unpacking in uruguay

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After two weeks in Buenos Aries and five weeks in Uruguay (so far), we’ve found a town on the coast of Uruguay to call home for the next two months. As our families and friends are welcoming in the wonder and warmth of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re heading back into winter. Our plans for an endless summer, foiled. And while it is chilly here, it is like winter in San Diego, California. We get rain and clouds, but plenty of sun. So we can’t complain. Or, more accurately, I can’t complain. John is fine wearing a tee-shirt in snow while I need a parka in 70 degrees.

We jumped down to this part of the world because the coasts of Ecuador and Peru, which we have every intention of getting to know well, were flooded with unusually harsh and destructive storms when we were in that part of the world. So, we popped down here and will work our way back up to Ecuador (which we saw very little of) between August and November. June and July will be spent in this quiet, nearly closed coastal town, surfing, reading, writing, biking and any other joys we can find to do.

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We have no Internet and must rely on data for brief stints to communicate, surf the web or post blog entries. It’s a gift to be forced to mind our time online. We can’t get a robust data plan without getting a contract and we can’t get a contract without an Uruguayan bank account. So we get by on less web time and more in-the-present time. I’ve read a number of books and John finally gets to surf. We thought he’d be surfing months ago. He’s been remarkably patient. 

We’re doing some tethering while we’re here. The house we’re renting is solely a high season rental, not set up for people during the cold season. High (warm) season here is December-April. It’s also not set up for people staying more than a week—so we’ve made a deal with the owner to pay minimal rent (and he covers utilities) and whatever we buy to stock, clean or improve the house is part of a trade. Even though we’re having to buy some things like towels, sheets, pillows, etc., these two months will be our cheapest yet since. We’ve found a couple used bikes and we’re adding a wetsuit and a surfboard to the family, which we’ll sell before we leave.
 

transformation inspired by travel

I’d like to share something I consider BIG …. Almost a month ago I had to make some radical changes to my diet. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d gotten terribly sick while visiting the U.S. Sinus and gut issues I’d had for three years, before we left for the trip in November, came rushing back and pummeled me while we were visiting. I know dairy and wheat play a large part in my stomach and sinus issues, but since I’d felt fine in Colombia and Ecuador eating what ever I wanted, I hoped that it had more to do with U.S. dairy and wheat and that once we were back in South America, I’d feel fine again.

Well, no such luck.

In Buenos Aires I began having an acute pain in my gut when we walked. A pain I’d never had before. It felt like a runner’s stitch but spanned the entire upper half of my abdomen. I considered going to the doctor but the pain wasn’t constant and didn’t have alarming signals. And it happened only when I walked. As well, my sinuses were terribly compromised and I had an itch in my throat that resulted in a relentless, and not very helpful, cough that kept us up at night and made being in public embarrassing. Referencing my history, I immediately stopped eating dairy and cut out bread and pasta.

The issues continued as we headed into Uruguay. The stitch in my gut, throat tickle and cough. Though, now I was also horribly phlegmy. Sorry, its gross, I know. Every meal was a battle no matter how delicious or seemingly healthy. I felt horrible all the time and food just made me feel worse. After consulting Doctor Google and reading up on stories from other people who’d unsuccessfully been from doctor to doctor with symptoms similar to mine, I started to piece it all together. I knew my sinus and digestive issues were connected even though a number of doctors I’d gone to over the years blew off my suggesting so.

One unremarkable day, as I stood in the dimly lit interior bathroom of a somewhat dismal apartment in Montevideo, looking in the mirror with tears streaming down my face, something suddenly clicked.

I immediately removed eggs and butter, corn, all grains (yes, all grains), potatoes and any food that is gooey or sticky (mucous forming) like bananas, oatmeal, etc. Within 24 hours I felt better. Within a week, the pain in my gut was gone as were my throat tickle and cough. And within a couple weeks, my congestion and excessive phlegm was gone. Oh, and the redness that had tinted my eyes for years—gone!

I am now coming up on a month and I feel better than I have in a decade—maybe even since I was a kid. My diet consists of heaping amounts of veggies and fruit, some poultry and fish and some quinoa (I was happy to learn quinoa is a seed, not a grain). I took out what caused me to suffer and left the rest to enjoy. I have no plan to ever give up this new eating style even though I know I will meet with many obstacles on this journey and in social settings for years to come.

The truth of the matter is, right before I made this rapid shift, I felt like I was dying. I felt like if I didn’t make an immediate change, I would die. Maybe not tomorrow or this year, maybe not for many years to come. But I’ve been living a sluggish existence and even if I lived, eating grains and dairy, until I turn 100, to feel like shit the whole time, it simply would not be worth it. I want to feel alive while I am alive!

Feeling as though I was dying was significant and not something to ignore. It was a crisis point. A suffering I had to either accept for the long haul or say goodbye to right then and there. In that damp bathroom on an otherwise unremarkable day, I chose to say goodbye.

And the thing is, I ate pretty well. Without a doubt, I ate better than the average American and certainly, healthier than Colombians and Ecuadorians—who have French fries with nearly every meal. For the last few years, I’ve toggled back and forth with removing dairy and gluten, but while my issues weren’t as bad during those phases, they never cleared up. I also felt uncomfortable making special requests or explaining my dietary needs in social settings. While many friends have been remarkably awesome, accommodating and never judgey (THANK YOU), some people have acted as saboteurs or they've dismissed my journey, my journey, as a pop-culture “fad.” I expect more of the same when we return home. And that is okay. I won’t ever expect people to change a menu for me and I won't spend time convincing anyone of anything. This is my process. The point isn't to make a statement, the point is to feel good and be healthy. 

It is a pretty wild change to make while traveling. It increases dinning out complications exponentially. But, mainly because of the language barrier. People are happy to leave off the bread crumbs and cheese. I just have to ask. Sometimes they don’t understand and John gets an extra serving while I enjoy whatever I can. But I generally leave the house full-bellied, so the blood sugar drop doesn't drive my choices when a menu is limited in healthy options.

This has been a huge thing for me. HUGE. After almost a month, I no longer have headaches or aches that feel like premature arthritis. I feel good. I can’t remember a time when I could honestly say, I FEEL GOOD! I’d given up thinking I’d ever actually feel good. Pretty sad to consider. I accepted life as physically painful. And I lived from that place of chronic pain. Invisible to others, chronic pain. Chronic headaches. Chronic digestion issues. Chronic sinus issues. Chronic aches and pains all over. Waking up feeling terrible every morning. Doctors dumbfounded and drug-prescribing.

I never, ever felt good.

As you might imagine, feeling good lends itself to an infinite host of other benefits and I am grateful to be in this quiet, beautiful place as I discover each new life-affirming delight.

Not so much a post about travel. Few of my posts are solely about travel, now that I think of it. The places we inhabit for hours or months are the muses we rely on as we unfurl ourselves. Each place, each new being we encounter, coaxes us out of the stories we’ve embodied for so long and invites us to do a little internal housekeeping. This journey into the world, but more so into ourselves, is working out beautifully. Bumps and all. 

If I were home, in my previous life, I’d not have been presented with a crisis exactly like the one that precipitated this change. I’d probably have gone back on the no dairy/no gluten path and would have only felt 35% better. Again. Then I would have fallen off that wagon because of feeling tempted by the office potluck, people making a solid case for comfort food being a primary joy in life or not wanting to be the high maintenance dinner guest.

I’ve learned to make magic in the kitchen as a result of this change. And I delight in everything I eat. It doesn’t just taste delicious; it makes me FEEL GOOD. For so long, meals, even the organic, local, gluten-free ones, left me feeling terrible.

I think the case for consuming foods that make us feel terrible is co-dependent. It’s like making a case for a relationship that is only enjoyable 10% of the time while 90% of the time, we feel exhausted by it. The temporary delight of my taste buds is vastly less important to me now than the delight of living in a body that feels vibrant and healthy. And, my taste buds aren’t suffering. Not in the least.

There will be times during our journey when being polite or feeling ridiculously hungry on a miserably long day of travel will mean I need to make exceptions in what I eat. That’s okay. I’ll treat those cases like I would a night out in my twenties and tend to the subsequent hangover with care. I figure if I can manage this kind of massive dietary change while traveling, it will be a breeze when we get home. Maybe not a breeze, but less challenging for sure. Plus, by then I’ll have some really witty comebacks for the well-meaning saboteurs.

So, the next time we share a meal together, please don’t be put off by my way of eating, celebrate it with me because it means I am not going to die from slowly poisoning myself with foods that are harmful to my health.  

One last thought . . . . Some doctors call what I am doing a “no” diet ("diet" in a medical sense, not in a losing weight sense). Referring to a free from known allergens diet as a “no diet” not only sets it up for patient to fail before they start, it’s backwards. Eating for wellness and to feel good is something to say YES to. I feel no loss about anything I’ve stopped eating. And when I feel habitual comfort food tempting my taste buds at a restaurant or market, I say it out loud, “I feel vulnerable about making healthy food choices.” And because I am fortunate to be married to my biggest champion, John replies with something like, “I hear you, I feel tempted too. I celebrate how the healthy choices you make leave you feeling better than you have in years.” And just like that, the temptation passes. I suspect if I didn’t say it out loud and I pushed it down—I’d probably pile some mashed potatoes and ice cream on top of it. 

All this to say, we’re happy, healthy and life is simple and rich. And, if you feel so inclined, we have a couple extra beds should you find yourself in Uruguay between now and August. If you do come to visit, we have a list of things for you to bring to us like coffee and shampoo.

Collecting wood for the fireplace (aka heater) by bike. 

Collecting wood for the fireplace (aka heater) by bike.