I’ve been on San Cristóbal island for a little over a month now, and I feel like I was greatly under-prepared for the amount of vaginal stress I have had to endure on this trip.
There are some things you just can’t get used to. For example: scented toilet paper (who thought that was a good idea?)
While my pH may not agree, there is a solid justification for this: In some countries, like Ecuador, the sewage systems don’t have the water pressure to withstand any solids besides the usual solids found in toilets. Especially in the Galápagos islands, where the sewer systems are maintained even less frequently than on the continent. Like tampons and pads, toilet paper also goes in the trash. (Toilet paper, in the trash. That was a mantra I had to recite to myself as I wiped for the first two weeks I was here. Put. The. Toilet. Paper. In. The. Trash. Then, as I cannot be trusted not to forget, I’d find myself fishing through the toilet bowl for a handful of wet pulp to shamefully discard to the bin). Why would the toilet paper be scented, you may ask? Because a trash can full of used toilet paper smells pretty much exactly like you’d expect it to.
I didn’t realize until weeks into my study abroad experience that all of the toilet paper smelled like it had been rolled in linen-scented baby powder. Never in my life would that have occurred to me as something to look out for, until the dreaded itch began its first siren call. For future Galápagos visitors with vaginas: I recommend you buy your own toilet paper when you get here, and bring a few packs of tissues for dire emergencies.
Also, being on an island, you will likely be swimming all day every day, surfing, scuba diving, boating, or at the very least getting caught in the rain. I recommend bringing a dry bag with an extra pair of shorts and clean underwear, just in case you get caught in a situation where you have to sit in wet clothes for multiple hours. The only thing worse than having a yeast infection is having a yeast infection on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I do not speak from experience…yet.
Another thing I was unaware of until just recently is the fact that all the raw sewage on the island is disposed of into the ocean. This is typical for island nations– not just the Galápagos. I’m sure it’s not the worst pollutant that enters the Pacific Ocean. But, what I was really unaware of was the location of the dumping site: Playa Corolla—one of the most popular tourist beaches on the island, i.e., where I have been swimming almost every day after school. After a recent trip to the hospital, I discovered that this actually does have a real impact on my body, specifically my urethra…imagine me, doubled over in pregnancy-style contractions for 72 hours, crying and begging for some God to mercifully end my misery. It felt like there was a rubber band double-knotted around my organs, and every 15 minutes some sadistic goblin inside me would come pinch and twist it just a little tighter. After two sleepless nights, my host mother brought me to the only hospital on the island to try to get to the bottom of my pain. I was convinced I had food poisoning. I wasn’t experiencing any of the typical symptoms of a UTI, only this deep, profound organ ache. But, as it turns out, I had a late-stage UTI (borderline kidney infection) that was leaking fluid into my pelvic cavity. Very cool! It is still unclear whether this infection came from swimming, or from washing myself with the shower water. I was aware of the fact that I couldn’t drink the water here—from the minute I stepped off the plane, everyone and their mother was sure to tell me Do Not Drink The Tap Water! But…they neglected to mention that you probably shouldn’t get it in any of your holes. All the pipes on the island are older and under-maintained, so even when the water goes through rigorous treatment it still comes out with e. coli by the time it reaches the tap. It wasn’t until I was lying in a hospital bed, drinking through an IV, that one of the IES Abroad staff from the island told me that she brings a water bottle of purified water to the shower with her. I feel like this might have been helpful to know pre-infection. Hence why I have chosen to bear such intimate details on the public IES Abroad forum. You’re welcome.
Ye be warned, all who venture to the Galápagos. Wash thy genitals with water from the purest bottles, abstain from sitting in wet swimsuits, and bring with thou ample underwear and toilet paper in thine daily excursions. Lest thou inherit the curse which hath been bestowed upon me.
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My name is Anna Šverclová. I'm a published poet and creative writing major at Macalester College. I love exploring the world around me. You can almost always find me digging in the mud by the river, journal in my back pocket. My writing focuses on my relationship with the world, childhood trauma, and my hometown. I write both for the page and for performance. You can find me at annasverclova.com