Rite of Passage: Montezuma’s revenge

On our day off we went to visit the Mayan city of Tulum.  Tulum, one of the last cities inhabited by the Mayans, is situated along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.  It was one of the best fortified Mayan cities helping it survive approximately 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico.  It had numerous watch towers and was is protected on the seaward side by steep cliffs averaging 12 meters and on the landward side by a wall that averaged about 3 to 5 meters.  Although its strong fortifications kept the city safe from attacks and hurricanes it could not protect against disease.  Tragically its inhabitants succumbed to Old World diseases brought by Spanish settlers.

Quite comically, I suffered Montezuma’s revenge a day later, the common colloquialism in Mexico for travelers’ diarrhea, a mild or explosive (no pun intended) illness.  The name refers to Moctezuma II (1466–1520), the Tlatoani (ruler) of the Aztec civilization who was defeated by Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador.  The revenge element of the phrase alludes to the supposed hostile attitude of countries that were previously colonized by stronger countries, which are now, in this small but effective way, getting their own back.

It was comical not due to the illness itself but the fact that I had visited the Mayan ruins, not the Aztec’s.  Therefore why did Moctezuma feel the need for revenge?  Although both civilizations were conquered by the Spaniards there were some important differences between them and the reason for my shitty time (pun intended) was not the ill will of a malevolent spirit but science.

Firstly the Aztecs were huge believers of human sacrifice and were at it all the time. The Mayans on the other hand believed in offering blood instead, though they were not averse to sacrificing the captain of a leading football team! But I digress, what really set the Mayans apart was there very scientific temperament. They studied stars and in fact had come up with a very scientific calendar comparable to the modern one. They had an obsession with time and tried to measure it by studying astronomy and correlating it with their current events.  If the Mayans had possessed the technology here is how they would have described Montezuma’s revenge.

The primary source of infection is ingestion of fecally-contaminated food or water…yummm! These sources have no adverse effects on local residents, due to immunity that develops with constant, repeated exposure to pathogenic organisms. The most common isolated pathogen is the enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli.  While other times it results from introducing different flora into your guts.

The symptoms I developed were diarrhea, abdominal cramps, low fever, malaise and bloating, with a nonexistent appetite.  Apparently the average person experiences four to five watery bowel movements each day.  However, I lost count after 20 “es mi dia suerte” I guess.  I tried a bunch of over-the-counter anti-diarrhea products with minimal success and 3 days later I was symptom-free and ready to take on the world again.

The truth is that in many ways I kind of knew I would eventually get Montezuma’s revenge, even though I took preventative measures.  It has a way of getting to travelers; especially those spending as much time here as I am.  It’s not something you can avoid unless you want to live in a bubble the entire time.

For me, it was almost a rite of passage.  That being said, Montezuma’s revenge seemed to get the best of me.  And for now, it’s time to move on to greener, and hopefully healthier, pastures.