When Bad Shawarma Happens to Good People

NOT the shawarma that did me in — this one’s a stand-in, y’all. (Flickr/cyclonebill)

Who doesn’t love street meat? Oh, come on. You know you like it, you carnivorous fools!

Dirty water dogs and all, there’s something irresistible to be found in the stalls of roadside meat vendors: wildly wafting smoke that smells like barbecued glory, spinning wheels of mystery meat being carefully carved. It’s all just heavenly to the carnivore.

So, who could blame me when I became enamored with the shawarma vendor in Puerto Iguazu, a town with otherwise uninspiring meal selections? I ordered a “mixto,” a shawarma extravaganza of beef and chicken mixed, and it came out wrapped in pita, filled with tomatoes and onions and drenched with a sickening white sauce that couldn’t in all good conscience be described as anything close to a tahini garlic sauce. It tasted more akin to … creamy, liquid HELL.

Honestly, the whole thing tasted wretched. A grease-laden culinary wasteland posing as a hearty shawarma. Ugh. I threw in the towel after a few tentative bites, and left feeling woefully regret-filled.

Then I returned to my hotel. Suddenly I felt filled with a whole lot more than regret. Filled with something that, shall we say, needed to get out.

As misfortune would have it, things needed to “get out” for approximately 4 days, during which time I had to accomplish the following: cross an international border (from Argentina to Brazil), take 2 flights, travel to a Brazilian island (Florianopolis), find my triplex apartment down a jungly road in a teeny-weeny beach town in a taxi without speaking Portuguese and, finally, work at my contract job (no work-y, no money).

It sucked. After 2 days I managed to eat a half a banana. By day 3, crackers had been added to the mix. On day 4, a bit of rice.

Nurse Nanji worriedly brought me bottles of Gatorade and cold water, and made sure I stayed hydrated. I grew weaker. I grew worried. Then I became downright scared. I have a history of tummy troubles, some that have left me hospitalized, and I did NOT want to find myself hooked to an IV in a sterile bed while traveling through Brazil.

While having crazy stomach woes isn’t a first for me, arriving into a new town in a country I’ve never visited while completely incapacitated was wretchedly groundbreaking.

And while my lovely little triplex in Campeche has one of the funkiest layouts and coolest decor I’ve seen in a home, it lacks 2 very vital element that all wildly dehydrated folks could appreciate: Air conditioning. And ceiling fans.

The perilous stairs
The perilous stairs.

And so, in 93-degree weather, with 83 percent humidity, I lay tangled in the “love nest,” (my landlord’s term for the bed, not mine), sweating out what little fluids were left within me, pathetically sipping maracuja-flavored (that’s passion fruit, y’all) energy drinks, and running down a perilous if stylish flight of stairs to reach the bathroom. Where, I was told, I couldn’t flush toilet paper due to special eco-friendly plumbing.

Yeah, you read that right. And ya see, it’s not so much the not flushing toilet paper that got me — I did spend 5 months in Southeast Asia after all — it was the timing. I mean, REALLY.

Thankfully, hours before I knew I’d have to find emergency care, I felt myself growing stronger and my stomach calmed. I ventured to a pharmacy to ask for some prescription-strength drugs.

With zero knowledge of Portuguese, I used my Spanish to say I had a stomach ache. I tried to make it look severe, but felt it uncouth to mime, “If you don’t help me, I’m going to crap my pants.”

Turns out, maybe I should have gone for the gold. A little internet research showed me I’d been given ulcer medication. No, I did not take it.

And what now, you wonder? Am I typing this from behind a mountain of un-flushed T.P.? Trapped in sweltering tropical heat? Bloated from a surplus of crackers, rice and energy drinks?

Ha! No. I’m ok. Still on a super-strict, self-imposed diet, but feeling much, much better, and ready to finally, at LAST, start exploring Brazil properly.

Even if it means I can’t eat at a churrascaria for a few weeks. ::Insert wailing noise here::

If you’ve read this much, well, thank you for caring. Hugs, hugs and more hugs to you. -xo-

Have you ever gotten sick while traveling? How did you handle it?