Food Poisoning and Whales

March 1, 2024

Feb, 2024
Sayulita, Mexico
Food Poisoning Self Potrait at Casa Selva

I have never felt so afraid of drinking water. I was lying under a mosquito net at a hotel in Sayulita, Mexico and was three vomits deep, halfway through a long night of food poisoning. Any water that went in came straight back out. I wavered between the fear of having to go through the convulsions of throwing up again, and the threat of death by dehydration. I now know you can’t just die from a night of vomiting, but I was alone, afraid, and forcing myself to drink enough water to stay alive until my friend Jill sleeping next door woke up to get me electrolytes. I would draw a large mouthful of water into my mouth and keep it there, letting drips of it siphon off down my throat as I watched 2am turn into 3am. I slipped into vivid hallucination dreams, staying asleep for 10 minutes at a time before being awoken by my knotted stomach to barf.

Earlier that day, I was crying on a speedboat after seeing whales breach and flop their tails in the Bay of Banderas. 500 Humpback Whales pass through from November-April to mate and give birth. It turns out that baby whales don’t have a lot of blubber (although still weight 1,000-1,500 pounds), so the tropical waters of Mexico are ideal. I knew we were going on a whale watching tour, but animal tours are hardly promises, and I kept my expectation low. Nature does not submit to desire.

  After seeing three pairs of mothers and babies, one of which repeatedly lifted and slammed its tail back into the ocean like it was learning how to, I started spilling over with tears. Earlier in the day, we jumped off a boat, swam through a few gentle rip currents nipping at our legs, past jagged rocks and white wash through a cave. We landed on a beach with a perfect crater window open to the sky formed by former bomb testing in the 70’s, gasping for air. Following that with watching whales enjoy a perfect day in the ocean made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. 

My therapist asked me to elaborate on feeling lucky, and I told her that I could never have imagined doing something like this as a kid. This seems to come up a lot. Experiences that couldn’t be fantasized about when I was younger because they felt outside the realm of dreaming. To see those whales was to be reminded of all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I’ve had: seeing Macchu Pichu at sunrise after hiking with food poisoning for 3 days (I guess food poisoning always is a part of a good travel story), sleeping in a hut in the Italian Dolomites, taking a 12 hour chicken bus to see the reflective plains of Salar de Uyuni for a few hours before taking one right back the same day, walking into the valley of Kings in Egypt, aware that I was standing on the same ground that pharaohs had walked centuries before. Weirdly, being able to drive is part of that list. 

  I thought about this in between my barfs. I thought also about the various other times in my life I’ve found myself shaking and cold on the floor of a foreign bathroom. That Inca Trail memory is intertwined with the memory of violent food poisoning that set in on the afternoon of the first day. It feels fitting to cry over whales and then to stay up all night puking my guts out in the same 24 hours. Both make the other more memorable.

These acute moments of feeling fade with the last of a holiday tan, but I wish they could be set like precious gemstones in the front of my eyeballs, a reminder of what it feels like to be so alive! I am thinking about this while lying incapacitated by the pool the day after. My stomach is a hollow bowl, loud and impatient. I watch the sun recede across the rim of the pool, putting my pen down every few minutes. I don’t have the energy to think, and it feels good to let myself write like this. Unhurried, lazy, with lots of breaks. Norovirus has stripped my stomach lining and a veil of distraction that accompanies being so physically able, so busy all the time. It feels good to be still. My stomach churns again as I open my camera roll to rewatch videos of Jill and I squealing over the sight of whales throwing their entire bodies above the surface of the ocean.