Do you take this stomach bug to be your lawfully-wedded travel partner?
I was floating gently on an inner tube through the tropical rainforest and crystal caves of Western Belize. My fingers were interlaced with those of my new husband: my high school sweetheart and one true love, Michael. As we drifted down the calm, cool river, we were the perfect vision of young love, of true romance unencumbered by the responsibilities of the real world–as any honeymoon should be. But as we entered the second pitch-black cave of the tubing excursion, all I could think about was whether I could hazard turning on my headlamp to find solid ground, or if I could get away with just vomiting over the side of my tube instead.
You see, I had giardia. Or rather, giardia had me.
The honeymoon started innocently enough. I never envisioned having a wedding, so when I was saddled with planning a major event for 200 people without any experience whatsoever, I viewed the honeymoon as my reward at the end of it all. Belize, with its great mixture of relaxation, adventure, and wildlife sighting, was exactly the light I needed to look forward to at the end of the tunnel.
We spent the first two weeks of our honeymoon on Ambergris Caye in the town of San Pedro, where pretty much all tourists who don’t know any better go. Too tired from planning and hosting a wedding, we mostly wandered around the island eating fry jacks (deep-fried dough snacks), photographing iguanas, and getting sunburned. The next part of our trip was supposed to be an exhilarating 10-day tour of the rest of the country with G Adventures, and neither of us wanted to get worn out before the most active part of the honeymoon. But giardia had other plans for me.
An irritated gut is nothing new for me, but this felt different, more sinister.
My stomach started feeling off the day before we were to fly to the mainland to meet up with our guide and tour group. An irritated gut is nothing new for me, but this felt different, more sinister. We arrived at the hotel in Belize’s Burrell Boom Village and immediately ordered lunch in case it was just hunger gripping my stomach. I barely lifted a forkful of rice to my mouth before racing back to my room to throw up.
Sparing the gross details, the rest of the honeymoon was comprised of some of the most challenging days of my life. I spent boat rides gripping my abdomen, begging myself to stay cool. I was intermittently interrupted from my internal ordeal by excitement at the appearance of a crocodile or tiger heron, but unable to participate in the way I had hoped. It took one climb up a Mayan ruin to realize that that was a terrible decision in my condition. Unable to eat, but still very capable of vomiting, I rapidly dropped weight–15 lbs in those 10 days–and had little energy to do anything.
But you only get one honeymoon. Or at least, it’s not a good sign if you go into it expecting to have a second. So as giardia ravaged my body, I mustered all the energy I could manage to stay on the trip, cry-barfing before every activity so no one would be in on my sad secret. After everything I endured to plan a wedding, there was no way I was missing my honeymoon.
In retrospect, I definitely pushed myself too hard, but it ended up being the perfect little proving ground for our brand new marriage. Any relationship will experience conflict if it goes on long enough, and it’s only in those moments that we discover whether we will rise to the occasion, or be taken down by it. Lucky us, we got to find out what we were made of right away. The bonds of love were tested by a stomach bug and we passed with flying colors: we both saw who the other was in an emergency. Michael is the kind of guy who will diligently fetch me plain white rice and Pedialyte even though I couldn’t keep any down, and I am the kind of person who won’t ruin my partner’s trip just because of my discomfort.
And now we are far more educated on what to do when you get sick abroad. Travel insurance is a must, as they typically cover out of pocket medical expenses (which in Belize weren’t expensive, but they can be elsewhere). To incur those medical expenses, however, one must see a doctor. I didn’t. There was an ER nurse on my trip who very generously volunteered to give me IV fluids in my hotel room. Next time I’m sick abroad, I’ll be prepared with a plan for how to get medical attention when I need it, as well as a mini-pharmacy of my own making, including prescribed antibiotics.
Getting sick abroad was one of my biggest fears, and at the time I felt bad about subjecting Michael to it, but ultimately it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I faced my fears, our marriage became stronger, and I got to spend time in a place so amazing that I returned twice more that year, and went on to write a guidebook to the country.
I can’t recommend getting violently ill during your one and only honeymoon, but I can say from experience that if it does happen, you and your partner will know each other a lot better by the end of it.