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The Horror That Is ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’


What’s the first thing people tell you when you are going to Mexico? “Hey man, don’t drink the water! Har! Har! Har!” This is good, if annoying, advice. Diarrhea is a hazard we all risk when traveling to Mexico. It’s not just the water, though. A lot of people get it from eating vegetables that are washed in the toxic H2O. The milk isn’t so great either, as I discovered to my horror on a trip to Cancun when I was 12. At that moment I was a victim of one of the most insidious curses in human history: Montezuma’s revenge.

Montezuma’s revenge is a colloquial term for traveler’s diarrhea. This is the squirts you get on the go. Diarrhea is caused by the ingestion of any number of nasty bacteria, E.coli, shigella, and salmonella being the primary suspects. An alarming percentage of people in the developing world still literally poop themselves to death from diseases like cholera. So, in comparison an ailment that makes fat, white, American, and European tourist’s ruin their khaki shorts seems insignificant. The disease is named after the last Aztec emperor, Montezuma II. He was in charge when Hernan Cortes and his band of conquistador frat boys showed up. He was taken prisoner and later murdered by Cortes, because Cortes killed Indians both as his job and as a hobby. The idea is that Montezuma exacts his revenge on white people who come to Mexico by ruining their vacation with a wicked case of the cha cha chas. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. The reason Mexico’s water is so bad is because of their crappy, (no pun intended), water mains and filtration systems. Many of these old water mains were built by the Aztecs and are still in use. So in a way, Montezuma and the Aztecs are causing the trots.

Montezuma’s revenge has become part of our cultural lingo. When you visit Mexico, they sell t-shirts that say “I survived Montezuma’s Revenge.” In 1983 Atari released one of the first platform games called “Montezuma’s Revenge”. The object of the game was not to try and get to the bathroom before you had an accident, it was about stealing Montezuma’s treasure. If you visit Knott’s Berry Farm in California, they have a roller coaster called Montezuma’s revenge. It must suck to be the guy who cleans those seats at the end of the day.

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