Twenty years ago this week, possibly even this day, was the last time I vomited.
This was no run of the mill, spew-wipe-and-go caliber vomit, which is why I remember the event so well. It was spectacular enough to warrant new terminology: “The Double Eject.”
This post is going to be nausea-inducing enough as it is, so I’ll simply say that the Double Eject involves the urgent, simultaneous use of a toilet and a trash bin. I’ll let you piece the rest together.
I was in Essaouira, Morocco, having recently arrived from a delightfully barf-free study abroad program in London, where I first tasted something called Strongbow hard cider, sold in three liter bottles—and my life hasn’t been the same since. A chance drunken pub encounter ended in me landing a job as a cameraman for an on-location cooking show called “R.A.W.” (“Recipes from Around the World”), which, we hoped, would take us from Morocco, through sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and finish up in Mongolia.
We filmed the pilot over the course of six lazy weeks in Morocco, which involved me videoing the slaughtering and skinning of a rabbit (cut during editing, but never from my dreams). Despite this heroic, groundbreaking work, the project died after being roundly rejected by European networks. Nine years later, a similarly themed show called “A Cook’s Tour,” later rebranded “No Reservations,” became a wild international success.
I’m not saying that our visionary genius wasn’t duly recognized and rewarded, but OUR VISIONARY GENIUS WASN’T DULY RECOGNIZED AND REWARDED!!
But back to vomiting. The rest of the crew had arrived days earlier and were doing their own expelling of bodily fluids as I met up with them. The unfamiliar bacteria in Morocco took their time with me, waiting, conniving, marshalling unholy power, and a week later I was struck down for 24 of the most exhausting hours of my life, considering I never walked farther than the distance between the bed and the toilet.
I recovered quickly from that singular violence and my stomach hasn’t sent anything back since. Though I’ve eaten all manner of dubious food in Asia and South America in the interim, and my hind end has many stories to tell of those adventures, my mouth has remained deliciously puke-free.
To acknowledge this milestone, I invited people to submit their memorable vomit tales. With the circles I run in, this wasn’t much of a stretch. I present them to you now, with the prudent disclaimer that you should probably put away the tuna salad before reading further.
On the brink of what would be dengue fever and in the wake of some errant food from southern India, my insides teetered as our aircraft descended into Mumbai.
My salivary glands shot staccato. All it took was a little push.
Then, our plane landed. A hard landing, the kind that creates an explosion in the cabin and leaves one wondering whether the landing gear is still attached.
My first ever vomit on an airplane. I clutched my barf bag (I think it was a trash can liner – I was prepared.) At first, it came out in jolts, much like hot liquid does from one of those cheap push button dispensers. Some palak paneer here, some tandoori something or other there. It was electric. In no matter what form, Indian food always is.
As the plane emptied, I emptied. When bile was all that remained, I took a breath. Slowly I got up and gathered myself, making as pretty as I could.
I exited the rear of the aircraft. There, one of the Indian Airlines flight attendants waited patiently with a basket of hard candies.
“Excuse me sir,” she offered with a head waggle. “Would you like a can-dy?”
My motorcycle trip through Vietnam’s central highlands had been going swimmingly up until the morning I visited Dray Sap waterfall near Buon Ma Thuot. I just wasn’t feeling myself on the hot June morning, and even though I had felt off even before I left, I figured I should at least give the waterfall a look.
After a quick look, I headed back, feeling weak and lightheaded. Suddenly, my body felt hot and I quickly took off my shirt to cool down, but it wasn’t enough, and I chucked all over the quiet meeting area. The first of several.
Physically spent, I could barely stand. Locals whisked me away to a small room with a bed in the back so I could rest. In a daze and with my defenses down, locals were coming in, all trying to help the foreign guy. Tiger balm was rubbed on my body, even though I was already too hot. Then came the pinching sensations on my face, chest and back. Several people were doing it to me.
It wasn’t until I got back to the guesthouse and a mirror that night that I saw what happened. I was being “healed” by cạo gió, a traditional Vietnamese technique which translates to “scraping for wind.” And by wind, they mean my flesh.
Ten year non-vomit streak ended, and I didn’t even get a black & white cookie.
I don’t get seasick – I was a divemaster / instructor for years, and in 1996 had recently completed my divemaster course during travels in Central and South America. Down in the south of Chile, I took a two night ferry trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. There are no roads in this area, you have to fly or take the ferry, and I was on a strictly no-fly overland trip, some attempt to maintain the purity of travel (in the end I went overland from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego).
The cheap cabins are shared, like a backpackers dorm. It was a fun party-like trip with lots of young travelers. Much of the time the boat stays in narrow channels, fjords, sheltered behind islands. For one evening, the boat has to head out into the Pacific ocean, an area called the Golfo de Penas. Penas translates variously as “sorrow”, “trouble ” punishment” or “pity”. This area of ocean is well named.
After so much smooth sailing it was a shock, but at first people enjoyed it. The boat rolled and lurched. Stomachs started to turn. The evening mealtime was announced. Hardly anyone went to eat. Everyone stayed outside to get fresh air. And then it began, I was not the first, but once someone puked, it took just a couple of minutes before there were 20 of us lined up along the railings. My traveling companion swore she would have been fine if she’d not seen me puke. Guts were being cleared in the fresh air for quite some time. I have a clear memory of the ship’s captain standing in the doorway of the wheelhouse eating a sandwich and laughing at the scene. The rolling seas continued for about 6 hours and I went to lie down in the cabin after the big hurl, eyes shut tight.
When you think of getting sick in India, you probably picture a hard-worn backpacker rolled up in the grungy bathroom. But I like to do things a little differently.
First of all, just throwing up is not enough for me. Oh, no. Anyone can eat a serving of butter chicken that’s been sitting around too long; or forget about one of the Indian travellers’ ten commandments — “no ice!” — and find themselves playing host to a community of little wigglies we in the trade like to call Delhi Belly.
But on my recent trip to India I was doing everything right. And by right, I mean I was staying in a stupendously gorgeous five-star hotel. I was the guest of the hotel, and had dinner with the manager, a very charming man who ran that place like a tight ship.
I never figured out what caused it, but on the day I was supposed to fulfill a life-long dream and see the world’s most beautiful building by moonlight, I got hit with a stomach-turning case of the wigglies and was too queasy to get out of bed. It took two visits from the hotel doctor to set me right.
The medicine arrived at about the same time as the hotel staff member who came to hook up a DVD player. He had just left when I felt something intense moving within. I ran into my gleaming white bathroom — the size of my apartment back home — and opened the frosted glass door to the white-tiled toilet room just in time for the spew. Much to my surprise, I found myself projectile vomiting. If you’ve never projectile vomited, well, you just haven’t lived. It’s very special.
I was too shocked and surprised to be upset. In truth, I thought it was quite cool. I opened my mouth and the vomit sprayed all over the small room. There was no question of hitting the toilet. It would be like trying to get Niagara Falls in a sock.
I never did get to see that eternal monument by moonlight. But at least I can say when I was there, that in the puking department I lived up to my motto, “go big or go home.”
Last year I was in Buenos Aires for a few months, living in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. I didn’t know anyone and was still getting my footing. One of the first places I ate at was a delightful-looking French-style cafe. I not only foolishly ignored Anthony Bourdain’s warning about hollandaise sauce– I ignored it overseas in a city unknown to me.
Thirty minutes later on the Subte (Buenos Aires’ subway system). I felt lightheaded and sick, and not just from the punishing heat in those tunnels (although it didn’t help). By the second stop I was swaying; on third stop I leapt out of the car and threw up all over the platform to the horror of the crowded train.
Lesson learned: stick to steak in Argentina. And yeah, I don’t eat hollandaise sauce anymore.
The night before leaving for a 5-day trip through Bolivia’s altiplano, I ate a llama empanada in San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile. This was a huge mistake. Around 5am I woke up feeling like someone was punching me in the stomach repeatedly. Around 7am I was in the bathroom retching. From then on, through the long 4×4 ride to the Bolivian border, behind a burned out bus at said border, higher and higher to 5000m and the colourful desert landscape, I threw up over and over, until there was nothing left.
The small group of people on the same trip took care of me; they let me take the front seat of the car, head slumped on the dashboard. They held my hair as I threw up at our pit stops, they gave me extra clothes as I was shivering in the cold of the high altiplano. For three days straight, I was feverish and furious, missing everything I had wanted to see of this part of the world. The sickness cleared on my last day, enough for me to join in on the fun in Salar De Uyuni, optical illusions replacing the hallucinations caused by food poisoning.
In the end, I learned my lesson: the llama was always one of my favourite animals, so much so that I had a t-shirt made with one on it in grade 6, since no one else seemed to care about them. In the end, karma’s a bitch. What else did I expect, eating an empanada out of an animal I loved? Never again.
It was the morning after my 20th birthday and the first time I was ever truly drunk. Still tipsy I managed to dress myself and board the city bus for class. As the air filled with the distinctly Italian aroma of B.O. and cologne, the saliva began to collect in my mouth and cold sweat rushed over my face. I pushed my way off of the bus for fresh air and walked directly into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Seeing no other option, I ducked behind a trashcan and vomited. Twice. Feeling much better, I looked up to see a group of spectators, including a horrified nun. I smiled meekly as I took in my surroundings. The disembodied evidence of the previous night’s celebrations were sprayed all over the Vatican wall. I looked sorrowfully at the crowd as the nun stepped forward and offered me a stick of gum.
I experienced my worst flight ever while flying ten hours between Frankfurt and Dallas two summers ago on the way home from a trip to Greece. The majority of the flight was filled with Indian children returning home after summering with their extended families in the east. The flight attendant mentioned there were more than 50 children aboard. I was unable to sleep on the flight as the children had been crying, screaming, running up the aisle, and kicking the back of my chair for the entire 10 hours.
Finally, we began our descent, and I start to get a whiff of vomit. I look to my right, and across the aisle, a 10-year-old girl traveling alone has vomited into her shirt. I try to flag down the flight attendant, who barks at me that she is unable to leave her seat to take care of the situation as we are clearly landing.
I gently try to hand the girl a Kleenex, which is all that I had, and which was absurdly insufficient for the volume of vomit on hand. I started to ask around for some assistance from neighboring seats, when a horrible, horrible thing happened: the chain reaction. Row after row of unsupervised children began smelling the vomit and vomiting themselves. The stench became unbearable, yet provided the perfect ending for my truly horrific flight.