Travel Karma: the Pig’s Head

I lay there, individually unable to move but shuddering violently and uncontrollably from the fever. The light flickered above my head once again and with resentment I acknowledged the beginning of another day. The Doctor had jammed the needle into my arm five minutes earlier today plunging whatever it was into my arm that was his habit every morning. It felt like it was only five minutes ago when I had been able to get to sleep – the child’s screaming had ceased and the flickering of the lone strobe in the hallway had momentarily paused to allow me a slight respite.

This was, as I reflected on my plank in the hallway of the public hospital of Ilheus, north-eastern Brazil, definitely a case of karma getting its own back.

Was this karma for crimes past or misdemeanours yet to be committed?

For a number of years, I had been a roving travel journalist in South America and in order to supplement my income through dry patches I had also taken up the mantle of freelance expedition guide for an outfit in the UK. Times were good, the travel was great, those in my keep were sound, and I was able to continue my vagabond lifestyle wandering from country to country in search of stories and mirth…until the combined bout of malaria and haemorrhagic dengue conspired to lay me out cold and very nearly finish me off.

How could this be explained? Of course, there is an easy explanation, anti malaria drugs are not one hundred per cent effective and I was more at risk than most making frequent trips into malarial areas. The dengue, well, that’s just atrocious bad luck, I suppose.

travel karma, where I was laid out for several weeks in Ilheus

At my lowest ebb, being sponge bathed by three Brazilian female nurses – every cloud has a silver lining I hear you say…hardly – with ice-cold sponges and then realising that in a state of delirium some hours previously I had unceremoniously crapped myself, I started to think through some of my crimes as an expedition leader.

For the following I plead guilty.

Could my fragile state have come from the time where in Puno, Peru, me and my partner in crime Leo, bought a pig’s head while the group was out on a gimmicky trip to the floating Uros islands, bribed the bell boy for the key to the girls’ room, and carefully, almost lovingly, placed the severed pig’s head into their toilet bowl, filming and photographing the prank and then closing the lid? How I giggled.

Not, you’ll agree, the behaviour of the most mature and serious expedition leader.

Let me elaborate a little.

Three out of the four girls in that room were experiencing stomach problems and we knew they would need the loo rapidly after an uncomfortably long day trip out to the islands. In fact, now I think about it, the three girls had been shitting like seagulls for the entire trip whilst the other had experienced the complete opposite, she was a fecal ticking time bomb.

From my nearby room, their footsteps could be heard climbing the stairs. I ruffled my hair and made as if I had been enjoying a siesta.

The shrieks were enough to rattle the hotel’s foundations. The memory of the sound of one body, hurled in shock, recoiling from the sight of a beheaded ungulate, smashing against a far wall in this tiny cubicle of a bathroom will stay with me forever. The pig’s head prank, if you want to call it that, had delivered in spades.

In short, they promised to get us back. Later I explained to the lady butcher what we had done with the pig’s head and she laughed and bought it back from us at half the cost! It went back on a platter in the window.

Can we be forgiven?

Could it be that in their desire for revenge, my students only spurred me on, teeing me up for further nefarious mayhem? One of their half-hearted attempts at revenge found me sleeping with a chorizo in my bed. I didn’t realise. Then the following night the same group left a cluster of sheep testicles upon my pillow.

The ensuing results may not sit well with some readers, with others it may be just desserts and for me it was a crowning glory.

Being the last night of a three-month expedition we had bested the Inca Trail, the Ecuadorian amazon and so much more and were now back in Cusco for some chaos at the plethora of clubs ringing the Plaza de Armas. Nights were spent dancing on bars, being thrown out of said bars for bad behaviour and rising very late.

So, finding my pillow adorned with sheep balls left us plotting. Yet, it is disturbing how fast the idea came to Leo. He located a suitable plastic bag, slipped the balls into a daypack and exited the hostel behaving as if nothing untoward had taken place. With my complete endorsement, Leo made straight for the last night’s restaurant of choice and enquired of them what they could make from sheep nuts.

We are bad people; the group ate the testicles as hors d’oeuvres. For a nano second I wanted to stop them but my sadistic glee only increased when more than one from the group muttered their delight – while chewing – on the flavoursome yet salty spices in these curious starters.

The more I think about it, I don’t expect your forgiveness!

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