I ought to preface this post with a warning that this is not recommended reading if you have just eaten as it gets pretty graphic pretty early on. Ok. Well. This week has not been pleasant. Think stomach cramps, a lot of internal bubbling, hydro-carbon emissions which could raise global temperatures, bowel explosions and a diet of plain rice and dry toast. A delightful condition that I’ve christened ‘Bogotá-Belly’. What did I eat? you ask. Colombian food, I say. You see, although I may have adapted to life in Bogotá and overcome most of my original hang-ups about the city, my stomach continues to maintain a complex relationship with Colombia. In short, it tends to tolerate my Colombian diet for a few weeks at a time before going into meltdown (literally) and all-out rejecting anything that I attempt to consume.
Since moving to Colombia at the end of 2013, I have been lucky enough to have hosted two stomach parasites (or possibly three, if this week’s toilet dramas are anything to go by). On both occasions, I went to a doctor who, after hearing about my symptoms, prescribed some truly vile anti-parasitic tablets, which luckily did the trick. I asked her where parasites came from (i.e. was there any food I should be avoiding?). She helpfully replied that they can come from any type of food: meat, salad, fruit, water, dairy products.. Great. So how can I avoid a repeat episode? I was given the following tips:
Tips on how to avoid food-related stomach problems in Colombia
- Make sure that your meat is well-cooked. I have switched from medium-rare to well-done since I’ve been in Colombia.
- But what about sushi? I LOVE sushi.. 🙁 Make sure you buy it from a reputable restaurant which has good food hygiene practices. Yeh, like that’s something I can check…
- Rinse your salad well with a special salad disinfectant or lemon juice. This is particularly important with lettuce, as this is often grown in areas where there are polluted rivers. The river water will seep into the soil and be absorbed by nearby lettuces. Nice.
- Take it easy on the carbs, sauces, cheese etc. Your body isn’t used to being served rice, potato, pasta, yuca and plantain all on the same plate; so don’t feel like you have to eat it all! You will also discover the enchanting combination of hot chocolate with cheese, commonly served for breakfast in Bogotá – again, take it easy! You’ll love it, but your body will be like “WTF???” as it tries to work out what is going on (that’s my interpretation of my digestive rumblings anyway). So keep it as a treat for once or twice a week, till your body gets used to it.
- What about drinking tap water?
Can you drink water from the tap/faucet in Bogotá?
So the advice I’ve usually had is to avoid drinking the tap water in the warmer Colombian regions, but that the water is good in Bogotá. This is because the climate is cooler and the water comes straight from the mountains. So basically, the water is fine before it goes into the water pipes. However, many buildings in Bogotá are old and have old, dirty, corroded water tanks and pipes which can contaminate the water. Newer buildings probably won’t have this problem yet, but I haven’t drunk water from the tap since my first parasite in 2014. The water in that apartment smelled strange and had a suspicious petroleum-like film on top of it once it had settled in my glass. Now we buy huge containers of water from Postobón; we pay $8,000 pesos for this for two of us about every 2 weeks, so it’s not expensive, and the way I see it, it’s safer than drinking from the tap. Otherwise, we boil tap water and keep it in a bottle for emergencies.
What next for me?
Good question. A few weeks ago, my friend had what the doctor said was a stomach virus, and said that Enterogamina (which he prescribed her) worked really well in ending the miserable toilet episodes. I looked it up and apparently Enterogermina is a probiotic, so if the problem is that your good gut bacteria are out of whack, these can help. Let’s see how it goes. My doctor friends back home said that if the problem is something you’ve eaten, then it’s best not to take Immodium and to just get it all out. Well, it’s definitely all out by now so if this continues I might try to find an Immodium equivalent. I think the medical name for it is Loperamide, in case they don’t have the same brand here. Otherwise I’ll just have to continue with my diet of rice accompanied with rice, toast, boiled potatoes, probiotic yogurt and plain chicken, washed down with Pedialyte, until my Bogotá-belly decides to settle…
It’s now December 2017 and my stomach has generally been much better for the last year. One thing I have stopped doing is eating corrientazos, the big lunch-time set-menu meals that many local restaurants offer. There are many of these places all over Bogotá and when I wrote this post I was regularly getting a lunch-time corrientazo for around $8,000 pesos from various food places in downtown Bogotá. The problem, I think, is the food hygiene practices (or lack thereof) at these local restaurants. So if you have a sensitive stomach, it may be a good idea to avoid these casual local places.