Next Time, I’ll Pass On the Strawberry

My wife, Cherie, and I count travel as one of our chief passions. Over the past 30 years, we have visited six continents and experienced many cultures, in the process learning a great deal about both others and ourselves.

When traveling, one always runs the risk of encountering unexpected twists and turns and dead ends. It is important, then, to adopt a flexible mindset and be prepared to accept and adjust to the unforeseen. Eventually, no matter the obstacle, we always make it to the other side of the river or the canyon or even the other side of the world.

In particular, we find small-group adventure travel to be fascinating and enjoyable and largely worry-free. A team leader and a driver map out these 10- to 14-day trips and navigate language barriers, unfamiliar roads and hard-to-interpret signage. As a result, we are free to develop friendships with the four to six other couples on the vacation and to share laughs and conversation with them.

Recently, we traveled to a relative no man’s land — the Amazon River basin in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. For 12 days, we biked, hiked, kayaked, snorkeled, rode horses and encountered many species of animals we had never seen before and scarcely knew existed.

All went well until our last day. 

We got started early in the morning so as to arrive in the Ecuadorian city of Quito by late afternoon. The group gathered for a farewell dinner and moved on to the airport about 9 p.m. for the 1 a.m. flight to Atlanta. I passed the time watching episodes of Homeland.

About 45 minutes prior to boarding, sweat began to bead on my forehead and my stomach sent me an urgent message: “Run immediately to the nearest restroom.” I was about to erupt. Presently, I commenced screaming at the porcelain god.

I exited the restroom and sipped Gatorade, hoping the nausea would subside. Instead, it continued to come in waves. One trip to the facility was returned by another and another.
When Cherie found me in a dazed and confused state and let me know it was time to board, I staggered down the gateway confident that there was nothing left in my stomach. Still, upon boarding, I told the flight attendant about my queasiness and she supplied me with a motion-discomfort bag about large enough to contain a small sub.

I settled into an aisle seat. Tactically, that proved to be a good move in that my sore stomach resumed talking.

I got to the restroom in two skips and screamed and projected like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The entire plane had to have heard me and hopefully thought they were hearing a horror movie prematurely started before takeoff. A flight attendant intercepted me before I could return to my seat.

I told her to summon a haz-mat cleanup team.

She told me I was going to have to leave the plane immediately.

“No way,” I respectfully responded. “It’s one in the morning and I’m hours from the nearest hotel,” I said, standing fast on my refusal while attempting to tie myself to my seat.

The attendant and I were at loggerheads. A medic was summoned and would have to serve as an arbitrator.

He took my vital signs and asked me a series of questions through an interpreter. My fate hung in the balance. Would I be dismissed from the plane and left alone in a foreign land with no luggage, or would I be allowed to make my way home? 

At last, I was cleared for takeoff. I would be allowed to stay on the plane. In such a way, an international incident was avoided.

The woman seated next to me identified herself as a nurse. She slipped me a pill and told me to put it under my tongue. It could have been a hallucinogen or poison for all I knew, but she appeared trustworthy and she got no argument from me, not that I had the strength to raise one. 

For the next six hours, I sipped ginger ale, prayed the poltergeist would not return, reflected on the comforts of home and thought about what could have made me so violently ill.

“Must have been the strawberry on the dessert,” I told myself. “I was the only fool who ate it.”

Time heals, of course. I was home for just a couple of days before the worst of my trip receded in my mind and was replaced by memories of jungles and islands and native peoples — and remind me to tell you one day about the huge whale shark, twice the length of our 40-foot tour boat, that we snorkeled with.      


Safe and Happy Travels,

Brian Rowland

P.S. Drink bottled water. Avoid unpeeled fruit.  

Categories: Opinion