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A Reflection On 4 Months In South America

A reflection on looking after myself and my type 1 diabetes whilst travelling in South America.

Written on
April 11, 2017
Travel

A Reflection On Taking Care Of Myself And My Type 1 Diabetes In South America

A reflection of 4 months travelling in South America. Here's what I did right and what I will do differently on our next trip. Also, a bit about type 1!
Sugar loaf mountain in Rio
Beautiful view from Sugarloaf mountain in Rio

It’s a beautiful Tuesday morning, I have a little free time on my hands, and I started reflecting on my experience of South America in general, but with my type 1 diabetes too. We are in the process of planning for our next adventure, and reflecting on my last adventure has definitely given me some things to do differently this time, or to be aware of, and since I like to write my thoughts down, I thought I would share them with you.

Be kind to my body

I struggle with exhaustion, constantly. I am generally an active person and I have been going to the gym and maintaining my fitness levels my whole life, however, it doesn't matter what I eat, what I do, or what my blood sugars are, I am constantly tired. Whilst that can be super frustrating, I still get on with life. Some days are better than others, but what I realised when long-term travelling, is that the constant movement, long bus journeys, late night flights, everything, in general, is tough on your body. Even if you are not putting a physical demand on your body, the duration of travel still causes exhaustion. 

When in South America I got really frustrated with myself when I didn’t have the energy to do something one day, or I was at a beautiful sight and I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I felt like I was wasting the experience. I think we moved too fast in South America, it’s a massive continent that really requires a lot of time. In hindsight maybe we should have done 3 countries instead of 6, but now I know that for our next trip to Asia, I want to do less in more time. I really want to feel the cultures I am in, and experience everything at a pace that helps me manage my exhaustion and lets me enjoy every moment. I think less is more! I need to remember that life isn’t a competition, I can take my time and enjoy it.

Freestyle libre at poreto moreno glacier
Freestyle Libre in Argentina!

Think before I do

I am a spontaneous person by nature, and I naturally say “yes” to most things before I think, “oh, will I be able to do this?” Whilst I love being spontaneous, I do realise that sometimes I need to consider things before I do them, for example, when we decided to trek the Torres del Paine national park, it wasn’t something we had planned for, it was something we just decided to do. After a couple of months of little gym time (other than the random session at a cheap one we could find), my fitness levels had changed, and I hadn't recently practised hiking with my diabetes. 

The trek was originally meant to be 5 days, which we planned in one day, but on the first day, I knew I was struggling- I reduced my basal rate, I took less insulin, but I was still taking hypos every 15-20 minutes, which as you know, just makes you exhausted and it's not healthy. This is because I hadn’t prepared, so unfortunately for Brad and I, we had to reduce the trail from the 5-day exhibition to a 2-day trip. Granted I still got to see the three Torres, which is what I wanted, and making it up to there was a challenge in itself- but I didn’t get to see glacier grey because my body couldn't cope. Maybe in hindsight, I should have said 'let's wait, let me practice a few days with my blood sugars, then we can try it', but it’s a lesson learnt, and something I am greatly aware of for the future. I love hiking mountains, but a 5-day trek is a little different on my body than a one day climb.

Torres del paine national park
The journey to the three Torres.

Don’t be afraid

Before we went to South America, every single person we told had the same response “Omg- it’s very dangerous there”. The whole world is dangerous, it’s dangerous to walk down my street in the evenings alone, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it, but with everyone telling me I was going to get robbed in Rio, I was on edge. I thought that every local who interacted with me was going to mug me, which was a completely wrong presumption. Not once in Rio did I have any indication of harm, we took normal precautions as you do anywhere you go, but it verified to me that I shouldn't always trust people's judgement, because a lot of the time, they get their opinions and sources from the news, which is absolutely no reflection on the local people who are nothing but friendly and wonderful. I loved Rio! 

The only time in South America I ever felt threatened was a random cab drive from Bogota airport in Colombia, and it was because when we arrived at the arrivals hall, we couldn't find any WFi to order an Uber, none of the ATMs was working to get money out, and I was getting super frustrated and worried because it was approaching 1 am. Eventually, we got money out and entered the sea of taxi drivers screaming “taxi amigos, taxi amigos”. We picked one at random because we had no choice, he lead us to the back end of the airport (felt dodgy), then said we needed to wait for his dad to bring the car around (felt even more dodgy), got in the car, realised they were uber drivers too, but the trip was quiet, no speaking, no music, late at night, and we had no idea if we were heading in the right direction, what was meant to be a 10 minute drive (I Google mapped it) was taking longer, and my heart was in my mouth….but eventually we pulled over and we were safely at the correct place. I guess it was just the circumstances surrounding the taxi ride and the time of night that made me scared, but in reality, it was completely fine!

Stay organised

I am an avid organiser, I love to plan and plan again, but I need to with type 1 diabetes. I love researching every place I intend to visit and develop a route, a loose itinerary and a sample budget. It gets me super excited! It also proved really useful when we were away. I felt confident at how prepared we were all of the time, so on our next trip, I definitely intend on being super organised again!

Barra beach in Salvador
Thanks to my organisation we got to everywhere we wanted! Barra beach- Salvador.

Take more pictures

This probably sounds crazy since we have a crazy amount of photos and footage we keep showing off, but there were moments where I look back and I think, 'oh no why didn’t I take a shot of that!' I am also disappointed I didn't bring my DSLR baby with me, but we just had too much stuff with my already bulging diabetic supplies. However, on our next trip, I fully intended on finding a way to bring my DSLR camera, as she takes some fantastic shots, and there is so much beautiful scenery she missed out on in South America. So lesson is, constantly capture my life away, even when I can’t be bothered, because I know I’ll regret it :P

Park in Chile
Beautiful scenery in Chile

I have other lessons learnt such as drink more fluids and always re-do my sun-cream every 15 minutes because apparently I just constantly burn :P, but these are the main things I’ve reflected on with South America. They say travelling can change you as a person, or help you develop as an individual and I completely agree. I love this world, and there is no culture, no person, no country I wouldn’t like to experience. Exploring a new country and living with the struggles of not speaking fluent Spanish (I tried my best- we got by! :P ), dealing with different climates and altitudes, is all something I have been able to learn from, and oh my, the best thing about travelling is the people I have met. It’s cliche to say you’ll meet great people travelling, but it’s so true. Even just random one day/evening encounters at a hostel brings you interesting stories, advice and friends. I cannot wait to explore Asia further then make my way around the rest of this world, and I hope I meet some of the amazing people who have taken the time of day to read this, on my travels too!

If you take one thing from this, then if you’re ever contemplating going away somewhere new, don’t hesitate, just go- Life is so short, dream big and travel far!!

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