Rookie mistakes

One slip-up when traveling in far-away places can be costly.

We recently experienced two. Fortunately, neither turned tragic.

To brush or not to brush? That is the question.

To brush or not to brush? That is the question.

Rookie mistake #1

The first slip-up is one that comes as a result of the habit of teeth-brushing. How many times have you hung your head over the bathroom sink and scrubbed until you foamed like a rabid dog (I don’t know why that particular metaphor came to mind?).

Dentists harass us regularly over such things. The really irritating ones talk about flossing too.

However, when traveling in far-away places—especially far-away places where the water is questionable—this hygienic habit can get you in trouble.

Just imagine our careful traveler! He checks the seal on every bottle of water he buys in the bazaar. He purses his lips tightly while showering. He refuses all ice in his drinks. He avoids lettuce and peeled fruit. Great care is taken at every turn . . . until the time of the teeth brushing. Suddenly, our careful traveler loses his mind, runs the tap water over the toothbrush, scrubs, repeats, and spits.

Check the sealed cap anytime you purchase a bottled drink. Be sure that the seal is unbroken.

Check the sealed cap anytime you purchase a bottled drink. Be sure that the seal is unbroken.

Only later do the consequences of this mindless habit become apparent. The stomach cramps. The sphincter clenches. Bubbling heat rises up from the lower quadrants. “What did I do?” our careful traveler pleads as he sits on the porcelain throne, forehead pressed into the palms.

10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . .7 . . .

The Saturn V rocket sits on Launch pad 39A. Vapor rolls upward. Vibrations begin. He now grips the seat fiercely, sweating, praying.

6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . .

Only in the moment does he remember: I brushed my teeth! My teeth! Oh no! “Abort! Abort!” he cries. But it is too late. No power on earth can arrest the sequence now.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . Lift off!

“NOOOOOOOoooooooooo . . . !”

A Saturn V roars off the launch pad. The noise of this super-heavy was even greater than that of the Space Shuttle.

A Saturn V roars off the launch pad. The noise of this super-heavy was even greater than that of the Space Shuttle.

Lesson learned from rookie mistake #1?

Don’t make the mistake of brushing your teeth in tap water of questionable origin. The savvy traveler knows better. He doesn’t even keep his toothbrush by the sink so that by the act of retrieving it he is reminded of this potential disaster. On the other hand, the all-pro travel veteran risks nothing because he DOSEN’T BRUSH his teeth at all. Good grief. Why take chances over something as silly as teef? Forget your American sensibilities and smile like snaggletoothed Englishman.

And, oh yes, always pack a load of Cipro.

Rookie mistake #2

All-pro travel veterans forgo the weight of carrying extra clothing and prefer to wash their own laundry in sinks and tubs and creeks and such. Cleaning one’s clothes is rarely the issue; getting them dry can be another story.

Just imagine our careful traveler! He hangs his wet clothes over signs and thornbushes and chairs and such, wringing, shifting, flipping.

I know a man who was doing this while trekking in a rainforest, a place of interminable dampness.

No matter how inviting the African lawn may appear, WEAR YOUR SHOES! Pretend it is Florida.

No matter how inviting the African lawn may appear, WEAR YOUR SHOES! Pretend it is Florida.

And in a moment of insanity he ventures out barefoot to move his clothes and catch more sunshine. Of course, slipping on shoes before stepping into the grass is a rule of life in Exceedingly Dangerous Parts of the World like equatorial Africa or Orlando, Florida, but no (oh no!) our traveler is in a Big Hurry. So he takes a chance. After all, his damp shirt is only ten feet from the sidewalk And he is quick.

But somewhere in the journey, a thorn or fang or stinger penetrates his heel. Fearing it is a dreaded black mamba, a nightstalker scorpion, or some other “two-stepper” (appropriately named for the maximum number of steps a human being will take after being envenomated), he scans the grass for movement, makes his peace with God, and prepares to expire in a series of painful convulsions. Nothing is seen, so he flips his drying shirt in the sun and returns to the sidewalk in one unnaturally soaring leap.

A close examination of the heel yields blood but no fang marks, so our traveler does the next best thing, he goes to dinner.

What is hiding in the grass?

What is hiding in the grass?

This would be the end of the story if not for the fact that while our traveler is eating, a tingling sensation begins in his fingers, creeps up his arms and spreads to his face. Certain now that his reprieve was merely temporary, he leans back in chair, makes his peace with God, smiles sweetly at his wife, and prepares to expire in a series of painful convulsions.

Dessert comes and goes and surprisingly, our traveler is still upright.

Only later does he realize that the anti-altitude sickness pill (that he had taken for the first time just before eating) was behind his skin sensations. The poke in the grass is an unrelated event!

The side effects of this medication are now obvious. Acetazolamide, or Diamox, prevents or reduces the effects of altitude sickness. It is routinely used by mountaineers. It also makes your skin crawl.

The side effects of this medication are now obvious. Acetazolamide, or Diamox, prevents or reduces the effects of altitude sickness. It is routinely used by mountaineers. It also makes your skin crawl.

Lesson learned from rookie mistake #2?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are faster than a black mamba. The savvy traveler knows better. He doesn’t go barefoot in grass. On the other hand, the all-pro veteran risks nothing because he doesn’t DRY HIS CLOTHES at all. Good grief! He happily wears them damp (you’re just going to sweat them up again anyway) and remembers to take his medicine with bottled water while not brushing his teef.

Undoubtedly there are other important lessons hidden in these examples but I will let the savvy reader tease these to the surface himself.


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