Pink polka-dotted elephants were not at all what I expected to see during my trip to Valencia, Spain.
I was lying on the bathroom floor, loving the feel of the cool tile on my feverish skin. Struggling to get through an incredibly nasty bout of food poisoning, I had moved from the bed to the bathroom for a few hours, and there they were, dancing on the bathroom floor of my hotel room.
Let me be clear, I LOVE Spain. Every part of it, including Valencia. The food poisoning was an avoidable one-off event. Avoidable because if I had trusted my gut, it would not have happened.
Not counting when I studied abroad in Paris, this trip to Valencia was my first solo trip abroad. My mom and I were exploring a business idea, and when she told me there was a trade show in Spain, I jumped at the chance to go. She had a conflict, so we decided I would go alone.
First, I visited Madrid to see friends from my study abroad days, then they drove me to Valencia to attend the trade show. We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon. My friends had to get back to Madrid for work the next day, so I was on my own to explore the city.
After a quick nap, I set out to explore El Carmen, the city’s old town. Little did I know, in just a few hours, I would be deliriously hallucinating about those elephants.
El Carmen is the type of old town that I love. A winding mess of cobbled streets that take you through hidden alleys and surprise you with unexpected plazas.
Now an incredibly hip place to hang out, El Carmen was a little less savory at the time of this trip. I knew I needed to explore before it got too dark out. As dusk fell, I left El Carmen and headed to a more populated area to find something to eat.
I passed an open restaurant and decided to go in. The first red flag probably should have been that there were no other diners, but I was not phased by that. I sat at the counter, wanting a quick bite, and began to chat with the man behind the counter.
Language-wise, I am passable as a tourist in Spain, and I enjoy trying. The restaurant server was super friendly and entertained by my efforts, so we had a nice, if somewhat stilted, chat in “Spanglish.”
When it came time to order, I asked his advice, given that I was not terribly hungry and did not want a full meal. He suggested a bocadillo, which is basically a baguette sliced lengthwise and filled with meat and cheese.
The second he put the plate in front of me, I knew I should not eat it. It was a simple baguette with chicken. But it looked “off.” I cannot explain why; it just did.
So there I was, this friendly guy’s the only customer, sitting at the counter where we had been having a pleasant conversation and where he stayed to chat after serving me. I did not want to eat the food in front of me, but I also did not want to offend this kind person. So I ate the food.
It was a mistake and a massive one at that.
The food poisoning hit about two hours after I went to bed. It was the hardest I have ever been hit to this day, and I got to know the inside of that hotel room well over the next 24 hours.
It was not a fancy hotel, but thank goodness I had a minibar. To stay hydrated, I cleared out everything that did not contain alcohol. I slept.
I worried the housekeeper because I would not let her in. I was clearly not well and didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was going on, and her maternal instincts went into overdrive. In my most feverish moment, I sought the cool of the bathroom floor, which is where I encountered the dancing pink polka dot elephants.
Time passed, and the fever went down. I finally got a good night’s sleep. My stomach settled.
I wish I could tell you exactly where this took place, but this trip was a long time ago, and I don’t remember the specifics. I think what matters more than knowing what the restaurant was, is the broader lesson that I learned:
Embrace your travels, enjoy your experiences, and for goodness sake, trust your gut.
After decades in corporate America, Anne Abreu is now a full-time travel blogger at She Packs Lite. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and takes every opportunity to explore places both near and far.