Just a warning. This blog may make some squeamish, may gross you out, may tell too much of my personal information. It’s an important topic to be sure but it’s also kind of gross. So if you read on, just remember, I did warn you and it’s on you now!
During the last week I spent in Ecuador, I made a horrifying discovery. A disgusting discovery. Like many horrifying discoveries, I made this one staring down into a toilet bowl. It was the toilet bowl at the lodge at Reserva Las Tangaras where my girlfriend and I had been working as managers for three months. Amidst the normal toilet filth I had just deposited was a long, thin, pale thing. It looked like a worm, even an earth worm. I thought (or hoped?) that my eyes might be playing tricks on me. I asked Erin to verify what I was seeing and sure enough, a worm had come out of me. I cleaned the worm off and dropped it in an old jar full of rubbing alcohol watered down just a bit. I was carefully preserving the parasite to take to the clinic with me, for exact identification.
I tossed and turned all night, not being able to close my eyes without thinking about parasites wriggling and thrashing their way through my digestive tract.
So the next morning I walked through the forest and down the road towards Mindo, catching a cab on the way. I asked the cab driver if he could drop me off at the private English speaking clinic. Unfortunately the clinic was closed, so I went to the public health clinic. Thankfully the public health clinic turned out to be a good deal better than rumored. I waited for a couple of hours behind people who already had appointments. After waiting, I got a free examination that showed I had a slight fever but besides that and the parasite (which they identified as an amoeba) I was in good health. I got two prescriptions, one filled there for free, another filled at a pharmacy for $2.25 (they use U.S. currency in Ecuador). So I was treated for a parasitic amoeba I had contracted undoubtedly from not being careful enough for only $2.25.
I was lucky, amoebas can be very serious if not treated, migrating into the liver and eventually killing the host. Moral of the story: wash and cook all veggies, don’t drink the water, and be careful out there…but still enjoy life.
When you’re travelling and you’re tempted to forget to enjoy life, to become paranoid and obsessive, just take a step back. Take a step back and think of all the people without access to clean water or money to pay for medicine or diagnosis. Think of the people who have no alternatives to living with a parasite. Think about all of that and realize (most likely if you’re reading this blog) that you are very lucky indeed. Think about that when you’re tempted to waste money and resources on bottled water when you have clean tap water. Think of it even when you turn down a perfectly good, margarita sweating deliciously under a tropical sun.