A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tltisme

Traveling Sick

an account of my health over the trip (original version was written to seek advice from my travel doctor)

sunny 79 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Febuary 18: Baños, Ecuador, diagnosis myself with parasites due to following symptoms: fatigue (energy one day but not the next), joint aches, easily blistered skin, consistent gas, occasional and small amounts of blood in stool. Our WWOOFing host, an aging Canadian ex-schoolteacher/hippy explained to me how she had been experiencing the 'sulfur burbs' and was afraid she had parasites. She pulled out the pills she said she takes at least every six months 'just to be sure', and for $2.80 it seemed to make sense.
Take Parasi-kit: 2/18 evening, 1 tablet albendazol 400 mg.
2/19 evening, 2 (1 g each) tablets secnidazol

I feel substantially better over the next couple weeks, higher energy levels, better digestion, less gas, less aches. No more parasites!

March 8: Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. On the bus to this coastal town I feel like I am fighting a sickness. The following evening I go to bed early with swollen lymph nodes and exhaustion. My lymph nodes return to normal but my energy level remains low the following two days in Puerto Lopez. Amy and I prepare delicious fresh fish (cooked!) meals at the hostal including beet salad. My urine is red.

March 12: Cuenca, Ecuador. Severe and consistent fatigue though little other symptoms finally prompt me to consult a doctor. After hearing Amy's translation of my past months health and self-prescribed parasite medication, the friendly doctor has a quick listen to my stomach and intestines and declares I have a bacterial infection. She writes a prescription for antibiotics as well as pain and bloating medication (neither of which I really suffer from) and almost as an afterthought tells me to go across the hall to get my stool tested. After successfully obtaining a stool sample with the miniature spoon and dish purchased for $0.07 I wait fifteen minutes for the results. Amy convinced the lab worker to test for parasites as well as bacteria ($4 for the former, $1 for the latter). The doctor emerges from the lab and exclaims “muchas amoebas!” were found in my stool as well as bacteria. She scribbles another prescription for Flagyl that I am instructed to take following my antibiotic regimen and we ask her how these intruders may have found their way into my digestive tract. “Comida del calle” (street food). She thinks I have probably had them for many weeks and not parasites but the steroids in the Parasi-Kit made me feel better for a little while. We happily pay her the $5 consultation fee and are on our way. I feel a little squeamish at the thought of all the things living inside me at the moment but am relieved I have gotten a diagnosis and prescriptions for treatment. I hypothesize that I ingested an amoeba cyst more than a month prior, after cleaning out pig pens in San Agustin, Colombia or while eating the double servings of blood sausage served at every meal there (Amy gave me hers). Impossible to know, bacteria or amoebas could have been contracted from any number of grilled street meats, unwashed or washed with contaminated water fruits or vegetables, juices made from unpurified water or chilled with unpurified ice, or any other food or less than purely hygenic situation we have been confronted with but embraced in the spirit of traveling.
March 13-March 18: 1 tablet Bactiflox 500mg every 12 hours, morning and night for five days.
March 20-27: 1 tablet Flagyl 500 after lunch and dinner, 2 pills a day for seven days.

I feel much better just a couple days after starting the antibiotics. My energy returns and the trip goes on into Peru. After finishing off all the medicines I still have some indigestion (perhaps because much of my beneficial digestive bacteria has been eradicated) but also some slightly sulfurous or stomach bile tasting burps and I worry that there are still some things going on in there that shouldn't be.

March 31, outside Tarapoto, Peru. We are now in the fringe of the Amazon river basin and jungle and contemplate beginning to take our Malarone for malaria but hold off after talking to our volunteer hosts who say there has not been any malaria in the area. They say some dengue has been reported in Tarapoto but none in this small town 40 minutes down a dirt road. I am quite sore and tired after building steps in the mornings and playing soccer with the locals in the afternoon. My body doesn't seem to recharge or rejuvenate as I would like despite the thoroughly enjoyable bathing and swimming in the river every afternoon. As has been the case throughout the trip it is so hard to tell what is normal work, play, and travel wear and tear and what are symptoms of something else...

April 6, arrive in Yurimaguas, Peru on the river Maranon, tributary to the Amazon. Amy and begin taking Malarone, one pill at sundown each day to keep the malaria mosquitoes at bay.

April 7, we depart Yurimaguas on a large passenger boat/barge heading down river to Iquitos. I have some diarrhea and compulsively I decide to take the recommended three day regiment of Ciproflaxin (1 500mg pill morning and night) somewhat preemptively as I have read many people contract forms of dysentery on this trip. Probably totally unnecessary and not the best idea in hindsight, but I have the medicine with me and down it goes to ease my bowels and my mind so I can get back to relaxing in my hammock berth and watch the river bank go by.

April 9, arrive in Iquitos, Peru on the Amazon river, the world's largest city unreachable by road (over half a million inhabitants). End self-prescribed Cipro medication, feel good.

April 10, Iquitos, Peru. Following a delicious palm heart salad dinner and the best chicken I have ever tasted I enter the bathroom of the rotisserie chicken diner. After what seems to be a little diarrhea I wipe only blood. Many pieces of red toilet paper later I am finally clean and very worried. I wonder if a fish bone from lunch at the market earlier has punctured my insides or what else could possibly be causing so much blood. Amy asks our waiter where the nearest clinic is, we pay the bill, and hop in one of the thousands of rickshaw taxis racing around the city. I don't feel bad but I don't want to mess around when there is blood coming out of me. Amy has to do all the talking as usual at the clinic and tries to relate my health history over the past 6 weeks and explain the current situation. The doctor thinks the blood was probably full of dead amoebas being expelled from my system. He asks for me to poop in a cup but after extended effort I cannot produce anything. No blood, no feces, shit. I take the cup with me and promise to return before their overnight shift ends to avoid paying another consultation fee with a new doctor (65 soles or about $25). After four hours of sleep we return, I perform in the bathroom, and we deliver the specimen to the lab. Two hours later we receive the results: everything normal, no blood, but under 'celulas de almidon' the test finds 'escasos' which we understand to mean cell casings or probably dead amoebas. The test also finds Blastocystis hominis, a parasite. After these results the doctor prescribed me Colufan (I believe, difficult to read doctor's handwriting...) for the parasites but the pharmacies only had Noxzolin 500mg (Nitazoxanida) which I was assured was the same thing. I was also prescribed Bactim Forte, an antibiotic.
April 11- April 13: Noxzolin 6 tablets morning and night, every 12 hours for 3 days.
April 11- April 15: Bactim Forte 10 tablets, every 12 hours, morning and night, for 5 days.

During this period, from March 12th to the 14th we went on an eco-jungle tour where we slept in tents, went on hikes through the jungle and waded through multiple flooded trails, one in which we had to swim. We saw only two snakes and didn't find any leaches on each other but who knows what other organisms lurked in those murky waters. I stopped taking my Malarone after I began taking these other medications and hearing from our guide (who had contracted malaria multiple times and whose wife was a malaria researcher, actually they met when he was her patient!) that there was no malaria or dengue in the area currently. It was probably unrealistic, but I felt protected against contracting more parasites in the jungle since I was already on medication for them!

Apart from a few insect bites I returned from the jungle unscathed and feeling fine. We flew to Lima, Peru on April 17th and that afternoon my temperature began rising, accompanied by body aches and a headache. I had a fever through the night, maximum measured temperature of 100.1 (my normal temperature is usually around 97) but my temperature was back to normal by the morning and I began to feel better. I had my feces tested again in the lab which I had been planning on before the fever and waited for results before consulting a doctor. That night I had severe indigestion and some diarrhea. The next morning we returned for the results which found no bacteria and all normal except for a small amount of Blastocystis Hominis. Later that day, despite trying to eat simple foods, bread, bananas, rice, and some vegetables, I developed severe stomach cramping to the extent that it was painful to walk and very uncomfortable in any situation. We went back to the clinic where my feces had been tested to see a doctor (5 soles for the test, 4 to see the doctor). After poking around my abdomen where a few spots hurt some but no shooting pain, just general cramping and pressure, the doctor wrote me a prescription for Ciproflaxin. We didn't understand since the test had found no bacteria but she believed that I have a bacterial infection in my stomach. After the 7 day regimen of Cipro she prescribed Nitoxozanida or Colufane (slightly different deciphered spellings on these doctors notes but I believe the same medicines as before) twice a day for three days to finish off the Blastocystis Hominis.
April 18-April 26: Ciproflaxin 500mg tablets at 9am and 9pm daily while abstaining from alcoholic drinks and trying to eat simple food.
After asking about probiotics, the doctor also gave me a prescription for Enterogermina, spores of polyantibiotic resistant bacillus clausii to take once daily for five days. I have been feeling a little better but my energy levels are still low and my digestion has not been good. I have not had diarrhea, just some cramping, bloating, and discomfort.

April 25, Arequipa, Peru. We got off an overnight bus from Nazca to Arequipa this morning and despite a slightly funny stomach I had plenty of energy to tromp around the city with our bags and find the best hostal deal. Walking into the seventh or eighth hospedaje of the morning I was greeted by a middle aged guy smoking a cigarette who said he could give me a room for two people for 30 soles (around $11). The place had Wi-Fi and a kitchen on a quirky but nice rooftop terrace, even a place to wash clothes, so I asked for 25 soles. The friendly guy declared it was his birthday so he would do it and asked if I wanted to have a vodka drink with him! I wished him 'Feliz Cumpleanos!' and gave him a chocolate Amy had picked up back in Ica. I then had to explain to him that I was taking antibiotics and despite the tempting screwdriver offer at 11am, I would have to pass. I felt good most of the day but had a lingering headache I made sure wasn't dehydration and this afternoon my energy abandoned me. My last Cipro pill goes down the hatch in the morning and then it will be on to the Nitoxozanida for three days. Maybe soon I will feel healthy again.

Posted by tltisme 21:34 Archived in Peru Tagged sick medicine health bacteria antibiotics parasites amoebas Comments (0)

Sacred Sueños

permaculture in practice on a degraded mountainside

all seasons in one day 72 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador: an odd assortment of established ex-pats, transient long-term travelers, vacationing gringos, and locals both catering to and trying to ignore all the foreigners. This eclectic jumble of people have all been drawn to this beautiful valley in southern Ecuador (or were born here) yet groups remain largely divided, each with their own jaded views of the others. National Geographic published a story around 10 years ago 'discovering' not only the natural beauty and sublime climate of this area but also that many locals lived more than a century. Foreigners began flocking to the 'Valley of Longevity' and many bought land in the surrounding hills to build their retirement dream homes. Yves (pronounced Eve) arrived in Vilcabamba just before the article, looking to put down some roots and begin his own farm after spending a number of years traversing the Americas. He and his partner had moved from farm to farm through the WWOOF and word of mouth networks, working and learning about permaculture, animal husbandry, and organic gardening. Through a series of events, some lucky and others unfortunate, Yves ended up owning 30 or so hectares of a mountainside on his own. He had wanted a challenging place to test his agriculture knowledge and he certainly got it. Hacking trails through the dense undergrowth, cutting steps into the alkaline clay soil, digging contour ditches, and macheting down hectares of yashepa (head-high ferns) to build terraced garden beds, Yves began the long process of restoring the soil and sculpting the ecosystem into a sustainable place for flora and fauna (including a few humans).
Eight years later Yves, a lively red-headed Canadian, has put not only his time and money, but his heart and soul into carving out a habitat for himself, his animals, and anyone interested enough to haul themselves up the rugged 8 km trail to the haven known as Sacred Sueños. It turns out over 100 volunteers spend time on the mountain every year, and with Yves' guidance and positive attitude, an amazing place has been created. Snaking out from the main kitchen/library/dining/lounge building, a network of paths leads one past terraced garden beds fighting to remain seen among the encroaching undergrowth, chicken tractors hard at work, numerous fruit bearing saplings and vines being encouraged by thick layers of mulch and humanure, compost pits and piles, and greenhouses and nurseries nestled into the slope. Many paths end at habitations from canvas yurts to tree high platforms for yoga and mosquito-net bedrooms, all with glorious views of the valley below. Other trails wind along to a peaceful waterfall or climb upwards over rough earthen stairs to the ridge and pine forest; some disappear completely, left incomplete by a wayward volunteer or simply reclaimed by the vegetation and forgotten.
Amy and I spent only a week in this beautiful place but it seems far longer based on the friends we made, experiences gained, stories shared, and projects completed. We arrived with Kendrick, a skinny kid from Oklahoma who was talkative and smart but inexperienced and naïve about manual labor. Waiting with lunch cooked for us when we made it up the mountain at last with our trio of pack animals (Bonnie the aging donkey and the two horses Joe and Two-Socks loaded with buckets of fruit, veggies, and other scrumptious vittles for our weeks cooking and eating content) was Fabian, the calm and merry dreaklocked traveler/writer from Switzerland. Matt, an intriguing Pittsburg native clambered down from his usual library loft perch and joined Yves, Kendrick, Fabian, Amy and I for a hearty lunch. Later that afternoon Emily, a jovial Quebecois biologist, and Ellen, a friendly and particular science teacher from Germany, returned from their hike in the nearby Podocarpus National Park laughing about how long it had taken due to countless photo ops. Ellen had in fact been the very first volunteer to help Yves build the first structures and gardens eight years ago and had at last returned to see what had become of her friend and the mountain. Our diverse group all spoke English quite well and we shared some great times working in the rain, relaxing in the sun and shade, and dining and playing cards by candlelight.
Our first day was an orientation to the gardens, greenhouses, orchard, kitchen and compost systems, and current projects as well as some guidelines for community living (treat others as you want to be treated!). Due to the severely depleted soil on the mountain (ph of around 4 and mostly clay, very few of Yves' first plantings produced anything) returning nutrients to the earth was of utmost importance. Compost from the kitchen was sorted into 5 different containers: horses/donkeys, chickens, standard, coffee grounds for mushroom growing medium, and hard to break down citrus peels. After the banana, mango, avocado, and other peels were processed through the powerful digestive system of the horses and donkeys, the manure was brought back and layered with standard compost and hay or grass for microorganisms and decomposers to thrive in. After just three or four months this concoction was turned into rich, fluffy, compost ready to be used in the nursery and frugally applied to garden beds. Human excrement was also used for its nutrients, simply mixed with sawdust and dirt, it too became valuable compost, but confined to uses outside of vegetable beds due to the very slight health risk of consuming parasites or bacteria that had previously infected a volunteer (sounds familiar...) and survived to remain present in the compost. The two chicken tractors were yet another tool for revitalizing and aerating the soil. Laying down fresh green leaves in the chickens movable rectangular pen and feeding and watering them daily yielded not only a few a eggs a day but mulch and chicken shit were composted in place. Any waste that was safe and satisfactory to burn was collected for fires, all other waste was either cut into strips for cob building material or if it was really nasty packed into the 'skank bottle' which was then sealed and used as a building block. In these ways, nothing was 'trash' on the mountain, anything that came up was used in its entirety. It was impressive to see many of these permaculture techniques in practice but also daunting to see how impoverished the land was and what a long process it was to restore its vitality and grow enough food to support a human community.
Yves hoped that the changing guard of volunteers could keep these systems of soil replenishment and garden growing in progress while he was personally at work on his own home a twenty minute hike away. Here he had developed goat cheese recipes without the use of electricity and refrigerators, which he brought down every weekend to the gringo market of Vilcabamba for some cash income. From two goats on a well cared for pasture he received about two liters of milk a day, enough to make numerous small cheeses a week. Yves is kept quite busy tending his goats, donkeys (Bonnie and Clyde), and horses, (not to mention his cute kitten and green-eyed puppy who play like siblings) while trying to organize volunteers and had little time to work on his own home. He was very grateful for construction help and Fabian, Kendrick, and I were enthusiastic to do some work other than garden maintenance and general farm upkeep. We gained some valuable timber framing experience as we worked to set floor posts and chisel out a large cross beam to connect them. Yves did not pretend to be a builder and was appreciative of the rough construction experience I had. Despite fighting a cough, our progress on his house cheered him up considerably and Yves kept mentioning all the other fun projects there would be for me if I was only able to stay longer.
Amy and I agree that Sacred Sueños was our most enjoyable volunteer post to date. The work was flexible, interesting, and though many tasks were routine maintenance and chores, you could see the purpose in them. Yves was incredibly knowledgeable about plants and permaculture techniques and very willingly to talk about past experiences and future ideas. The library was extremely impressive for its size and included a wide range of acclaimed novels as well as a multitude of references for all things agriculture, animal, ecology, building, and community related. Though not our most posh accommodations (certainly our best views though), the living areas had a feel of history to them (perhaps too much so for only being 8 years old or less) and being there felt like we had become part of a meaningful community, not simply our own with fellow volunteers but all the Sacred Sueños members who had come before us. By far the most authentic and organized attempt at a sustainable living community we have been a part of, it was sobering to see how much food still had to be hauled up the mountainside to sustain us. Yves was thorough with his shopping and kept the kitchen stocked with the most ingredients and best variety we have been privileged to use, which was great for our cooking and eating, but reinforced the fact that the most fundamental part of sustainability, growing food, is not at all easy. Sacred Sueños certainly began with quite a handicap due to its location and soil but it is a hearty reminder that growing enough food to survive is a challenge, while having a variety of food is an immense luxury indeed. Balanced meals full of nutrients and hopefully some protein become even more important when the work necessary to live off the land is mostly hard manual labor. Yves has most definitely shown us an inspiring example of what can be done, while reminding me that a cash crop or value added product is quite important (cheese now, Yves wants to brew mead and grow mushrooms in the future), as well as proximity to a market for those products and a place to buy goods you cannot produce yourself. In other words, its no coincidence that rural farmers have been trekking to town and back for as long as agrarian societies have existed.
When the week came to an end, Amy and I had gained two traveling partners on our next leg to Peru! Emily had biologist contacts in Chachapoyas, Peru (where we were headed) and Fabian (who rarely makes plans) felt that it was a good direction to go. On Sunday we descended from the mountain and that night the four of us boarded a night bus bound for Zumba, leg 1 of 7 to cross the least traveled Ecuador/Peru border. A sun-rise truck bed ride to the border, a simple stroll across a bridge, a couple muddy Toyota Corolla hatchback jaunts, one short rickshaw ride, a speedy van stint on paved roads across what looked much like the American southwest, one sleepy driver, a final cruise through a canyon road full of fallen rocks, and 20 hours later we arrived in Chachapoyas: land of the cloud people!

Posted by tltisme 11:48 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountain soil living community compost sustainable gardening permaculture Comments (1)

My meager return to blog writing

I have not written much for the blog in a long while. Well, I have written brief descriptions of stops on the map and attempted to manage my mounting pile of digital images but I haven't continued my enthusiastic writing from the beginning of the trip. Luckily, Amy's blog writing has waxed as mine has waned and I have been able to contribute the pictures to go with her well-picked words. I have grown quite fond of my camera and enjoy pulling it out of my pocket to snap quick images in order to better share and remember experiences. I will blame some of lack of motivation for writing on the ameobas and bacteria that infected me for probably more than a month before I felt weak enough to get a test at the doctors (my self diagnosis of parasites was probably wrong but made me feel better for a little while). Now the little guys living in my digestive tract have been conquered by modern medicine I hope, I sure feel better.
In an attempt to get back in the swing of posting my writing I am publishing a couple brief little things that were written in my little pocket notebook. I carry it everywhere with me now and it is filling up with bus routes, hostal names and numbers, notes on plants and building techniques, email addresses of new friends, recomendations of destinations, and all manner of other jotted lists and numbers. One page contains ideas for pieces to write for the blog but many are still just titles at this point: Latin Futbol, Ecuador: Microcosm of South America, What does climate change mean for remote rural farmers? The microeconomies of buses, and others that have yet to take much form. Hopefully I will get the chance to elaborate on these ruminations soon, perhaps at our next stop volunteering in the eco-art village of Sachaqa or after while we float down river into the Amazon jungle. For now this is what is done. The poem was actually written in Colombia when I first experienced the Granadilla (a type of passion fruit) and sought for a way to share my fascination with it, now it has returned to my life for an even better price in Peru! The mountain list was inspired by our time at our last volunteer post in Ecuador just a week ago. Feel free to laugh at both!

Posted by tltisme 08:46 Archived in Peru Tagged writing Comments (0)

Ode to Granadillas

Alien fruit
orange teardrop

puncture your crisp peel
reveal your slimy innards

like a halloween brain

like frog eggs or fish eggs (but too cheap to be caviar)

odd to touch see and taste
but always so refreshing and delightful

so juicy and sweet
yet your seeds add a hearty crunch

I won't stop slurping you
for breakfast dinner and almuerzo.

Posted by tltisme 08:30 Archived in Colombia Tagged food fruit poem granadilla Comments (0)

Why and Why Not

to live on a mountain...

all seasons in one day 77 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Sacred Suenos Permaculture farm

Sacred Suenos Permaculture farm

Why to Live on a Mountain:
1. The View
2. Going down to town is easy
3. You enjoy building stairs and terraces
4. Amateur meterology becomes a hobby (there are no pros anyway)
5. You get to look down on everyone else
Why Not to Live on a Mountain:
1. Flat(ish) land must be made
2. Coming up with supplies is hard
3. Stairs must be made everywhere
4. Erosion and mudslides suck
5. Flat ground becomes boring

Posted by tltisme 08:22 Archived in Ecuador Tagged view landscape mountain stairs living permaculture meterology Comments (0)

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