I haven’t been to a developing country since, and yes, I would put the experience on par with natural childbirth. Honestly, I think it may even have been worse.

    Like you, I went from Immodium to Cipro. The morning after I got back, I couldn’t focus my eyes together (double vision) which may or may not have been a reaction to the Cipro. What a nightmare.

  • Ivori

    Agreed! One of the best! Heather – please post a pic of the culprit (ceviche)!

  • Courtney

    I had community-acquired C-Diff. I literally feel your pain. I told people it was like giving birth, several times a day for a week, with nothing to show for it after all was said and done.

  • Suzy Soro

    My sister and I went to Corsica many many MANY years ago, our mother was always forcing us to go to foreign places so she could have a life, and we got so diarrhea-d that we didn’t even know what to do. I walked into a pharmacy (I hoped) and they took one look at me and gave me this charcoal stuff. I don’t remember whether I had to drink it or eat it (drink it?) but it did the trick. We were so sick that if anyone mentions the word Corsica I want to stab them in the face.