There seems to be a running theme among cycle tourists, myself included to only show the good sides of the journey, the beautiful mountains and sunsets, pictures of yourself holding beers or cycling along some sweeping dramatic landscape. Look at the picture above and what do you see. Upon first instance you see a great little campsite located next to an emerald water hole, but what I see is the memory of my two day sickness, isolated and alone and at least 100km from the nearest village. I was unable to eat and had stomach cramps, diahorrea and vomiting and there was nothing to do but wait it out!!
This story starts as I cycled over the Bolivian border after climbing for 2000m and reaching the high pass at 4200m. I began to feel unwell but was unsure what was wrong. I thought it must be the altitude sickness since it is common to feel tired and headaches once above 4000m. The only real cures for altitude sickness are to climb back down to a lower altitude or take medication and since I was up on the altiplano and there was no going back I decided to do what the locals do and bought myself a big bag of coca leaves and began chewing!! I am unsure if the coca leaves had any real benefit and they tasted horrible so this self medication didn’t last long so I decided to continue and find a nice place to rest up for the night. The first place I found as an abandoned salt mine with lots of empty huts and offices. Knowing this would give me the break I needed and important shelter from the wind I set up a camp in the main abandoned office. I rested, cooked a simple pasta dinner and listened to the radio as I began to feel better. The little office had everything I needed included a working toilet and running water in the taps. Perfect. In the morning I felt much better so had a wash, a little breakfast and filled up my water bottles from the taps. This was a big mistake. I believe the mine closed in 2009 since everything in the office was dated from 2009 so I guess the water had been sitting in the pipes since 2009. I normally filter my water straight away to ensure I do not get sick but on this occasion I did not and defiantly drank some water whilst brushing my teeth and also drank a little from one of the water bottles before filtering. I didn´t think anything was wrong at the time and it was only the following day did I begin to think something was wrong.
I awoke the following day and couldn’t eat, my stomach was bloated and I did not feel well. Something was up but I choose to ignore it and cycled around 50km across hard and soft sand until at lunchtime I still couldn’t eat. This is when the diahorrea started. I felt awful and knew I had to stop but couldn’t just camp out in the open due to wind. I pushed on for another 10km and found the water hole and wind break spot in the picture at the top. I set up camp quickly and went to bed. I hadn´t been this sick since Cambodia and knew I was in for a rough ride. The vomiting and diahorrea continued for two days and I was unable to eat anything. It was not nice and I started to get worried incase I had something serious, since it was unlikely anyone would pass me if things got really bad. I kept positive though and knew at least that I had enough food and a water source I could filter and that if I just rested enough it would pass. I spent two full days lying in my tent and running outside whenever I felt the need. It was horrible but on the third morning I awoke starving and managed to eat a simple breakfast of bread and spread. I felt stronger and the sickness had all but left my body. I felt weak still but able to continue and rested all morning before wanting to get out of there! I packed up and cycled a simple 30km that day to another restful campsite where I cooked lots of pasta and veggies and began putting the calories back into my body. The following morning I was much much better and had lived through the sickness. I was glad it was nothing serious but I have to be careful with things like food and water since it is very easy to get sick out in the middle of nowhere!
Sometimes when you are far from home, without any comforts there is not much you can do but ride it out. It´s not all sunshine and rainbows to cycle around the world and there times when all you want is a proper bed and your mums chicken soup but to have the good you must also have the bad times. It’s a test of character sometimes and this was definatly a test of my fortitude and decision making. Every day I have to ensure I look after myself since I am completely self supported and solo if anything goes wrong it’s on me. You learn lessons as you go and the main lesson from this episode must be to not drink the water from an abandoned mine…
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.