A Tail of Woe



I apologize in advance for this story of woe.

Travelers who have visited third world countries know there is a potential hazard to eating the local food. Americans visiting Mexico often refer to the malady as Montezuma’s Revenge, for Peru Pachacuti’s Revenge is a more apt name. Whatever its euphemism, don’t worry, I will save you the gory details apart from admitting I fell victim to the curse. If you’ve had it, you know; if not, you’re lucky.

I will however, talk about a side effect that none of you can deny dealing with – the common fart.

When this side effect is combined with a dead king’s vengeful curse the resulting fragrance becomes, in a word, deadly. Skunks passing within its range stand up and salute, then scurry off in dismay. Have you ever wondered how the Spanish, with a small force of men, conquered a powerful Inca nation?  They ate local food that hadn’t been properly prepared, stood upwind in battle, hoisted their rears and fired off volleys. Why do you think they had to wear armor? So noxious is this gas it has its own clause in the Geneva Conventions, banning its use in public spaces.

So when our tour of Machu Picchu was complete, I faced the prospect of long periods in enclosed spaces while containing this menace to mankind; first the bus to Aguas Calientes, then the train to Ollantaytambo, then another bus to Cusco. That last two-hour leg to Cusco was a particular challenge, as lunch from Aguas Calientes was catching up with me.

You may wonder about the photo of the tortured water bottle leading off this post. That was the result of compression on a half full bottle a few days later, after flying from Juliaca (3,825 meters/ 12,500 feet) to Lima (sea level). Consider what expansion might look like when going up instead of down.

The altitude gain from Aguas Calientes (2,040 meters/6,700 feet) to Cusco (3,400 meters/11,150 feet) is 4,450 feet…

You know that pffffft sound of pressure escaping when you open a soda or well-carbonated beer? Imagine getting that sound when opening a plain bottle of water. I experienced that somewhere between Ollantaytambo and Cusco. Gases were expanding. The tension in my tail was increasing. I wondered if this is what a woman might feel, going from sweet and innocent to 5 months pregnant within the space of a couple hours.

The roads in Peru are of mixed quality. Some are good, but some are bumpy, especially in construction zones. I think we hit all the construction zones in Peru that night. I would also point out they like to use speed bumps to keep drivers under control in the local towns. These are not normal speed bumps like you’d see/feel in the States, these bumps are inspired by the height of the Andes Mountains. When we thumped over one of those, as careful as the bus driver was, I felt it all the way to my eye teeth.

Finally, we arrived in Cusco. I arose from my position of misery, and while transiting to our hotel room noted considerable lower back pain. This turned out to be more serious than a bad case of bloat; after returning home and seeing a doctor, the diagnosis was a herniated disk with a side order of sciatica in my left leg. At the time of writing, it’s been 5-6 weeks since that fateful ride and the disk is much better, but the sciatica persists.  I don’t know if I dinged the disk scaling Machu Picchu (it didn’t bother me when we left there), bouncing around in the bus while under pressure, or a combination of both.

And as for what happened once I got to the hotel room, the less said the better. I would not want to be arrested for violating the Geneva Conventions.

25 thoughts on “A Tail of Woe

  1. Hilarious, if you get my drift. Seriously, it must not have been pleasant to be afflicted. Luckily, I didn’t get a case of Pachacuti’s. My wife had a brief digestive issue but it only lasted a day, so I suspect it was something else. To make our own sterilized water, we used this wonderful device called a SteriPEN, which kills 99.98% of all bacteria, viruses and microorganisms using UV light. We scrupulously avoided salads and any other vegetable/fruit garnishes that servers couldn’t guarantee would be safe for tourists. Sorry to hear about the medical condition that developed after.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read once it’s easier to make humor of misfortune than good fortune, this seemed like a good opportunity to go for the funny bone. I actually had picked up the stomach problem the day before, but the herniated disk was that day.

      When I saw what happened to that water bottle, I immediately knew I was going to use it for this story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspect it was holding in the farts that damaged the disc. I’m one of the lucky few that managed to flit around Peru without getting an upset tummy, but I mainly drank tea, coffee, and Inca Cola.

    Now, on a more refined note, I thought I’d caught the train to MP from Cuzco. But maybe not. I was staying in Cuzco, and do remember getting a taxi to the rail station, so maybe the taxi was to Ollantaytambo? The taxi driver offered to come and meet me at the station when I came back the next day, and I was glad he did, because there seemed to be a real scrum at the station and it could have been hard to get a taxi otherwise. I don’t recall there being a bus. But tourism’s probably really grown there since 1980, when I was in Peru.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe you can take a train all the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you just need an early start. We were already based in Urubamba to check out some of the other sights in the area and the bus was dedicated to the tour group, so it made sense to pick up the train in Ollantaytambo.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This story started writing itself while I was on the bus that night, thinking of how to describe the discomfort without being too crude. I jotted down its essence in a small notepad when we got to the hotel and “expanded” it more yesterday. I wish they were all that easy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha. I am generally not a bodily function discusser, but digestive issues aside, this can arise simply from being at higher altitudes – and the higher, the worse. (Just look up “HAFE”!) On several treks in the Himalayas, let’s just say we kept more than the usual distance between hikers! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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