Pulling the Plug on South America, The Hell of Gluten Free Travel

I can’t eat gluten (wheat, barley and rye). I get really, really sick if I do. I’ve been diagnosed with Celiacs, and diagnosed with no allergies. No idea what is actually wrong with me, I just avoid gluten at all costs.

Not a problem in Boulder, but traveling is sometimes really tough because of this. Generally, there is almost always something on the menu for me to eat at a restaurant (salad, steak or rice as an example). When I’m eating at someones home, I have to kindly explain and ask a ton of questions in order to try and not get sick. Lots of reading of labels, asking what goes into the sauce etc.

In the States this isn’t a problem at all, in South America, it was a major one. Gluten is one of the cheaper fillers there is, so if you are a producer of something like corn meal, and you need to cut costs, you will add a bit of wheat flour.

Cartagena Colombia 2

The result of two months in South America was getting sick about once every six meals. It was like walking in a live minefield with a blindfold on thinking ‘this will be an experience’ and then after stepping on your 15th mine thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t be walking through this place.’

So I pulled the plug on South America. A lot have asked why, so I wrote this post. South America, I love you, but unless I just eat your fruit, we can’t be friends.

Ordering in my shaky spanish didn’t help the situation, I am sure, nor did the general non awareness of gluten free folks like me. Ordering without bread often got an eye roll from the wait staff. They would then bring the bread, and then prompt me to eat it after I pushed it away. When graciously invited into someones home, I would often have to just skip the meal as everything they had would make me sick. There is no way to properly sign or explain your gratitude to a meal and gensture you are rejecting.

That is really tough, and prohibits quite a bit on the road.

I’m 6’5″ 240 pounds and somehow have to get enough calories to power me through the day. Doing this can be daunting. There were several days where I skipped two meals, finding nothing I could eat. When you are this big, 600 calorie days can really cut into you. A few days of this trip I just had some fruit and a coke or two, then starving, tried something that should be gluten free, only to get really sick for the next few days.

If anyone has tips for gluten free travel, please let me know. I am sick of being sick, and am traveling to places where I can eat some of the food (if that exists).

A move to Thailand for the trip has been quite good. Fish sauce is the base for almost everything you see on a menu, so I have been living in the land of green curry and getting sick far less often (once every ten meals now).

Here is a vegetarian Pai Thai with chicken (ordering that way gets no fish sauce, but includes the chicken, and yes, it is very odd ordering that way every single time):

I’m reading travel books, and the highlight for many is really mingling with locals, being invited into their homes. This has been a highlight for me too, but I have to realize that there is a limit to what I can do.

The style of my travel evolves.

Here is the trip’s map and photos, if you are interested:

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