Food Poisoning in Mexico is Pretty Much a Given, Right?

Jane at our new favorite restaurant: La Ceiba de la 30 (DAC Playa Del Carmen)

Jane and I are both relatively seasoned travelers. We know that traveling always carries with it an increased risk of food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses–no matter where you go. After all, each of our microbiomes are unique and delicate ecosystems. Any disruption is likely to produce some negative effects.

However, the risk of food poisoning can be higher than 60% when traveling to developing countries. With that in mind, before we left, Jane made sure we stocked up on rehydration powders, like Pedialyte, and also brought some activated charcoal with us. Little did we know how quickly we would be using them.

We got into our condo in Playa Del Carmen at around 6:30 in the evening. This is exactly the boys’ dinner time (and now ours as well). Everyone in the family was, let’s say, in a bit of a blood sugar low. So, as quickly as we arrived, we dropped our packs and headed for the nearest taco restaurant we could find, which was about 45 seconds from our building.

It was our first dinner as a family in Mexico and, despite the slow service, it was fantastic! I consider myself a bit of a taco connoisseur, but I have never had tacos al carbon or tacos al pastor that were that good in my life. And the salsas–AMAZING! We feasted and feasted. With every bite the realization was setting in that we had truly begun this epic journey and that it would be every bit as much of a culinary journey as it is geographic.

Sufficiently stuffed, we paid our tab and successfully navigated the hundred or so steps back to our condo. We unpacked, tucked the boys in, and then finally prepared ourselves for our first night in our new (temporary) home. That’s when it began to hit me…

First, it was the achiness all over. I initially thought it was just  soreness due to the travel and hauling a bunch of bags (plus a pack-n-play) around. Then as I got into bed, I began feeling cold. The air from the wall mounted system poured down on me at a balmy 27°C (that’s 80.6°F), but it felt like an arctic blast. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get warm and pretty soon I was shivering. It was so bad that the chattering of my teeth actually woke up Jane. I was so cold that I made her turn off the air in our room and in the boys room. Yet I still felt cold and was shaking uncontrollably.

Jane reached over and felt my forehead. “You’re burning up,” she said. “No, I am freezing I argued.” Except, my stomach felt like a fire was burning within it. All of that glorious salsa had set my insides en fuego. I could feel the war raging in my digestive track. It went on for what seemed like hours. “Is this what life is going to be like in Mexico,” I asked myself. As the seconds slowly marched on, I feared that our journey may already be over. If we can’t even eat one meal here, how can we stay?

Finally, after what felt like ages, I waived the white flag of surrender. Kneeling before the porcelain throne, I committed myself to the inevitable and I pulled the trigger…

My friends, it was a moment of defeat and despair that I do not wish to describe. When I finally returned to bed with my stomach now empty and my pride shattered, my wonderful wife reminded me that this would be a good time to take some of the activated charcoal and rehydration powder we brought. Except, I was not allowed the sugar-sweetened Pedialyte, which must be reserved for the children. Instead, Jane mixed up the unflavored adult version for me.

It turns out, electrolytes pretty much taste like what they are replacing–sweat! So, here I was, in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar land, fighting off a fever, cold chills, achy joints, and recovering from having just puked my brains out. My only lifeline toward recovery was a large glass of sweat juice and two capsules of charcoal…

By the grace of God, I finished the concoction, which tasted worse going down than my taco dinner did coming up, and I eventually fell asleep. The endless night slowly turned to morning. Fortunately, our boys were unaffected by the affliction that seized me, but that meant that they woke up pretty much at dawn.

Jane was an absolute hero. She got them up and fed. I could hear them talking and playing in the next room. Finally, Finnegan snuck into our bedroom, and asked, “Dada, Mama says you don’t feel very well?” “No, son, I am a little bit sick,” I responded. “Can I kiss it so it feels better?” he asked. “Of course, son.” And with a little borrowed strength from my three year old, I was able to get out of bed and get the day started.

It was right about that time that Jane looked at me, hand on her stomach, and said, “uh-oh, I am not feeling very well either.” Mexico, it seemed, had claimed another victim…

As the day wore on, we slowly nursed ourselves back to health. As we began feeling a little better, we reached out to our parents to let them know we were settled in and doing just “fine.” Jane’s parents were very upset that we had only messaged them once the night before when we landed at the airport. In fact, her mother was so upset, she claimed that she couldn’t sleep the whole night. Indeed, she had worked herself into such a frenzy that she developed stomach cramps and a fever. Not much later in the day, the report came from Jane’s dad, he too was sick. The symptoms were all the same.

We were beginning to suspect that the culprit was not the Mexican cuisine we had the night before, so we reached out to our friends that attended Remy’s one year birthday party the day before we left. We learned that nearly half had developed food poisoning. The symptoms were all consistent with gastroenteritis! By the way, experts recommend avoiding spicy foods if you have gastroenteritis because it exacerbates the problem.

So, in the end, it was not the food in Mexico that made us sick, it was one of the last meals we had eaten in Texas just before we left. And although it provided for a very rough start to this adventure, everything has been on the up-and-up since those first couple of days.

Most importantly, we have had no issues with the food in Mexico. In fact, nearly every single meal has been well beyond our expectations. Much more on that in the coming days…