Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Trip Along the Chocolate Trail

Get a group of travelers sitting around telling stories in a hostel and sooner or later it turns to illnesses on the road, the next story beating the previous one in terms of discomfort and disgust. One guy does the liquid laugh into a plastic bag on the bus to Ri\'o Negro, and the next guy is squirming in pain on a two-hour skiff ride silently begging his sphincter ani externus to please, please, please just hold out a little longer.

Knowing I can't compete, I usually bust out my Bariloche story, and everyone looks at me with blank eyes before letting out a couple of courtesy laughs and moving on to the next story.

But, c'mon, how often does traveler sickness involve too much chocolate?

Bariloche is a hiker/skier/tourist town in the Argentine Lake District in northern Patagonia. Thanks to all the Austrian and German settlers who shipped over and set up shop here in the late 1800s, the place is part Alpine village and part mismatched, unplanned Latin American tourist trap. It's a pretty cool place, despite the tourists. And it's famous for its chocolate.

The first time I covered the town for Lonely Planet, the book I was updating listed two chocolate shops: Del Turista and Fenoglio. Maybe they've been around the longest, but their chocolate, which they churn out on a national level, pretty much sucks.

Since this was my second gig for Lonely Planet, and I'd been assigned way more terrain than any single human could possibly cover in the time allotted, I had no time to slip into other shops and taste chocolate. I made sure coverage was up to date and I moved on.

The next time I updated the book, however, I vowed I'd provide complete coverage of Argentina's chocolate capital. After arriving Bariloche this time around, I asked everyone I met what their favorite chocolate was, I interviewed shop owners and chocolate makers, and (this should illustrate just how confident I'd become with my time) I even took a tour of the Fenoglio chocolate factory. And I sampled chocolate* in every shop on the main drag.

The next day I was sick. Dizzy, nauseous, weak, diarrhea – basically a classic case of traveler's diarrhea (or, if you will, an authentic case of the Hershey Squirts). It was so bad, I finally had to take a taxi to the health clinic**, where, after looking at my tongue, taking my temperature, checking my blood pressure and making a few other examinations, the doctor finally told me I'd probably eaten too much chocolate. He wrote me a prescription for a high-powered antidiarrheal. "We've seen it before."

You've got to be kidding.

It took me nearly four days to fully recover and get my strength back. Losing all that liquid made me weak, and weakness is your worst enemy when updating a guidebook. I still walked and I still worked, but it was pretty hellish. Chocolate. Are you serious?

*For the record, my scientific approach here was simple: I sampled (1) a small bar of the darkest chocolate available at each shop and (2) a piece of the shop's specialty, whatever it was.

**It's worth noting here that my visit to the clinic, which was recommended to me as one of the town's best, cost only about US$15, and I was seen within ten minutes of my arrival.


Blogger Goyo said...

Sounds like you made a detour off of the Gringo trail and hit the Hershey Highway a bit too hard with very visible skid marks!

8:37 AM  

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