Amy’s T1D Adventure: New Year’s in Chiapas

Sunset at La Playa!

[Here’s a guest post series from Amy McKinnon, a One Drop user and 27-year-old ex-advertising executive who recently swapped her NYC apartment for an oversized backpack to explore the streets of Latin America for six months. Amy has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years and tries her best to balance blood glucose levels, marathon training and a high-carb raw vegan diet. Now she has thrown travel into the mix. EDITOR’S NOTE: Amy is a performance athlete and consumes a high-carb diet. At One Drop, we believe that a low-carb approach to food reduces the risk of high and low blood glucose incidents and can effectively reduce blood glucose levels overall. However, we want to share a variety of personal experiences so we can all learn how other people live their lives with diabetes. Always consult your doctor before making changes to a prescribed regimen.]

Time to meet Aldo!

After 2 flights, 4-hours in transit, way too much food, and a bit of a T1D roller coaster… I finally landed in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, Mexico. I was exhausted but very excited. I had been connected with Aldo through my friend who lived in Mexico City – one of the benefits of having friends who live all over the world! I would be staying with Aldo and his mom for the month of January.

We greet with smiles, hugs and some giggles after realizing my Spanish and his English were on a similar level. His Mom welcomed me with open arms and FOOD (a deeply engraved tradition of Mexico: eat, eat, eat and then eat some more).

After a snack of guacamole and corn chips, they take me out for a tamale, laughing at the fact that I don’t eat carne, pollo, pescado, queso, crema or anything from an animal. Meat and cheese are a staple of the Mexican diet, and vegetables are consumed rarely, perhaps hidden in a taco or torta.

We order tamales at a tiny corner store and sit down to enjoy with some homemade horchata (sweetened rice milk). As I open my vegetable tamale I see something that slightly resembles chicken…..luckily I caught it before it reached my mouth! A vegan tamale was successfully ordered on the second attempt. This was the first of many corn-based meals for me — corn is in every Mexican food, drink … pretty much anything you can put in your mouth has corn in it. I bolus for my tamale on top of the chips and guacamole and know all the fat and carbs in the meal are probably going to shoot up my blood glucose overnight.

Even with our limited ability to communicate verbally, I know my time in Chiapas is going to be full of love, generosity, kindness and selflessness.

A world away from home…

Aldo and his mom work at a parking station in the center of Tuxtla, where they also live in a house which is small even by New York studio apartment standards.

The one room has everything — bunk beds, cooking stove, fridge, wardrobe & small dinning table. The bathroom is outside, with running water 2-3 days a week and hot water for showering comes from a bucket. This was very simple living on a very limited budget, but it did not inhibit any happiness, joy or generosity, which flowed freely from the family. I was so grateful for this opportunity to share their home, traditions and culture. A world away from my privileged upbringing in Australia and life in New York City…

Feasting in Cintalapa (and some T1D challenges!)

Before I knew it, it was New Year’s Eve! This meant catching a 2-hour bus to a very small town outside of Tuxtla called Cintalapa where the wider family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived — 40 or so in total. Still a bit overwhelmed by everything, I was in a daze and my blood glucose levels were on the higher side. I find this happens when a lot I have less control over my food, exercise and eating times. When I am on my own, it is a lot easier to organize and control this and generally results in much tighter blood glucose control.

With a blood glucose around 200 mg/dl and my correction dose on board, we arrive in Cintalapa and visit some family members where the first thing they do is hand over some food! I have an orange, corn bread covered with honey, and pineapple chunks with chili sauce (it tastes way better than you may be thinking).

The challenge of course was counting the carbs — all I knew was that there were plenty of them!

Religious shrine in Aldo's homeAs we settled at Aldo’s grandparents home where the evening events would take place, I decided to set a goal of aiming to keep my blood glucose on the slightly higher side – between 90 & 180. Let’s see how this goes!

For the rest of the afternoon we visited what felt like every family in the whole town, welcomed with lots of hugs, kisses and questions about Australia, being vegan and how am I so tall (I’m 5’9”). It was such an overwhelming incredible start to wrapping up 2015 and the celebrations hadn’t even begun.

As we arrive back at the grandparents home well after dark, the food is still being prepared and people are starting to arrive. Most of the food is meat, tortillas, cheese, bread and enough Coca-Cola to fill a river. My dinner consisted of tortillas, corn chips and salad of lettuce, tomato and avocado. After dinner, my blood glucose was sitting around 180, so it wasn’t too bad.

New Year’s traditions

Me and the girls, all made upI spent half the night outside with the many children throwing fire crackers on the street, attempting to dance to salsa music — the Mexicans had moves I couldn’t compete with. Some of the young girls wanted to dress me up in a party dress and high heels, as I’m casually wearing jeans, so they take me around the corner to another house and play Barbie with me, laughing without a word of English being spoken.

Lighting balloons for New Year'sAs midnight edges closer, we light paper balloons and release them into the sky – a good luck tradition. And as we ring in the new year, we walk around wishing each other “Feliz año nuevo” (Happy New Year) with more hugs and kisses being shared.

By 2am my blood glucose is 90 and it’s time to squeeze in a small snack of dried apples and head to bed. What an incredible unique way to start 2016! As I lie in bed exhausted, I am so grateful for this experience, one that I will hold in my heart for a long time.

New Year’s Day starts nice and early around 8am, heading to La Playa 2 hours away. 8 of us pile into a 5-seater car with bags of food, towels and swimsuits and we are on our way (with a great blood glucose of 123!). Squished in between my friend’s mom and grandmother for the long drive, we stop along the way for some fresh mango slices covered in chili sauce – everything is eaten with chili in Mexico! It was so delicious and refreshing.

On to La Playa!

On a banana boat!We meet up with some more family and pull up along table at a restaurant right on the beach. My friend tells me that people at this beach wear their clothes in the water because they are embarrassed by their bodies. He was right about that. Everyone was wearing full t-shirts and shorts in the water. It was such a shame that people did not have the confidence to wear swimmers in the beach and be proud of their bodies. I dipped in and out of the water amongst eating and drinking — small serving of fries, cantaloupe, black beans and some apples.

More lounging at the beachIn the afternoon it was time for some fun – 3 of us decided to ride a beach banana out in the ocean being pulled along by a boat!

Side note: I had decided to wear my pump to the beach and just remove it when I decided to go into the water or do activities that involved getting wet. I felt it was easier to manage my insulin requirements, ad hoc eating, and exercise with my pump. With injections, once you give your dose there is no going back. With the pump you can suspend, give a little extra, or change your basal rate. I really love the flexibility of the pump.

Next on the list was riding a 4-wheel bike along the beach. My two friends started off driving like snails, when it was my turn I hit the accelerator and there were some girly screams behind me. It was nice to have the wind flowing across my face, refreshing from the beaming sun.

Hanging out at the beach

One Drop blood glucose log (T1D)By the end of the day we were all exhausted but decided to stick around to see the magic of the sun setting on the ocean. What a way to start 2016, surrounded by strangers who felt like family, being embraced from the moment they met me. It felt good, I felt good, and I knew this year was off to the perfect start.

And even with some rocky blood glucose levels, I was content.

Now it was time to return to Tuxtla!

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Amy McKinnon
Amy McKinnon

Amy McKinnon is a One Drop user, marathoner, ex-advertising executive, and has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years. Amy is currently exploring the streets of Latin America for six months.