A lot of great people left comments that I wasn't able to respond to on the road, so here goes:
( Also, now that I'm back and settled, expect some more detailed posts about the trip soon, with photos! In short, though, it was completely amazing, and I felt pretty good all in all. Hooray!)
Simone- I totally hear you. I refuse to let RA take away my life or take over my life. We were diagnosed about the same time, so we are both coming up on a year! It's bad enough having this at 29, 24 has got to be even worse! It sounds like you are staying upbeat, though. Thanks for leaving a comment-that is exactly why I started this blog. I mean, we may as well laugh when we can...
Sheryl- You just rocked my traveling world!!! I am totally getting one of these wallets for my enbrel. I didn't tend up taking my meds with me in South America as my Dr. wanted my immune system at full capacity while I was in the Amazon, but these are going to make my life so much easier!!!! Thanks for letting me know, and I'm also excited to find your blog!! And yes, saying F*** you to the RA always feels good!
Catherine- the photos are on their way....
Raphael- I felt pretty good for the whole trip, actually, and didn't have to take the prednisone (hooray!) at all. My neck and toe threw some tantrums here and there, but nothing that was prohibitive. I'm amazed (and hopeful) that you could go 3 or 4 months with no shots and feel OK. Where were you in the Middle East? I've not been, but have a friend living in Dubai and it sounds amazing.
Audrey- yay-so glad you found me, and that I could offer you some laughs.Brazil is great. I've only been to Rio, but would love to get back there and see more of it (didn't make it there on this trip). And, so glad to also discover your blog! Have fun on your vacation!
Jennifer- Yes, I think that is going to be one of my 'mental break' moments as well. In fact, I'm taking one now...
A Child of God - I hope you do take a trip! It is probably the best thing I've ever done, and definitely the best thing I've done for myself post-RA. Let me know where you go!
Millicent - thanks for all your encouragement! I can't wait to share the photos with you.
5:30am: Awaken to the sound of red howler monkeys outside your cabin. Wonder if a giant washing maching has taken over the jungle, or possibly a spaceship landing. Realize it is really just the crazy red howler monkeys.Try desperately to go back to sleep since you got up at 4:30am the day before.
6:30am: Give up trying to sleep and climb out of your mosquito netted-cot. Get ready for the day with no hot water or electricity. (Which means no shower. Again.) Put on the same clothes you´ve been wearing for the last 48 hours in the jungle.
7:30am: Traipse by lemon trees and macaws on your way to the main lodge for a breakfast of fresh squeezed juices, hot tea and eggs.
8:30am: Hop into a long, narrow jungle boat and cruise down the Tambopata river, spotting macaws along the way and enjoying the breeze off the water.
9:30am: Disembarque at a small little port and walk down a plank onto the rocks of the river. Climb into a van and enjoy a bumpy ride down a dirt road lined with palm trees and jungle-y bushes.
10:30am: Arrive at the Puerto Maldonado airport, which consists of basically two rooms: one for checking in, and one for waiting. The security ´machine´for your carry on luggage is a person who asks if you have anything illegal or dangerous in your bag. Say no. Begin marathon day of traveling and waiting on your way to Igauzu falls, Argentina.
11:30am: Still waiting. Have a beer. What the hell else is there to do?
12:30pm: Still waiting......
1:30pm: On board flight 1 of 3 for the day, headed towards Lima.
3:30pm: Arrive in Lima and find out that you can´t check in for your 9:40pm flight until 6:30pm. Do the math while carrying a massively heavy backpack and two other bags and feel like crying but resist. Find out you can store your luggage and still access the restaurants and shops in the airport without a boarding pass and feel much happier.
4:30pm: Give up and eat at McDonalds as it is either that or Papa John´s, so what is a girl to do?
5:30pm: Peruse airport book store and find they have a harrowing sample of English books. Settle instead for gossipy magazine and Cosmo, which you haven´t read since you were 15. Proceed with taking the ´100 questions about Sex´quiz with your friends and feel appalled by some of the advice Cosmo gives.
6:30pm: With backpack from hell firmly attached to back, go to check in for flight number 2 and find that there is still no check in counter assigned to your flight. Get in a line anyway and hope for the best.
7:30pm: Take out money from an ATM in order to pay the $30 airport tariff. Again.
8:30pm: Head for security and the gate for flight #2.
9:30pm: Realize that your flight is not leaving on time since you are still sitting there and they haven´t started boarding yet.
10:30pm: Eat ´dinner,´which consists of overboiled bowtie pasta with a velveeta-like substance and deli ham while watching horrible romantic comedy on board flight 2 of 3.
11:30pm: Think you are going to die as the plane dips precariously and wavers in the air. Clutch seat and curse yourself for not taking your xanax.
12:30am: Plane dips precariously and shakes, making doomsday noises. Turbulence abounds.
1:30am\3:30am: Touch down without crashing. Set clock forward two hours to Argentina time.
4:30am:En route via taxi from the international airport at Buenos Aires to the domestic airport for flight 3 of 3.
5:30am: Stand in check out line behind 3 huge groups and fall asleep while sitting on backpack from hell.
6:30am: Drink coffee in vain attempt to stay awake.
7:30am: Board final flight.
8:30am: Puzzle at the group of rowdy Spanish-speaking tourists on board the flight who are taking pictures of one another on the plane.
9:30am: Wait endlessly for your luggage to appear. Feel as though you have been run over by a truck.
10:30am: Arrive at the very heavenly Sheraton Inn, a beacon of all things good and wondrous, in Igauzu Falls. Be stunned by views of the Falls from the lobby window and congratulate yourself on the very wise decision to stay here.
11:30am: Shower. With hot water and lots of lights on in the bathroom. Adore the fluffy white towels.
12:30pm: Turn to putty as you get a massage in the lovely spa and practically fall asleep.
1:30pm: Sit poolside listening to the rush of the Falls behind you and sip a caipirinha while basking in the sun. Feel that life is very good. Very, Very good.
It´s true. As healthy and robust as I have been feeling, altitude and all, when I stayed with a family on the island of Amantani the other night, the matron of the family, Innocensia, led me and my two friends on a hike ´Arriba,´which ended up being to the top of the island, which trust me, was realllly far up. This tiny little woman, dressed in a bright green skirt, her long braids swinging beneath a black shawl, made tracks up the steep stairs while the three of us, all in our 20´s, were heaving and grunting trying to keep pace.
We did finally make it to the top, to astounding views of Lake Titicaca all around us and an island that was tranquil and quiet, at least, until the celebrations started that night in the square, complete with bonfires, beer and dancing.
Tomorrow we are off to the Amazon!!! I am tired from all the traveling, but other than that, feeling pretty good, no shots and all. I am now on ´real´malaria meds (malarone) since the dosage of plaquenil I take is apparently too wimpy for malaria these days.
I´ll fill in about Maccu Picchu and everything in between once I´m back stateside (another two weeks, almost!!!!)
So I´ve already had a personal victory against RA, and I haven´t even gotten to Machu Picchu yet! Yesterday in Cusco, my friend and I decided (admittedly not knowing what we were getting into) to try to climb up to the top of the hills above the city to an old Inca site called Sacsayhuaman. Given the altitude, and the fact that I don´t normally do this kind of thing, I was proud as a peacock when I finally made it all the way to the top an hour later. (And we gloated over all the mere weaklings who had taken a bus or a taxi up there. Wimps.) Granted, we had to stop about every few yards to catch our breaths, but the point is, I made it. ME: 1, RA: 0
Today, we took the train to the little town of Aguas Calientes, nestled at the foot of the mountains and the launching point for Machu Picchu. We took advantage of the hot springs this afternoon, soaking in the warm, steamy waters while drinking mojitos and gazing up at the fog-capped mountains. It was, to be blunt, totally f****** awesome. And it beat the pants off being at work.
Tomorrow, we´ll be up insanely early in the morning to catch the first bus to MP and see the sunrise. I can´t even fathom what it will be like, other than amazing.
And, with the exception of my ever-whiny toe and a short fit from my right ankle two days ago, I´ve been feeling fine, altitude and all. Tomorrow starts day 1 of no shots when I´d normally have taken one, so we´ll see how that goes, but honestly, right now, I´m having too much fun to worry about it!
My much anticipated 'I have RA, but RA doesn't have me!' trip is just about finally here.
Tomorrow, assuming that American Airlines has its act together (oh god, PLEASE!), I'll wake up in New York City and fall asleep in Lima, Peru, on the first night of a three week jaunt with two friends through South America.
The trip is pretty ambitious; we are hitting Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu (taking the train, though, not hiking), the Amazon, Lake Titicaca (which, so far, still manages to make most grown people I know smirk and snicker), a few stops in Bolivia, Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires, all within 20 days. I'm a little daunted, but I can't wait!
In my normal life, one would probably not (OK, never) classify me as 'the outdoor, sporty' type. I'm a pretty tried and true city girl much more likely to be found at a cafe in heels sipping a kir royale than on a mountain in a 3 in 1 parka and hiking shoes. Yet, when I travel, some adventurous, intrepid part of me comes bounding out, and I'm willing to slum it, hike it, climb it, skip washing it and generally tough it out (even if I don't do any of these things well) if it means I get to see some part of the world that I have never seen before. And, figuring I can at least dress the part, I have now been outfitted with specialty socks, pants, parka, shoes, long underwear and, what's more, shorts, an article of clothing I did not heretofore wear past the age of 17 as they are repulsive on my thighs. I may not be a real backpacker, but I'll sure look like one!
One thing I won't be taking with me are my shots. In one of my first posts, I wrote about the challenge of keeping these suckers cold while traveling, but after seeing my rheumatologist a few weeks ago, I won't have to bother. Since I'll be encountering lots of new and interesting species while in the Amazon, she wants me to go off my shots so that my immune system will be at full speed when I get there and after. Instead, I've got a bottle of prednisone that I will take ONLY if I need to. I'm also taking an entire pharmacy of other drugs (all legal) with me, including some antibiotics, migraine meds, malaria pills and other fun things 'just in case.'
Is all of this extra hassle and worry kind of a drag? Yes. Do I wish that I could dash off to exotic places in the world without having to worry about how my body will react like I used to do? Yes. Am I now only going to travel to sanitized, safe and easy parts of the world just because I have RA? Hell NO! That would be letting the RA win, and that's just not the kind of gal I am.
From the beginning, this trip has been my way of saying 'f*** you' to my RA. It may change everything in my life, but it's not going to change who I am as long as I can help it. While I'm in South America, I will hit the one year anniversary of when my symptoms began, and I can't think of a better way to meet that milestone than by seeing a whole new part of the world and remembering that all of my struggles, hard as they may be, are just one little part of it.
So, off I go! Wish me luck, and I'll do my best to check in as I can along the way. I will definitely be writing all about it once I get back at the end of August, so check back to find out how it all turns out.
Till then, hasta la vista!