Yes, Beaver fever is a thing. It is actually a slang name for a Giardia infection, which one gets usually from drinking contaminated water. The water can be contaminated from wild animal feces, and one can get it from drinking water from streams or lakes even in pristine country like Alaska. Before Joe and I went to Alaska on our 20th Anniversary trip, we had heard about Beaver Fever from my Mom, who was insistent that they had gotten it when in Alaska by eating ice from a Glacier that was brought into a tour boat for the Tourists to taste and touch.
My parent had driven up the Alcan Highway with my younger brother. The rest of us kids were already either in college or in the working world and did not go along, as we had our own lives by then. My parents drove their RV up the Alcan Highway with my mom’s brother and his family who also had kids along so it was perfect for my brother. He was young at the time maybe six or seven years old. My uncle had two boys who were very close to his age and two girls a little older then the boys. It was a perfect group to travel together.
My uncle tells the story that my brother almost got him arrested at the Canadian border. The boys all had Nerf guns to play with and frequently rode together in one of the RV’s. When they went across the Canadian border, a border guard came onto the RV and asked my uncle whether they had any guns they were taking into Canada. He indicated they did not, at which point my young, innocent brother piped up and said “Oh, yes we have guns.” The border guard immediately became interested and when my uncle tried to explain that he is talking about their toys, the guard stopped him cold and told him to be quiet while he talks to the boy. He asked my brother to show him the guns and my brother showed him the colorful stash of Nerf guns, at which the guard had a good laugh. It is one of my favorite stories.
It was these two families traveling together that my Mom insisted had contracted Beaver Fever from eating Glacier ice. Well I had been warned, and we do heed our mother’s warning because most often she has been right, so when my husband and I went to Alaska we were armed with the Beaver Fever warning. We had the trip all planned and part of it was a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords National park. If you have not been there, you have to see this in your lifetime. It is amazingly wild and beautiful. You take a boat out of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula for an entire day trip. During the trip you see whales, sea lions, puffins and birds of all types, and of course you see lots of glaciers and you see the glaciers calving, which is when large chunks of ice fall off. Many ice chunks are so large that the sound is like an explosion and they set off a huge wave when they hit the water. It is a really cool experience. Even the air around the glacier is wet, fresh and cool; even though we were there in July, we wore jackets.
The tour operator took us through the Fjords and along islands and coasts, telling us all about the wildlife we were seeing and the history of the area. We tried our best to get the perfect photos to try to capture the beauty that was before our eyes, but I never seem to get those perfect photos. I have great photos, but for me it is never as good as being there.
As we toured around, the boat staff served drinks and food and kept everyone entertained. So there we were on the double-decker boat tour, and as we watched a glacier calve and heard the sounds and felt the waves, even on our huge boat, the staff pulled in a large chunk of the glacier ice with enormous tongs and put it up on a buffet like table, and started using a pick to make it into smaller pieces and made glacier margaritas with the crystal blue ice and lemonade for the kids. So there was a dilemma! Who does not like margaritas and even more importantly, who would not like a margarita made with Glacier ice from the Kenai Fjords? But what about the Beaver Fever we had been warned about? So the choice becomes either, go for it and drink the coolest margaritas ever, made of glacier ice and served in the fresh air of the Kenai Fjords and risk the Beaver Fever induced vomiting and diarrhea, or skip the experience and watch as others lined up to sip the cold fresh lime juice and orangey triple Sec, with Silver Tequila that I could see them pouring, by the half gallon full into the large covered pitchers that were then being shaken vigorously over the uneven chunks of glacier ice. I got in line still knowing I could get out of line if I decided against it at the last minute. As I waited my turn, I rationalized and developed my arguments of why this would be ok. First my mom could be wrong. After all they were traveling with a bunch of kids. They could have picked up anything. Second, if this Beaver Fever was from Glacier ice would these boat tours serve the margaritas? They take groups out in boats ever day during the tourist season. Wouldn’t their passengers all be complaining about getting sick afterwards? And if such a thing did exist, I am a nurse and probably have pills for that in my travel bag which looks like a pharmacy.
By the time I was halfway through my rationalizations, it was my turn and I took the chilled margarita and the first sip was amazing. It was more orange flavor than lime and by far, the best margarita I had ever had. It was not blended and yet it was so icy cold, it almost gave you an ice cream headache. It was smooth and refreshing, because the orange was overpowering the lime by a little and it did not have the severe bite. Of course it did not hurt that we were drinking them on the deck of a boat, in one of the most beautiful and wild places on earth while watching the whales swim around the numerous lush green forested islands.
Sometimes you just have to take a chance and jump in with both feet, even though you know there is risk. We did not get sick at all and I am guessing that if any Beaver Fever parasites existed in the glacial ice, the Silver Tequila was enough to kill them. Of course this would be an entirely different story if we had become sick, but it still would be a story. Sometimes you just have to trust and take a chance that all will be OK. There is very little that we do when we are exploring the world that is risk free, but the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and experience new things is exciting and a big part of why we want to see those most beautiful and sometimes exotic places. Travel well, jump in with both feet, taste the food, drink the margaritas and know that exploration takes some bravery and some risk, but it is well worth the experiences and the stories.