by Guy Petzall
Bolivia, November 1994
During the past few days, I’ve been visited by that all-too-common traveler’s companion, intestinal bacteria — you know, the ones that turn otherwise perfectly healthy stool into noxious, primordial ooze. The little scoundrels are everywhere, in the vegetables, the water, and everyone I know down here has, at one time or another, gotten got. It is easy to throw blame around, to cast aspersion upon that suspicious pasta salad, or perhaps it was the ice cream (I thought it tasted a little funny), but to do so is of no use. The bug is, sooner or later, without fail or evitability, sure to arrive and nest in your bowel. And the cure is simple, really. Just go into any pharmacy, make a sad face, and pat your belly, and they’ll take care of you right quick, usually selling you an unlabeled antibiotic of questionable origin, but which works nonetheless. And, I suppose, in a very general way, the advent of antibiotic pharmacology is the hero in this instance. But, from a more personal aspect, I revere a hero which is in my view far greater, far stronger, and far worthier of praise. For while antibiotics may be capable of killing the little buggers in my bowel on a strictly cell-by-cell basis (and believe me, I’m taking my pills), my hero accomplishes a much greater feat; my hero controls the whole of the problem; my hero is capable of stemming the black tide for unbelievable quantities of time. I speak of none other that the mighty sphincter, guardian of the gate, keeper of the peace.
My first hint that all was not strictly firm in the nether organs came in that proverbial and much recounted of situations, the beginning of an 18-hour bus ride from La Paz, Bolivia to Santa Cruz, a city of 800,000 across the Andes and down into the Amazon Basin, a journey from high altitude to low, from brilliantly cold to blazingly hot. And, like ice melting in the sun, I could feel the once firmly established material in my intestines begin increasingly to gurgle about, assuming a more and more liquid form. Great. I began to rationally assess my circumstances. The bus, as they say, no tiene baño. Two stops were scheduled, six hours apart, but already, only 45 minutes into the trip, I could feel the internal pressure mounting. Pressure to expel. To bow to it would have been catastrophic. So, with no other recourse, I simply resolved to batten down the hatch, clinch up real tight, and wait. The pain was spectacular. Like the tides of the river Styx, it ebbed and resurged cyclically, as the assorted fluids and gasses rearranged themselves in my gut. BUT — my anus held true. Its ringed clamp, in accordance with my determined will, braved the no doubt tempestuous storm within without so much as a pucker, and the first leg of the trip, although no joy, remained leak-free.
Finally we arrived at Cochabamba, our first scheduled stop. With a one-hour hiatus before the continuation of our journey, I headed for the bus station bathroom. 50 centavos. 10 cents U.S., and ten of the best cents I ever shelled out. If only they had known what they could have charged me, I’d be a poor man today. I entered the stall, placed my feet on the designated footprints, and, squatting into position, muttered quietly, “OK, my friend, time to open up.” I was actually speaking to my butt-hole — and politely, because I knew that my happiness depended upon its future cooperation. And, like the obedient little muscle that it is, or perhaps more like an iris widening to accept the light in a dim situation, it opened, and unleashed the waters of hell which it had kept so successfully at bay.
I shall refrain from the fullest description of the fiery carnage which ensued, in complete audiolfactory Sensurround™, for the next half-hour or thereabouts. Just trust me, it was truly something to behold, and 10 cents shouldn’t have been able to even begin to cover it, regardless of what country I was in. It was spectacular, but eventually I had to once again restrain myself and return to the bus.
The second part of the trip went off much like the first, except that my anus, having acquired my thorough respect during the initial portion of the journey, seemed to want to expand — not its aperture, so much, as its range of sensitivity. It seemed to feel itself capable of distinguishing between the varieties of that which it was incarcerating, and I let it, allowing it to release only the gaseous inmates from its pestilential prison. I trusted my friend my anus, it was worthy of my faith, and as a result the remainder of the drive to Santa Cruz became so much more bearable.
And now that I have turned the problem over to the products of medical science, I feel the need to commemorate my faithful friend and trusted ally, to acknowledge its loyal service and unwavering tenacity in the face of grave adversity. If I could, I’d throw it a party or something, because I still have a few weeks left in South America, and you never know where those pesky bacteria are lurking, waiting for the chance to spring again. But when they do, I’ll be ready. In this regard, I am not traveling alone. I have a friend. Hail Sphincter!