El Gripe: Common Sickness for Foreigners in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a wonderful place. I felt so much love from any and all locals, be them our guide up a volcano on our hike, waitstaff at any given restaurant or simply passersby on the streets. It’s a gorgeous country with its lush jungles, active volcanoes and colorful biodiversity.

The food is quality in flavor and rich in nutrients. The architecture is typically tropical Spanish colonial, with its bright, bold colors. The churches have history, the streets are interesting and the vibe wonderful. I have only one complaint in my time in Nicaragua.

I got sick.

El Gripe

This might seem like a silly complaint. You could get sick anywhere, and obviously being in a new country, your immune system needs to adjust. Whining about getting sick in a foreign country isn’t new or interesting on the surface. Keep reading.

I had all the normal symptoms you would expect: stuffy nose, sore throat, achy body, tired mind, dry eyes, upset stomach. In terms of travel sickness, it was truly not the worst. I wasn’t confined to the bathroom, but I wasn’t entirely untethered to it either.

In fact, the worst part of it all was on my hike up Volcán Maderas, which was already difficult enough. The hike already had enough humid, thick air and steep climbs requiring all hands on deck to force you to breathe heavy. Add in some sickness, and I was sucking wind, demanding frequent rests.

I was getting worried having been sick since virtually the first day. Five straight days of incessant discomfort brought me to the internet. Nothing gives you cancer quite like WebMD does.

After some quick research, it seemed I had a common illness in Nicaragua, known as El Gripe, using the English word with the Spanish pronunciation. All I needed was time and meds. I scratched the meds.

Why was that weird for me?

I lived in China for two years, ate virtually anything I wanted and never got sick. I ate street food all over the country, both ostensibly healthy and visibly questionable. I went to both rural provinces and bustling metropolises.

I had chicken heart and coagulated blood. I ate pig brain and snake meat. I riskily ordered Beijing lamb kebab, infamous for its rat substitute rendition. I undoubtedly consumed at least one nasty critter along the way, and only got truly sick once.

It was one of the last days of living in the Middle Kingdom and I took a five day trip to rural Guizhou Province. I found a street food street and elected to have some vegetarian wraps, and somehow, someway that was what did me in hard.

So while I certainly don’t have a stomach of pure steel, it’s at least built somewhat Ford Tough.

Why might you get sick in Nicaragua?

I had to do some backtracking to figure out what on earth could have gotten me sick. In China, the only thing that could have gotten me sick was Guizhou. It’s very much rural, and one of the less wealthy places in China. It’s the 29th poorest region of 31.

2014 Rank Province Disposable Income per Capita (RMB) Disposable Income per Capita (USD) Disposable Income per Household (RMB) Disposable Income per Household (USD)
27 Qinghai 14,374 2,340 45,853 7,465
28 Yunnan 13,772 2,242 45,448 7,399
29 Guizhou 12,371 2,014 38,226 6,223
30 Gansu 12,185 1,984 40,820 6,645
31 Tibet 10,730 1,747 43,778 7,127

Since Chinese food had been a constant for two years and the only variable was Guizhou itself, I deduced that it was indeed the quality or the ingredients of the street food. I’ve been wrong before, though.

In Nicaragua, I had to think why I’d gotten sick. To be fair, it was my first time in Latin America, so I’m sure some microbials gave me troubles. (That is if you don’t include Miami, but I digress.)

I had never gotten even remotely sick in any other part of the world simply by being exposed, so I figured it had to be something else. I’ve been violently sick twice in my life before. Once was in Chicago, but that was during the winter with a bunch of equally ill classmates; that’s easy to pinpoint. We all shared it. The other was in Seville, in which six of eight of us got sick after eating at the same restaurant. I’m pretty sure I can locate the origin of that bug.

But being sick in Nicaragua upset me in more than one way. I was curious how such an intensely beautiful place like this could be ruined. So I got perusing The Google, yet again.

Apparently, one of the tips of travelers to Nicaragua is to avoid queso fresco, as the cheese has obviously not been smoked or pasteurized. Any little buggers hiding out in the milk curds will present problems.

Eschewing Nicaraguan queso fresco terribly difficult for two reasons. For one, it is served at virtually every breakfast I had in that lovely nation. And two, it is absolutely delicious. So after being queasy for a half dozen days straight, I figured I would be done eating the moist, soft, unpasteurized, bovine teat secretion. It’s easier to quit when you phrase it that way.

In Conclusion 

I must state it again. I am in no way genuinely complaining about getting mildly sick. My track record and pure luck in staying healthy abroad is fortuitous, and I can take that moment easily.

That being said, if a Spanglish term, El Gripe, exists to describe the phenomenon, there is a common thread.

If my only gripe is a hike being slightly more difficult, Nicaragua is still a thoroughly amazing place.

 

Let me know if you agree in the comments below! Are travelers to Nicaragua prone to El Gripe or have I mischaracterized this phenomenon?

Like what you’re reading on Nicaragua? Check out some other related articles in: The Nicaragua Chronicles!!

 

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