Back at Hospitalerio Alexandria we had dinner, the same Wayuu menu as everyday. It is not that the food isn`t tasty, so much as our western palate has been spoiled with an unnatural wealth of variety and choice everyday. At this point food porn commenced. Food porn is a common topic of conversation for us four, and the highlights of this discussion were cheddar cheese, cheesecake and sandwiches for Fran`s cafe. After dinner we all went to bed early in preparation for the other beaches and flamingos the following morning.
A few hours later I made the dark crossing for my nightly piss. Anthony was awake when I returned to my hammock and dashed to the toilet. On return he said he had stomach cramps and had just had diarrhea. Fran was awake and said she had been feeling sick too. For the next 6 hours Fran and Anthony spent their time on the toilet. Anthony was vomitting too, and for the first time experinced the type of diarrhea dreaded by travelers. The type where you need to shit and vomit at the same time; which end goes in the toilet? I thought back to mine and Sophie`s experience of this in Cambodia when we had decided to use our purifing tablets in the tap water with horrific consequencies. We both ended up face down in a tiny “en suite” drop toilet which was no more than a small room seperated from our bed by a thin wall. Needless to say we were closer after that night.
On one occassion Anthony couldn`t make it to the toilet when he needed to vomit, and so in the dark I got on my hands and knees and shovelled sand onto the remians of his dinner with a tiny cup.
The next morning Anthony and Fran were weak, tired and still very sick. We knew we had to leave, and it quickly transpired that we would need to get to at least Riohacha that day in preperation for the worst. It is worth mentioning at this point the dynamic in our group when it comes to speaking Spanish. Fran, being a language teacher and speaking French and German, picked up Spainsh at an incredible rate. After some lessons in Argentina she could communicate almost anything she needed to and understood most of what was said to us. Anthony, although he had never had lessons and knew less, always has a go and will keep trying until his point is understood. He is also good at hearing Spanish. Me and Claire, on the other hand, struggled, mainly due to our shyness. We both find language difficult and often avoid speaking.
So with the nightmare situation unfolding before us, Claire and I were set the challenge of getting two people with severe food poisoning out of the desert as quickly as possible. In Spanish.
Claire, the dark horse, then came into her own. The pressure didn`t phase her and she calmly explained the situation to Jesus in a complexity of Spanish I had never heard her use before. Jesus, the legend, quickly arranges for a 4×4 to take us to Uribia, gets a discount on our trip and explains the situation to the owner of the hospitalerio. We then just needed to settle the bill. We decided that, given the circumstances, we would pay for the hammocks, but not the food as it had poisoned two of us.
We try to explain this to the owner and he turns nasty, quick. He and the cook deny any responsibity, and state the food is safe, despite the evidence before them. “Others are fine” he states. Yes, it is a miracle that you haven`t got a contract with the local hosptial, well done. As he gets nastier and begans to make jokes about us and laugh at our inability to argue our point we ask how much the food is and decide to pay so we can get the hell out of the desert.
We then bump into a Colombian girl and her Venezualen husband who help us translate what is happening. They take pity on us and their families try to comfort Fran and Anthony. The owner still refuses responsibility but as an added insult refunds us for one meal. He then proceeds to obstruct our ride out of the desert. He refuses to agree to take us to Uribia, but instead tries to get Fran and Anthony onto a boat to the local “hosptial”. Due to the logistics of diarrhea on a boat and the unknown equipment at a hosptial in the desert this is not an option and we continue to insit on the 4×4 that was originally agreed upon. Luckily, the Colombian tourists interject and pressure the owner into taking us to Uribia. Who would have thought we would fight so hard to get to dead dog town?
Meanwhile Anthony and Fran get weaker. We have to help them to the 4×4 and load the bags in to begin the four hour ride to Uribia. Our driver is quick and skilled at manouvering through the cacti and scrub of the desert, but the pot holes and rocks cause the whole vehicle to thrash about, taking all of us with it. Every 30 minutes we have to yell “Pare!” as Anthony and Fran have to by carried out of the 4×4 to vomit or otherwise. Thankfully Claire has a good stash of thick plastic bags in her backpack.
The heat becomes unbearable and they both have a fever. After two hours Anthony is too weak to sit up and too scared to sleep. Fran is unable to talk. Claire and I decide we need a hosptial ASAP, but the closest hosptial is still two hours away. The desert rolls on, and once we are out of the cacti fields large flat empty exspanses are visible. It is spectacular but terrifiying.
When we finally reach Uribia Fran and Anthony feel a little better and want to push onto Riohacha so they can sleep. We make a final cross over in Uribia and after a fifth hour of travel arrive at Catillio del Mar in Riohacha. We take Anthony and Fran to our five person “dorm” and put them to bed. Claire and I then begin to inspect our surroundings.
We appear to be in what was once a vibrant and cosy holiday home complete with bedroom, kitchen-cum-living room and bathroom. Decades of sea breeze, erosion, reluctance to redecorate and the realiastion that Riohacha is NOT a holiday desitantion has turned the holiday home into the most depressing place of our trip so far. Yellow and teal walls, peeling and faded by the damp sea air give the building an 80s feel. All of the kitchen, bar the shelves and empty cupboards, had been ripped out and the wicker furniture is on the way out too. The living room has been filled with two extra beds, as has the bedroom. Claire and I sit on the squeaky sofa and stare at the room`s crown jewel: a large crack in the wall leading to a faded watercolour of a crappy garden.
We also had concerns about the bathroom. There was no door, but rather Wild West style swing doors about a metre in length. Not great when two people have food poisoning and especially worrying when it transpired that we would be sharing the dorm with another person that evening.
We look outside and notice the other strange thing about our hotel; the security. Our dorm has barred windows and double locks. Outside, the perimeter of the hotel grounds is secured by a wall, wire fence, electric fence, barbed wire and broken glass.
Our examination of the dorm is broken by Claire when she spots something moving underneath the gutted kitchen. A mouse. I had spotted mouse droppings when we arrived, but due to their size and the situation had kept quiet. The mouse wasn’t shy either. We spent the next 30 minutes silently chasing him into his hole. He reminded me of Timmy Two Pence, one of the many resident mice we had when living at Brockley Cross. Timmy was so bold that he would sit on the stairs and watch us in the living room. Timmy would hold his ground even when approached.
We decided to keep the mouse quiet and went to check on Anthony and Fran. Fran managed to have a shower, but her fever was still growing. Anthony was boiling up and on the verge of delusional. As their fevers progressed we knew that we had to get them to hosptial ASAP. This was more difficult than we had anticipated. Anthony was flat out refusing to leave, and it was only when the kind owner of the hotel came to carry Anthony did he let us take him. We got a cab to the clinic-cum-hospital and when we arrived the doors were bolted shut. The cab driver quickly took us round the block to a second clinic.
Here the next test of mine and Claire`s Spanish began. We now had to explain in Spanish that Anthony and Fran had:
- Hot and cold sweats
- When it happened (past tense is a nightmare and an unknown for me)
- What caused it
- Its duration
- And navigate through the hospital pay system and admin.
Luckily I had written down some of this information previously, and, coupled with my excellent use of charades got the message across. Anthony had become more delusional by this point, and insisted that no one touch him (irrespective of whether anyone was near him) and that creatures were running up and down his legs. Anthony and Fran were taken through to beds in the ward where they were promptly put on drips. Neither are fans of needles so this was particularly traumatic for them. Anthony, in his feverish state, writhed around on the bed, kicking and insisting that he didn`t want or need the drip.
As the saline solution and four additional medicines started to take hold, Anthony and Fran started to come to life again. Fran had a massive four bags of saline solution pumped into her that evening, and Anthony had two. After three hours the doctor wrote a prescription for outpatient medication and mineral drinks for both Anthony and Fran. The woman working at the pharmacy took advantage of mine and Claire`s tired state and stole 20,000 pesos from us. But despite this, we managed to get everything we needed and got back to the hotel.
That evening Claire began to feel a little ill too. Her appitite was reduced to zero and she ate no more than two bags of lime crisps all day. The following day she explained that in her darkest hour, she had been reduced to sitting in the bathroom on the toilet, at 2am, eating a bag of crisps as there was another person in the living room beds.
It took a further four days for Fran and Anthony to recover from the food poisoning which was either salmonella or a parasite. However, there is nothing like an ex drug cartel mansion for a hostel and a sojourn in the mountains to recuperate, which is where we are headed now.
Emma, Drop Bear Hostel, Santa Marta, Colombia. 23rd of January 2012