Amy’s T1D Adventure: Hablo Español! Almost…

Laguna (Lake)

[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.]

On the Road to Recovery

I was finally on the road to recovery (and a double course of antibiotics), my energy increasing and overall positive feelings coming back to my mind and body.

cemetery with flowers and temple/pyramidWhile being sick and feeling pretty darn sorry for myself, I managed to try and seek the positive out of my situation. What did being bed-ridden teach me? I needed to slow down and listen more to my body. Meditation really helps to calm and distract the mind from negative thoughts. Diabetes will be affected when you are sick and it’s okay, it’s only temporary — try and manage it day-to-day.

After having two days off from Spanish language school, on Saturday I needed to venture out before I went insane from solitary confinement in my apartment. I headed to Cementerio General; the cemeteries in Latin America are different from anything I’ve seen before. Families are buried in above ground mini temples, the place is filled with flowers and there is a more positive vibe about the place celebrating life.

Mayan woman cookingAfterwards I ventured through a street fair filled with lots of dried fish for sale (the smell was strong!), clothing, and random kitchen utensils. What I enjoyed the most was seeing Mayan women cooking large pots of traditional Guatemalan food in the street stalls. The smell wasn’t my favorite but the hard work by the women cooking, making tortillas and serving the food to the locals was something that brought a smile to my face.

Vegan Paradise

One Drop Daily BGs summaryMonday came in no time and I was back at Spanish school in full swing. Five hours a day from 8am to 1pm and then I had the afternoons to enjoy the town, browse the local stores, cook lots of delicious vegan dishes, and finally start to socialize and make some friends! Each day I’d start off with good BGs after breakfast and my 40 min walk to the school, but by the time I finished classes they would creep up to around 180 from sitting down and being inactive for such a long period of time. I worked with this by giving a small injection of around 2 units at 11am to counteract the slow rise.

The 40 minute walk home also did some wonders, allowing me to snack on some fresh fruit from the markets on the way. From my lack of exercise, my insulin to carb ratio had dropped down to between 1:10 and 1:15 and as I was starting to feel better my carbs increased and so did my total insulin.

I was keen to get back into some more intense exercise, in addition to the yoga classes I was doing during the week. Wednesday I met a local Guatemalan girl Mia who grew up in Canada. I frequented her parents’ health food store that had the likes of soy yoghurt, vegan cheese and kombucha – basically a vegan Mecca.

la Democracia Spanish schoolMia and I went to the gym in the evening and I did my first run in almost a month. Boy it felt so damn good. I ran 4.5 miles and was happy with how my body was feeling. I wasn’t sure how it would react, especially my BGs after not having done cardio exercise in such a long time. I finished my run at 92 mg/dL, so no room for complaints.

By Friday I was a little excited: I’d finished Spanish school! It was fun, a big learning curve, and also very challenging and tiring. I’d expanded my vocabulary and learnt more grammar than I think I know in English. It was definitely worthwhile and now I just needed to put it into practice!

High Altitude and High BGs

me and Clive before the hikeSaturday was an early start — met a fellow student and teacher outside our school at 7am for a hike up a volcano to Laguna Chicabal, a crater that turned into a sacred lake for the local Mayan people. The drive there was about 40mins and I was a little nervous about how my BGs would react being at high altitude (2,900m) — many diabetics experience increased insulin resistance and higher BGs at high altitudes. I started the walk at 90 mg/dL, ate a banana, and we hiked for 2-hour up a very steep volcano!

Boy it was steep, I managed to only fall once and made it to the top with little effect on my breathing with the increase in altitude. Once we reached the top we had a very steep climb down 600 stairs to the Laguna. And wow, it was totally worth it. We even got to see a local Mayan ceremony taking place beside the lake. It was beautiful, very magical and spiritual.

After an hour absorbing the lake’s atmosphere, we were ready to tackle the 600 stairs back up to the top of the volcano. I started this part on a with a BG of 220 mg/dL and 2 units of insulin. Now I felt the altitude! Those steps were hard. The 2-hour trip back down was more relaxed, with lots of laughs, Spanglish, and me of course falling a few more times on the steeper parts again! About 1 mile from reaching the bottom, I could feel my BGs crashing and my legs were feeling like jelly. I grabbed my stash of dried cranberries from my backpack and elegantly shoved them in my face. When we finished the hike I was exhausted, but it was definitely a challenge worth it. My favorite view was of the other volcanoes that surround Xela.


My BG was 60 mg/dL when we finished the hike and it slowly continued to rise once I was back in the car on the way home.

Fries, Bread, Honey, and Bananas…

My last few days in Guatemala where more social, which I really needed. Sunday was dinner with my friend Mia and some of her work colleagues at a not-very-vegan-friendly sports bar. Mia and I (fellow vegans) had fries!

Surprisingly my post-meal BG was 95 mg/dL (yes!), but of course with the fat in the fries they slowly crept up during the night and I had to give 4 units of Novorapid at around 1am to wake up at a good number.

Monday came, and Mia and I met up for dinner again — this time Mediterranean. Hummus, delicious bread (which I couldn’t so no to), and some sweet peppers cooked in honey. I way over-estimated the carbs I ate and by the time we’d finished, my BG was a very low 39 mg/dL! Eeek! More honey and bananas back at my apartment. I guess a double dinner for me…

Off to Ecuador!

Tuesday was my last day in Xela: running errands, including buying a new meter and enough test strips to last me for 2 months. (I’d been testing up to 20 times a day when I was sick and burning through test strips like crazy.) $230 USD later and I was re-stocked to hopefully take me through the end of my trip!

I was glad I got to explore Xela a little in my last week here, make a new friend, and finally recover from that sneaky parasite.

I’m excited for a month in Ecuador next! Exploring the capital city, staying alongside the Amazon, and visiting a unique historical town before I venture onto Peru! Stay tuned!



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.