So I’ve spent the weekend (in Vienna, Austria, of all places!) talking about diabetes.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about diabetes so much in my life!
Together with 49 other journalists from all over the world (as far afield as Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Scandinavia and Turkey), we discussed all kinds of things relating to diabetes – what the best way is to get the word out about the condition, how to communicate with patients so that they realise the necessity of compliance, the differences between first and third world countries in their approach to diabetes and, interestingly for me, the stigma attached to being diabetic. I have to say, I’ve never felt at all discriminated against because I have diabetes. A couple of people were saying that it’s a big deal for the diabetics they know to inject in public – that they avoid it at all costs. I not only inject in restaurants and cafes, but, lately, as we’ve travelled around Thailand, in train stations, on buses, on the side of the street and in busy street markets. It’s not really a choice, you know – when I eat, I need to inject. And I think there are ways of doing it surreptitiously…
There was also a fascinating panel of diabetics (Type 1 and 2) talking about their daily lives – the challenges and practicalities of living with diabetes. Fascinating stuff, especially for me, because it gave me such a new perspective on the condition, on how other people live with it and how it has changed their lives.
We were all here for the workshop (run by Novo Nordisk, an insulin company who’s doing really impressive work with diabetes), but also for the announcement of the international winner of the Novo Nordisk Media Prize. I was holding fingers and thumbs that I would win (the money attached to the prize would have made the next 8 months a LOT easier!) but, alas, they chose a more traditional journalistic story – a newspaper article from Italy with a lot of practical, scientific information.
Although I was disappointed not to win the prize, the weekend has been so great for making contacts with people who know a lot about diabetes, and work in the field of diabetes outreach. I’ve met some incredibly passionate people, and a couple who are really excited about our journey, and want to help us make contact with diabetic associations in all the various countries we’re visiting. Very exciting stuff!
Physically, though, it’s been quite a tough weekend for me. I arrived at 5am (local time) on Friday morning, after having caught a 10 hour overnight flight from Bangkok, with a 5 hour time difference. The hotel room wasn’t ready for me by the time I arrived at about 6.15am, so I set off to wander the streets of Vienna as soon as the sun rose… It was beautiful, actually, wandering around getting lost and found again, looking at the incredible architecture and having a little breakfast picnic by a fountain in a park. The food has been AMAZING! I didn’t realise how much I’d missed bread until I bit into a roll on the plane and tears came into my eyes…
I’ve been eating a lot of bread.
So I wandered around till about half ten, and then I thought I was going to collapse from exhaustion – jet lag kicked in big time. I managed to check in and slept for a couple of hours, and then went to see a stunning Klimt exhibition (including the original of The Kiss – wow) in a restored palace amongst manicured lawns. A million miles from Bangkok, as you can imagine!
On Saturday I also spent the day walking around (pretty much all day), following some of the path of one of my favourite movies of all time – Before Sunrise. Jet lag has been a killer, though. A 5 hour difference doesn’t seem that bad, but I suppose combined with the amount of traveling I’ve been doing lately, and the late nights and poor sleep on the plane it’s all added up… I’ve been feeling really tired and quite headachey and fuzzy, and I’m sure it’s not doing my blood sugar any favours – I’ve had a couple of surprising readings. But not all surprising, so I can’t blame it on my insulin! It’s not hot enough for anything to have happened to my insulin, anyway, the weather has been lovely and cool.
This morning, for instance, I’ve been taking it realllly easy. I went downstairs for a big breakfast (of largely healthy stuff – cereal, bread, fruit and yoghurt) and then spent the rest of the morning lying down reading, gathering my strength for my late-night flight tonight… I just tested my blood sugar now, and although I took what I thought was enough insulin at breakfast, it’s sky high! Very irritating. So now I have to try and figure out what the problem is… Is it hormonal? Should I switch insulin pens just in case? Can I afford to do that seeing as I have a large but limited amount of insulin? Is it because I’ve been so active and now I spent a morning lying down? (I think that’s probably it). But that sucks, cause it means that I’ve somehow managed to turn into one of those fit people who need to be on the move for their blood sugar to stay down. No good! I liked the lazier version of me
Maybe it’s a combination of all of these, and some other unknown factors. That’s the problem with diabetes – you never really know. I’ll keep a close eye on it and if I stay strangely high I’ll take a new insulin pen out before I fly this evening.
For now, though, Vienna awaits! My last taste of the first world for a few months… See you back in Thailand.
So we’ve been by the sea for nearly a week, and I have to say I love it. Absolutely love it! Forget cities, forget towns, I love love love being by the sea. I always knew this, of course, but now I’m 100% sure.
We arrived in the sleepy seaside town of Ban Krut last week – exhausted, sweaty, a little strung out. Sick of being on the move. 5 nights later we emerged (like butterflies out of a cocoon!) rested, relaxed, happy and calm. We’ve spent the last six days getting enough sleep, swimming in the sea, waking up early to watch the sunrise, eating delicious food, reading a lot and spending real quality time with each other. Most days we had a vague itinerary when we woke up (rent a motorbike and explore the surrounds, walk the length of the beach, do some photographic or writing work), but nothing too strenuous. We left plenty of time for afternoon naps and long picnic lunches and spontaneous swims…
It was a delight! Which was why I was so surprised to wake up on Monday feeling down. Nothing specific, nothing related to traveling or being away from home (I went through the checklist and none of the possible problems rang true). Just a bit… off. Now, my initial impulse was to say, “How could you possibly be feeling down? Look around you! You’re in a beach paradise!” but I decided not to fight against it (what’s the point when you’re already not feeling great?) and spend the morning lying in our little air-conditioned bungalow, watching movies on TV. I gave in to feeling down.
And wouldn’t you know it, a couple of hours later I got up for lunch and felt much better. I think maybe I just needed some nothing-time. Weirdly enough, I remember having a conversation about this exact thing with a friend who asked how we’d avoid burn-out. I said, “If we need to take a day out watching TV we will – no problem!” When it came down to it, though, I actually felt a little guilty… Isn’t that silly?
Of course, not having to move around so much has also made it a lot easier to keep an eye on my diabetes, and get back into tighter control. When you’re hopping between trains and buses and walking unknown distances it’s not a good idea to be too tightly in control, but when you’re in one place it’s easier to make sure my blood glucose readings are closer to what they should be. This also means, though, that I’ve had more lows this week than at any other time during the trip. I hate lows! I’m sure all diabetics do…
So we had a blissful (for the most part) six days in Ban Krut, and then got an opportunity at the last minute to spend a night on Koh Talu Island, less than an hour away – a private island with a low-key resort and a truly inspiring coral regeneration project. I’ll be writing about it soon, I’ll keep you posted. We had such a wonderful time there – snorkeling, swimming, and finding out all about the project (see Mark in snorkeling mode here!)
And now we’re about to catch our train back to Bangkok (no running to catch it this time, thank you very much – we’re going to be very early!) Tomorrow night I head off to Vienna for the Novo Nordisk International Diabetes Media Prize Conference (keep your fingers crossed for me!) and on Friday morning Mark will fulfil a long-held dream and go to Singapore to watch the F1 Grand Prix live (the ticket is a little early-birthday-gift from me).
So it’s an exciting couple of days ahead! I’ll keep you updated when I can…
The torrential downpours in Sukhothai continued… late into the night. I know because we caught a bus out of the (open-sided) bus station at 10pm, and we were there from 8pm, so we witnessed the truly ferocious rain. It’s no wonder all the ruins in the old city had pockmarks – that rain would pockmark your skin!
After an extremely comfortable overnight bus ride, we arrived in Bangkok at the ungodly hour of 3.56am. We caught a taxi to the train station, and then sat down to wait till 8am, when our train was set to leave and carry us down the coast to Ban Krut, our tropical paradise. Only, the train was fully booked.
Imagine, if you will, what it felt like to be told at 4.30am that you were too late (too late!) and that the train you were going to wait 3 and a half hours for was full, and not only did the next one not leave for another 5 hours, but it was a slow train so it would take an extra 2 hours to get there! All of a sudden our easy 1pm arrival was pushed to 7pm, and we were faced with an 8 hour wait in a grimy, crowded and airless train station.
I was not pleased.
But neither was I freaking out – which would definitely have been my default reaction before this trip. Mark helped a lot, he was totally calm and relaxed, and resigned to the fact that we would just have to sit tight till the next train arrived. “It’s like a lay-over,” he said, but I couldn’t help thinking of all the things airports had that this station didn’t – aircon, padded seats, internet, shops, etc etc etc
I started getting severely antsy around 7.45am, and on a whim I said to Mark, “I wonder if there are any cancellations, do you think we should check?” He ambled off to the ticket counter without much hope, but by 7.52am he was transferred to another ticket counter, and the clerk there didn’t shake his head immediately… In fact, he looked quite hopeful. 7.57am, and as the 3-minute call sounded we got our tickets – somehow they had found two spare tickets! I nearly cried I was so happy. Of course we then had to buy water for the 5 hour journey, and that cost us a precious minute and a half, so that as we ran to the platform the train started pulling away. Dragging our bags behind us, tripping over untied laces, racing to reach the platform, we called out to the conductor, and thank God in Heaven he slowed down for us and let us on the train.
You can see why we haven’t blogged since – we needed to catch our breath!
We’ve spent the last five days in beautiful Ban Krut Beach. It’s a long stretch of white sand with a blissfully warm sea, loads of palm trees, and hardly any people around. We’ve been spending our days taking long walks on the beach, reading voraciously (we’ve both finished a book this week), eating a lot, relaxing, taking afternoon naps and getting painfully sunburnt (this sun is HOT). It’s been such a balm for the soul, and I’ll write more about what’s been going on in my head tomorrow…
For now, we have all these delicious Best Moments of the Day for you – http://bit.ly/1amRtW
Check them out, and let me know what you think!
The last few days have been so. freaking. hot. Boiling, sweating, too-hot-to-breathe hot… Not really the kind of weather you want to be cycling around ancient ruins in, although it does provide a great excuse to lie down in the middle of the day!
We arrived in Sukhothai, a city filled with ancient ruins, two days ago, and promptly hired bicycles to cycle around the town and the historical park (where all the most impressive ruins are). There’s an Old City and a New City to Sukhothai, but Old City is definitely the way to go – it’s right next to the ruins, so you can catch them early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when all the tour buses have left… Excellent!
Cycling around ancient ruins is a pretty wonderful way to spend a morning or an afternoon, let me tell you… We decided to picnic in the park for dinner last night, and it was such a surreal feeling, sitting next to these crumbling stone structures, thousands of years old, and eating chicken. An afternoon to remember…
Today we’re packing up and getting our things in order for the next haul – Sukhothai to Bangkok by bus tonight (7 hours, 10.30pm to 5.30am eep!) and then Bangkok to Ban Krut, a supposedly beautiful and unspoilt beach in the South, by train at 8am tomorrow morning. As if the heavens pitied us for the amount of traveling we’re about to do, the clouds opened about an hour ago, pouring torrential rain over the city and allowing us to cool down for the first time in days… Simply heavenly to feel a cool breeze!
The heat isn’t only a bother because it makes us hot, of course. It also makes carrying insulin around really tricky – especially when you’re riding a bicycle in the open sun! I had some crazy high readings yesterday and the night before, that didn’t make sense given the amount of exercise we were doing and the amount of carbs I was eating, and I realised it was because my insulin must have reached temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius, and deactivated. It’s happened to me once or twice before, and I find it so frustrating. Especially when I’m being good and eating the right kind of food, and it’s not even my fault that my blood sugar goes high!
It’s all sorted out now, though, thank goodness – that’s the advantage of bringing far too much insulin on a trip like this, I can easily throw away a bad one and get a fresh pen from my cooler bag.
So now! Adventures await. First on the list is lunch, there’s a yummy fried rice and vegetables lady down the road who’s been calling my name for the last half an hour… (Figuratively, of course!)
See you soon!
I think the trick, while traveling around the world for the next nine months, is going to be creating temporary homes wherever we go.
For the first couple of days we were constantly on the move – two nights here, two nights there – and it was exhausting. We didn’t feel like we could find our place anywhere.
This week, though, we’ve been in one place – beautiful Chiang Dao, for five nights and six days, and really made a little home of it. It’s been so wonderful to get to know the area, and the people, and to have a sense of familiarity about our surroundings.
I’m really quite sad to leave.
Even more than the familiarity, though, this week has been full to bursting with incredible experiences. We’ve explored the monastery down the road (it was amazing), hiked through the forest (it was very muddy and steep!), discovered the inner workings of the Chiang Dao caves, cooked our own Thai red coconut curries and, this morning, rode an elephant through the Thai forest, followed by a bamboo ride down the river.
I feel, especially today, but all week, really, like the luckiest girl in the world. The sun has been shining every day (despite it being the rainy season), we’ve eaten such good food, met some lovely people, and really got a sense of what Thailand is really like. Chiang Dao is such a special part of the country, it’s away from the hustle and bustle, and away from people trying to sell you things and crowds of tourists everywhere you look. When we’ve walked through the forest, we’ve been the only ones there. Riding the elephant this morning, we didn’t see a foreigner for hours. It’s been simply wonderful.
Being in one place has also made it easier for me to assess my blood sugar control, and I’m pleased to say it’s doing well. Slightly high when I over-compensate for the amount of exercise I’m doing, but I’d rather it was slightly high than risk going low when I’m out in the wilderness, or experiencing something amazing and then have to feel that horrible disorientated feeling. The one thing I’ve really noticed that’s different about how we’re travelling now and how we’d be travelling if I weren’t diabetic, is that we have to plan meals ahead a lot of the time. Before I would have been quite happy to set out for the day not knowing where we’ll be at mealtimes, but now I have to be quite specific about when I’ll be able to get food, and if it’s the right kind of food.
Still, if that’s the worst of my worries, I’m not complaining at all!!
(If you’d like to see what I mean when I say we’ve been having some incredible experiences, please check out our 30 to 40 second videos of The Best Moment of the Day, here: http://bit.ly/FIlv9 )