If you often feel the pull of wanderlust, this COVID quarantine is likely one of the worst things to happen to you — next to losing your passport in a foreign country or being locked up abroad, of course. I’ve definitely been reminiscing about my travels and thinking of the dreamy trips we often cover here on UPTOWN, but I’ve also remembered the times I thought traveling wasn’t all that. There have been at least three moments in my travel history when I thought, “I should’ve stayed my behind home.”
Back in the late 1980s, my mom wanted to take us on an international trip. She went to the travel agent and said, “I have X-amount of money. Where can we go?” The agent’s answer was Cancun, Mexico, which had been hit with a hurricane the year prior and therefore was inexpensive. The bonus was that I was interested in archaeology and we would be able to visit the Mayan ruins. So after getting permission from my father to take me out of the country, we embarked on our Mexican adventure. We were fortunate enough to stay at a luxury resort that guaranteed any water consumed on the property was safe to drink. What we never considered was that the fruit offered at the hotel was likely washed in unsafe water, and I loved fruit as a child. So guess what, I got a horrible case of traveler’s sickness. My nine-year-old boby purged everything I put into it, but we weren’t going to let that stop our exploration of Mexico.
One day we went on a day trip to the ruins and the natural lagoon at Xel-Há. The bus driver and our fellow travelers had the patience of the gods because we had to stop nearly every half hour so I could throw up on the side of the road. Everyone was sharing their medications with us, but like the Pepto-Bismol we brought with us, nothing worked. I was so delighted to finally see Mexican ruins in person, but couldn’t actually explore them because I was sick and stayed outside the structures. At one point, I was about to vomit on the ground and all these security guards came running from places unknown and blowing whistles. Once, I was outside the confines of the historical area, I was allowed to puke. I didn’t feel any semblance of normalcy until I was able to soak in the lagoon at Xel-Há, and that’s when I learned that I need to get in some water when I’m nauseous.
Now you would think that experience would have taught me something, but it didn’t. In 2012, I went on a culinary tour of Morocco. Before the trip, I saw a travel doctor to get any necessary vaccines. He also prescribed an antibiotic just in case I got a bout of traveler’s sickness. But guess what. Your girl forgot to fill the prescription. Doh!
I know the exact moment I consumed the bacteria that would cause the worst bout of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was our first day in the fishing village of Essaouira and we had a lunch of grilled sardines that just had been caught and french fries. It was seriously delicious, and so was the fish tajine dinner we learned to prepare that evening. But the next morning, my stomach was saying all kinds of hell nos. By the time we reached the Berber village of Anrar in the High Atlas Mountains, the purge began. I’ll just say it was coming from both ends and I was getting grayer by the minute. Although I had purchased travel insurance, I was not about to cut short my first time in the Motherland because of sickness, but I realized I wouldn’t be able to handle any of the culinary delights I was offered. I sustained myself on bread, orange-flavored Fanta, and copious amounts of mint tea until I learned that was a diuretic. (To this day, I can’t stand mint tea.) I was so jealous of my fellow travelers being able to eat anything, especially when they had delicious-looking lamb at a “restaurant” in the Marrakech souk.
Unbeknownst to me, the tour guides had been debating whether to take me to a hospital since I had gotten so pale and wasn’t rebounding. Eventually, a man in our group shared his Cipro with me and I began to feel better. So much so that I was able to try nous nous, Morocco’s half milk/half espresso beverage, while waiting outside the souk for rain to subside. To celebrate our last night, our guides took us to a swanky restaurant in Marrakech. I was delighted when I saw American cheeseburger and fries on the menu because I just wanted something I knew my system was familiar with, and that worked out well. Although I became very familiar with the toilets in Morocco, I don’t regret my decision to stay. Not many people can say they watched the results of President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign from a hotel built into the High Atlas Mountains.
While water was my ally in Mexico, the same can’t be said for my trip to the British Virgin Islands a few years ago because I nearly drowned in the Caribbean Sea. My group spent a day at sea on a yacht that included exploring The Baths of Virgin Gorda. The problem was that boats are only allowed by law to get but so close to the beach where The Baths begin. So visitors have to swim dozens of feet to the island. I am not a strong swimmer in the pool, and open water is a whole other beast, so I was very trepidatious. To calm my fears, the yacht captain and his first mate gave me a noodle (yes, a flimsy-ass noodle) and told me to pull myself ashore along a rope with buoys. I thought, “I can do this, and the faster I pull myself, the faster I’ll reach shore.” Imagine my chagrin when I was in the middle of the water and noticed the rope wasn’t anchored to the shore. I’d have to swim in open water. I started to panic which led to a full-on panic attack that led to an asthma attack in the sea. I tried holding onto a buoy and that stupid noodle but they weren’t strong enough to hold me above water, and I never mastered treading water. I remember going under a couple, maybe a few, times until a woman in my group came to my rescue. She had experience as a lifeguard and told me to simply hold onto her and she’d swim us ashore. In between gasps for breath, I told her to tell the others on our boat to bring my asthma pump with them. I am forever thankful to that woman for saving my life.
Even though I regained my breath with the help of a few puffs of Albuterol, I didn’t enjoy The Baths. How could I after the near drowning and knowing that I’d have to swim back to the yacht to get off Virgin Gorda? When I saw the area where we’d be picked up, I briefly thought I could climb the rocks jutting into the sea from the shore to get back to the boat. But my friend wisely advised me that would be suicide and I was done with the near-death experiences for that day. Fortunately, the captain and his mate realized my safety was paramount to any laws, and they brought the boat in closer than was allowed. I still had to swim a distance, though. My friend offered me words of encouragement as she swam alongside me, until I told her I just needed to focus on swimming and nothing else. I successfully made it back to the boat, but I still have a fear of beaches and open water to this day.
As we’re living in a world in which travel is strongly discouraged or completely prohibited, it’s been helpful to me to remember some of the moments when exploration wasn’t kind to me. I know wanderlust will eventually kick in again, but until then, I’m staying my ass home where it’s safe.