Food Poisoning while traveling Indonesia

The consumption of food should always be an experience to cherish, however, it does possess a darker side. For an intrepid young backpacker, finding himself within the tantalising lush seclusion of Indonesia's tiny scattered islands, with the azure blue sea lapping against his toes and the warming inevitability of sunny tomorrows, I could never have imagined that simple honest food could turn hedonistic adventure into a living hell.

Perhaps it was the voyeuristic tourist in me that signed up for that boat trip, the whole idea had a romantic quality. The toothless native promising us five days of exploring islands, komodo dragons and sleeping on the deck. For the last four weeks myself and companions had been perfecting the discipline of idleness, we had found an island off the coast of Bali free from the polluting headache of engines, horse drawn carriages were the only transport, chirping birds and shooting insects were the only things to break the calm, no police to restrict the abundance of weed and mushrooms that were offered in fantastic brews in bamboo cafes, and luminous coral reefs secreted glittering fish until the sky collapsed in orange-purple sunset.

This memory flashed before me as I gazed at our vessel for the next five days, the boat,{ if you could call it a boat}looked like it had been welded together in a few seconds , the wood sagged and I swear that I saw an elastoplast plugging up a hole in the bottom.Humans were not the only adventurers either, three anorexic chickens completed this choatic cacaphony,clucking in a makeshift prison, strung up at the rear of the craft. With a deep breath, I lugged my rucksack aboard and paradise disappeared into the horizon.

Around sunset, one of the Indonesians clambered to the back of the boat and pulled one of the scrawny chickens from their cage, picked up a knife and disappeared downstairs with it. “O.k”, I muttered, “I thought they were being transported to another island”, but I was a hungry open-minded person and with a blood curdling squawk, our dinner was set.

As I peered down to the bottom deck I saw him cutting up the bird's flesh on the filthy deck floor and the juices were running between the cracks of the wood. A blackened pan had some eggs bobbing in it and some unknown vegetables were being ripped apart and tossed in . We all joked that if we ate it, we would never have to prove our courage in any other way again.

The stars appeared overhead like the lighting of tiny faraway lamps and we huddled into our sleeping bags. Tonguing the remnants of dinner from my teeth, I clicked `Shine on you crazy diamond` into my walkman and lay back and let the motion of the sea mingle with the brilliance of the stars. This was to be my last peaceful moment for a week……

I woke up suddenly in the darkness, disorientated and with what I can only describe as a mad baker kneading my stomach and the feeling of wanting to throw up so desperately that I had literally seconds to find the edge of the boat. I mowed over three sleeping bodies who greeted me with cries of `oi, for fucks sake!` and just made it to the side where I emptied my guts overboard. Apart from the humiliation of waking everyone up with my retching, a deeper panic set in, I'd only had three beers last night; whispers of `Salmonella` and ‘E coli` bounced around my mind like cackling gremlins as I knelt there with a string of drool connecting my mouth to the sea.

Somehow I managed to get some sleep, naively imagining myself feeling better by the morning, when I woke, however, I knew this was no tummy upset that would herald a glorious day off school for a fourteen year old kid, this was the stuff that nightmares are made of. My whole body was contracting in knifing aches and pains, my head throbbed, my teeth chattered together because I was shivering so much, the cramps in my stomach made my toes curl with pain and to top it all I was a prisoner of this tiny boat with the gaping panorama of sea all around me. The sympathy I received from my fellow voyagers extended as far as `Im sure you'll be fine` and `just drink some water`. How could they be so dismissive? Did they not know I was dying?

As the sun crawled higher up the sky I have never despised its heat so much, it made me feel so faint and nauseous that I knew another session was imminent. This time I could not furtively go about my business under the cover of night, this time I had to face, ‘The Boat's Toilet'.

It was the worst kind of squalid hole imaginable, even if you felt fine you would hold your breath for as long as it took and get the hell out of there as soon as possible. I wedged myself in there and tried to ignore the piss on the floor running over my toes, there was just one square hole in the floor to aim for and at this most shameful moment of my life, I puked and shat at the same time with brown water spraying out of both orifices.

How I wished that it had been my backside hanging over that hole instead of my mouth. The first time I'd ever desperately missed home was now upon me, my mother's perfume scented bathroom with its sumptuous toilet paper and extensive medicine cabinet now became a divine vision, but I was to learn that things had to get much worse before they had any chance of getting better.

My sorry escapade lasted until the boat finally docked on the island of Flores and I was able to get to a hospital. One of the boats engines blew so we were two days later than expected. Never in my life have I been so grateful of simple good health in the days of recovery. I did fifty lengths of a pool , giggling insanely to myself `I'm well, im well` and vowed to eliminate all bad habits in respect of my body winning the war, vows that were naturally never kept.

I have often cursed my luck as the only one on that boat who was made ill after eating the chicken, losing all dignity as the bug raged its malevolent war against my tummy, but on a good note, I lost a bit of weight and I always get a laugh when I tell new people. It seems we enjoy nothing more than hearing about others` physical suffering and degredation, the more humiliated we become, the funnier we are.

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