Traveler’s Diarrhea in Panama

I knew the day would come when the travel gods would call my number. I don’t know how I managed to enjoy so many meals without ever getting sick, but my day was coming. While I was in Panama, I stopped for lunch at this dingy spot outside of Casco Viejo called Cafe Coca Cola. I’d walked by it a time or two in the four times that I had visited Panama, but never cared to go inside. Everything about it screamed insanitary, but I’ve learned from experience that looks can be deceiving. I took a seat and read the history of the restaurant from the menu, learning that it was the oldest running cafe in the city, with the likes of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Teddy Roosevelt as previous visitors. With my mind now at ease, I ordered a plate of shrimp fried rice and a soda.

The waitress returned with a glass of ice and the bottle of soda first. The ice had specks of dirt in it, so I just wiped the tip of the soda bottle with the bottom of my dress, and drunk straight from the bottle. The food arrived, and it looked okay. I knew not to expect gourmet based on the price. The rice and vegetables didn’t taste freshly cooked, but the shrimp was fresh, large, and juicy. I ate most of it before leaving.

I went about my day, walking around Casco Viejo to see how much had changed since I last visited two years ago. That was when my stomach started feeling weird. I checked a few pharmacies in the area to see if they had Pepto Bismol or some variation of it, but I couldn’t find any. I figured the uncomfortable feeling would go away within an hour or two, so I pressed on with my stroll through the historic neighborhood.

That night, I left Casco Viejo and took the metro to El Cangrejo, a more favored neighborhood in Panama for me. I met with friends at my favorite restaurant, El Caribe. We had dinner and drinks and a good time before I left. On the way back to my hotel, that weird feeling I had earlier had gotten even worse. I couldn’t get to my hotel fast enough.

I was glued to the toilet most of the night. I spent so much time there that I eventually tried to just sleep on the toilet. I always kept anti-diarrheal pills in my carryon, so I popped two of them. Unfortunately, it only stopped the amount of times I had to go to the bathroom. It didn’t actually cure the traveler’s diarrhea. The next day, I flew to Curacao, and couldn’t find a single place with Pepto Bismol there either. I spent a week blowing up the shared bathroom in my Airbnb.

So I’ve learned from the error of my ways. I am now going to keep oil of oregano in my travel kit at all times. Oil of oregano acts as an antibacterial and should have me back to my regularly scheduled programming quickly after taking a few drops.

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