PSA: Heat Stroke

I got heat stroke in Montenegro. You’d think that I was climbing a mountain when that happened or at least running on the beach, but that’s not the case. The sad fact is that I was just walking into town to use an ATM.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You’re probably wondering what made me go to Montenegro in the first place. The short answer is because Romania was too expensive. But I know that just raises more questions. So the long story is that I was looking into day trips around Serbia and bordering countries and found a private tour to Timisoara, Romania that sounded interesting but was $250. So was a trip to Nis, the ancient fortress whose main draw is a tower made of human skulls.

Out of curiosity, I searched last minute travel deals to Montenegro and found a three-night stay on a private beach, including flights, for not much more. I packed my bags so fast, you would have thought I had set the place on fire.


Coincidentally, I packed my bags so fast, I also forgot to take a swimsuit. So when I arrived in Tivat, my first order of business was to walk a mile down the road to the nearest market and buy the cheapest bikini I could find. After that, I walked back to my apartment, got changed and then set up camp on the beach.

That was probably my first mistake. My second came a few hours later when I decided to walk in the direction of town until I came across an ATM. I made it about three miles before hailing a taxi to drive me the rest of the way, which, in case you’re wondering, turned out to be about another three miles.

On the way back, I decided to stop at a beach café down the road from my hotel. I ordered a beer, drank half and was thoroughly enjoying the sunset when I noticed that my vision was getting fuzzy. Then, without warning, I started sweating profusely and feeling dizzy. I’ve never passed out before, but  I was certain that I was about to.

The café wasn’t crowded. There were just a handful of Serbian guys watching me curiously, no doubt thinking that I was horribly drunk. It all came on so suddenly that I panicked that someone had put something in my drink. But that was impossible. I remember watching the waiter open the bottle in front of me and no one had been near me since. With as much grace as I could muster, I asked the nearest person to call me a taxi and then pointed in the direction of my hotel. He spoke no English but seemed to get the point. I was head’s down after that.

As far as I know, I didn’t lose consciousness. But it’s possible that I did because when I picked my head up again, there was a semi-circle of men around me. One was holding a glass of lemonade up to my lips while another was hand-feeding me a Twix bar. A third was dabbing ice water on the back of my neck and a fourth was fanning me with a menu. Meanwhile, the man I had originally asked for a ride had not only called me a taxi, but also summoned Tatiana, the lady in town with the best English.

When my blood pressure and blood sugar returned to normal levels a few minutes later, I had to laugh. Under any other circumstances, this would be quite enjoyable. I mean, who doesn’t want to be the hot guest who gets the special treatment? Who doesn’t want to be the talk of the town for the next week?


“You have heat stroke,” Tatiana said to me.

Even then, in my most helpless state, my first instinct was to argue. “I don’t even have sunburn,” I replied.

“It’s not the same thing,” she said. “Heat stroke is just overheating. From dehydration. And exertion. And alcohol.”

I had a hard time believing that my trip to the ATM and half a beer was the source of my problems. I mean, I lived in some of the hottest countries in the world without electricity and running water, let alone air conditioning. I’ve hiked in Hong Kong in August and walked to work every day for three months in Nigeria. Once, I ran a half marathon in 90-degree heat in New York City. And let’s not forget that my birthday – the hallmark of heavy drinking – is in July.

So I wasn’t having Tatiana’s explanation about getting heat stroke on the way to the bank. I don’t know why it was so hard to believe. ATMs have always been my kryptonite.


When the taxi arrived, Tatiana was kind enough to ride back to my hotel with me. Before we left, she had a very animated exchange with the Serbian guys.

“They want me to tell you that they’re laughing, but they’re not laughing at you,” she explained. “And they think you’re very pretty.”

“Thank you,” I said to the group, as I waved good-bye. “Hvala,” I added hastily.

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll do it anyway: Montenegrins and Serbs are lovely people. They were far more patient and helpful than they ever had to be. They’re also funny.

“I told them you have a boyfriend,” she said.

“Did I say that?” I asked, confused.

“Of course not,” she said, ushering me to the taxi.

“Because I do! He lives in Finland and his name is Johann, but I call him Ice Bath.”

“That’s nice, dear,” she clucked. “Let’s get you home.”

I was being serious, of course. But I can hardly blame her for thinking I was delirious.


Ironically enough, an ice bath is exactly what I needed. Or at least that’s what WebMD suggested when I woke up the next morning feeling worse than the night before. On the plus side, the site confirmed that I probably didn’t have heat stroke. For that, my temperature would need to be 104 degrees, which I doubt it was. But I did have most of the other symptoms, including throbbing headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, and – my personal favorite while traveling alone in a foreign country – confusion and disorientation.

Either way, WebMD recommended moving to an air-conditioned room, applying ice packs and taking a cold bath. I didn’t have any other those options available, so I settled for drinking cool tap water, taking a dunk in the Adriatic Sea and lying on a cold tile floor.

The webpage went on to say that heat stroke can be prevented by not getting hot and that recovery can take anywhere from two days to one year. So, in other words, heat stroke is a lot like bad flu, except that only complete idiots get it and when you do, it can last longer than a pregnancy.


Needless to say, I was down for the count most of the time I spent in Montenegro. I finally felt better the morning I left, which would have been annoying if it wasn’t such a relief. Having learned my lesson, I resisted the urge to try and pack anything in to those precious hours. Besides, I had to save my energy for the Belgrade airport, which if it was anything like the first time I arrived, would be a circus – but only if the circus started doing performance art wherein 300 people form an increasingly intricate series of lines to reach a single available customs window.

But that’s the best part about a repeat visit – you know better the second time around. As soon as the cabin door opened, I burst off the plane and into the immigration hall like there was an Olympic medal at stake. When I got to the window, I was all “dobar dan!” and “hvala!” I knew to pick up a taxi voucher on my way out the door and didn’t have to change any money. I climbed into the backseat of the first cab, where I not only knew the fare, but had small bills ready for a tip. When the driver asked if was my first time in Belgrade, I said, “No, second!” and then I resisted the urge to do a little shoulder shimmy because I understood that question in Srpski.

Hopefully, when I go to Montenegro the next time, it will be more like that. Here’s to the do-over.



  1. Wow! Nova, I admire your spunk and adventurous spirit. You live life to the fullest. Thank you for sharing your experiences, the gorgeous photos, and what you learned along the way. So glad that you are recovering quickly and somehow retained your sense of humor and engaging writing style. Here’s to the do-over–and more posts along the way.

    • Thanks for the compliment – and thanks for reading! At the end of the day, I’m super lucky. I have nothing to really complain about… I just do that to fill the page :) Thanks again!

    • Hi! I have to admit, it was pretty terrifying… but all’s well that ends well :) Thanks for checking in – xx

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