Clumsiness has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Thanks Ataxia! Tripping and falling is what I do best. You could say I have become a master at it. Not like that’s something you really want to master, but this gal has!
That being said, traveling to certain places are more challenging than others and Colombia well…It’s a beautiful, amazing country, but an obstacle course for anyone who is clumsy.
Spoiler Alert: After this trip, I may never hike again.
It’s a country that attracts adrenaline seekers and adventurous travelers who spend their time trekking to lost cities and waterfalls or climbing up strenuous mountains to get the best views. Things that I could never do due to my condition and the fact that I would probably fall and die. No thank you!
Despite the adventurous side of Colombia, I managed to have a great time. I challenged myself just enough and did activities that I realized after doing them that I WILL NEVER DO AGAIN.
Now, whenever I travel to a new destination, I always like to write a post about what traveling that destination is like with Ataxia and Colombia was definitely a place that tested my limits but I finished my trip feeling stronger and proud of all that I accomplished.
The Heat is not my Friend
The heat to me, is like peanut butter and mayonnaise. We DO NOT go together. Although some people might argue that those two condiments do go together but that's a discussion for another time.
Ataxia has many triggers and heat is one that affects myself and many others. When I get too hot or just exposed to the sun for too long I get something called Ataxic episodes or Ataxic Attacks. It's a type of migraine that lasts anywhere from a few hours to a day or more. And as you can imagine getting one…SUCKS.
When I get a migraine, I get very dizzy, nauseous, my head throbs and it feels like I am getting hit in the head with a hammer or stabbed with a knife. As you can imagine, it's incredibly painful. When one hits the only cure is to sleep for the duration of my migraine. Even if I am not tired because just sitting up causes the room to spin and my nausea to elevate. Fun right?
When I decided to visit Colombia I knew it was going to be hot but I didn't know how hot until I exited the airport in Cartagena. It was a freaking Sauna. Worse than a sauna
As soon as I got out of the airport I rushed to get a taxi so I could get to my hostel as quickly as possible.
When I got to my hostel I quickly checked in and went in search of air conditioning or an outlet to plug in the portable fan I pack.ed That fan by the way was a life saver! I probably would have had way more migraines without it.
*Cue dramatic music*
I should note that when I was diagnosed with ataxia I started taking medication that can get rid of my migraines altogether. It did work for several years but recently I started getting attacks again. I forgot how much they hurt until I got one a few years ago after being migraine free for 8 years.
When you Think you have Food Poisoning but it's Actually an Attack
My first day in Cartagena started like any normal day would. I booked a coffee tour in the morning and a food tour in the afternoon. I was ready to explore this city that has been on my bucket list for so long.
Coffee has long been a trigger for ataxic migraines, but since I didn’t get them often I was going to take the risk. I had to try the amazing Colombian coffee I have heard so much about.
On the tour, I tried 3 different coffees and felt great after the tour ended. As I was walking back to my hostel I felt a bit sick like I was going to throw up. I didn’t think much of it. I thought, “I am in a new country trying new food so it’s probably food poisoning.”
I was going to take a nap before my food tour; hoping it would pass by the time I woke up.
I did lay down but couldn’t sleep so when I had to leave for my food tour I did. I still felt horrible but I paid for this tour therefore, I did not want to miss it. Luckily, the meeting point was only a few steps from where I was staying.
When I arrived to meet my guide the pain escalated immensely. I thought, “I can’t do this tour. I can’t do it.”
When the guide started speaking I had my head down. I couldn’t look up. I had no idea what the guide was saying but when he finished I told him I was feeling ill and if I can reschedule for tomorrow. He was really nice about it. He said I could do the tour the next day.
Since my hostel was a 3 minute walk from where I was I rushed back. I couldn’t wait to plop myself on my bed and doze off.
Well, that was easier said than done. The room felt like a sauna and the only thing I had to keep me somewhat cool was my portable fan.
I laid down for hours unable to sleep. I was certain I had food poisoning. What else could it have been?
I called my mom in so much pain and she was the one who said what I had sounded like an attack. I thought, no way! I have been taking my medication and haven’t had too many since I started taking it.
The more I thought about it the more it made since. All the pain I was feeling, nausea, dizziness were all symptoms of a typical ataxic attack.
The only thing to do was try and sleep, hoping it would pass in a few hours.
My attack ended up lasting more than 12 hours. 12 miserable hours. The next morning I felt much better.
It was a horrible way to start my trip and hoped the rest of my time in Colombia was migraine free and it was!
I am Never Hiking Again
I have never been much of a hiker. In fact, I have always hated it because hiking for me is more of an obstacle course rather than an activity that's enjoyable to do.
I know it probably seems like I use my condition as an excuse way too much but Ataxia does make from doing a lot of activities really difficult. I would love to enjoy hiking and be able to climb steep mountains, or trek in the jungle but what's the point if I am too focused on where I step rather than the surrounding area I am hiking through.
Sometimes I don't even understand my condition. There could be bulging rocks on the ground right in front of me or a few inches in front of me and I won't be able to see them unless I look down. That mixed with my lack of balance makes hiking a challenge.
In Colombia, I decided to hike because it's such a lush, green and beautiful country I wanted to see and experience Colombia's nature. Everytime I wanted to go on a hike, I would ask the receptionist at whatever hostel I was staying at what the difficulty level is of said hike. I always got the same answer back. “Yes, it's easy.”
Spoiler Alert: Each hike I did was definitely not easy
I learned that if I am told a hike is easy, it's probably not and I probably shouldn't even attempt it because I will end up being a miserable falling hot mess. I speak from experience.
Anyway, I ended up doing three hikes. Don't ask me why I didn't stop after struggling with the first one, but in the end I am proud of myself. I completed three difficult hikes and I didn't die, so that's an accomplishment in itself.
Here are the hikes I did and the length of time it took me to complete them:
- Tayrona National Park (6 hours round trip)
- Valle De Cocora (7 hours round trip)
- Cloud Forest (2 hours round trip)
Most people would have completed these hikes in half the time I did. I have learned my lesson! I am never hiking again!
Sidewalks are Made for Walking…and Tripping
Cobblestoned streets, uneven pavement and narrow sidewalks are three things that give Ataxians nightmares and Cartagena was filled with them. Cartagena is an old city founded in 1533 and a UNESCO world heritage site so you know it's a freaking gorgeous city but a difficult one to walk around with Ataxia.
It's again, like an obstacle course because I had to dodge people like a car dodges traffic so I wouldn't fall into them because the sidewalks and streets were tiny! I can't even begin to imagine what peak season is like. Just thinking about it stresses me out.
If the streets got too crowded I would pop into one of the many cute cafes located all over the city and read my book for a bit while they cleared out.
I tripped a lot in Cartagena but didn't get any injuries that were too serious just some bruises. I am used to bruises thoug, so much so that when I was younger I thought it was normal to have bruises on your legs and thought people who didn't were weird. Now I know I am the weird one!
Colombia has Amazing Coffee but I can't Enjoy it
Ahh yes, the delicious Colombian coffee that unfortunately I could not have too often. I know earlier in the post I mentioned a coffee tour and I was a bit of a rebel and did a few coffee farm tours in Salento as well which is the coffee region in Colombia, but having a migraine is not worth drinking a cup of coffee for no matter how good it is.
Luckily, I only had that one really bad migraine my first day after my coffee tour. I can feel when my attacks are coming on. I can feel them lurking in the back of my head so if I get that feeling I stop drinking immediately.
After the coffee farm tours in Salento we just got a tiny cup of coffee so I didn't drink as much on those tours than I did on the tour I took in Cartagena on my first day. I can enjoy coffee in moderation.
Stress & Anxiety is Everywhere
If you are someone that doesn't get stressed from traveling than kudos to you! Unfortunately, the majority of us do. I mean, anything can go wrong. Passports can get stolen, planes get delayed making you miss your connection, you might be missing important documents. It's an endless list of possibilities!
I for one was stressed about visiting Colombia by myself. I was worried about safety, how I would get to my hotel, how I would manage with my big a$$ suitcase. It was just a big stress party going on in my head and I for one did not ask to be invited!
I truly believe the attack I had that first day was triggered partly from the stress I was feeling the day before (because suprise suprise stress and anxiety can trigger me to have an attack.) Everything went perfectly fine but sometimes it's easier thinking of the worst case scenario instead of relaxing and waiting until you arrive to your destination.
Stress & anxiety have a way of lingering in the mind when it should not be! Now, I am thinking of the movie Inside Out.
There needs to be a stress character!