This guest post comes from my friend Kathleen. You can read more about Kathleen here. Kathleen does not let her gluten-free diet deter her from traveling the world. She does extensive and impressive research before each trip and she was excited to share her South American adventures with my readers.
GLIMPSE OF SOUTH AMERICA to Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls, and Buenos Aires
For our first trip to South America, we were concerned about a gluten-free diet. As one celiac traveler who is mostly vegetarian, we didn’t know fully what to expect about safe eating. We had not traveled South America or south of the Equator before. The trip lists as a 10-day trip. We had 8 full days on the ground in Brazil and Argentina with 2 legs intra-continental air travel, plus arrival and departure arrangements. I’ll not address getting there and coming home to the US (many have their own routines for flights and familiar territories) but I’ll focus on eating Gluten-Free while IN South America.
We had a fabulous, conscientious tour guide, Rodrigo Winterstein, representing Trafalgar Tours with us. We traveled with a tour company and they select your guide. We like this way to introduce a new area to us; we don’t have to drive, map out what we’re doing each day, and most everything is done for us. We are free to watch and fully experience the sights to not miss a thing. We do our homework upfront, before getting there.
We could not have been happier with Rodrigo Winterstein. He escorted us throughout our South American visit, along with 36 other travelers. There is a nice safety element when traveling with a group as well as head of line privileges and door-to-door visits most often. Rodrigo is a professional guide (also for hire) who lives in Rio de Janeiro, who speaks 5 languages I think he said and who excels in his chosen field. His attention to all manner of details was first-class as he introduced us to various places and optimized our visit around Rio (just Rio to locals), Iguassu Falls, and Buenos Aires. He reinforced my celiac diet requirements by giving advance notice to food managers for my meals included with the tour. How considerate, knowing contact had been made ahead of time and the visited eateries expected a Gluten-Free guest and understood the demands of such a diet. This made travel easier as I could focus on what I wanted to eat mainly instead of having to begin at Point 1 with questioning whether they understood Gluten-Free and its preparation. You’re right; no Gluten-Free person entirely lets down their guard as it is our responsibility to guard as best as possible against eating the wrong things. That’s why I establish contact before travels, reinforce before departure and use travel cards with managers, waiters and servers. Sincere thank yous with feedback are just as important.
Rodrigo was most attentive to the Gluten-Free diet but what else impressed us is that he fully grasped the idea of cross-contamination immediately. Many, when explaining Gluten-Free eating, might “get” the idea of ingredients of safe food content but do not register that preparation and serving surfaces, implements, etc. must not touch gluten as well. His preparation was based on my emails, forms, health requirements and conversations shared with the tour company and booking company when we booked our trip, as well as a short paper I handed him his own copy to keep when we first discussed my Gluten-Free diet. This makes it easier if [your] guide has what you want and need in one short form. (One such standard I use is shown at the end.) Rodrigo was impressed how easy it is to miss the mark with Celiac. He said repeatedly how much he had learned by traveling with us. He gave great consideration to this and came up with the term “life risk” as a warning to describe how important proper food preparation is, in addition to ingredients.
Will I find safe eating easy, what else need I do, I wondered before our journey. The Internet is a great resource with a caution to note the date. Things change. I did my online research and came prepared by having several copies of modified restaurant or travel cards – one for the guide, a few for the place we’re eating at the time and several for me in case mine get messy or lost. Plus, I needed Spanish and Portuguese for where we traveled.
Rodrigo asked if I would share my contacts and information regarding CELIAC/COELIAC assistance. Thus began a plan to help tour companies and Gluten-Freers accommodate a safe Gluten-Free diet while traveling. I do hope this helps others with any special diet needs. Again, Rodrigo, thank you for helping us navigate Brazil and Argentina safely GLUTEN-FREE during our Glimpse of South America tour with Trafalgar Tours.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Kathleen’s story including her pre-travel communications to her tour company. For a sneak peek, check out Kathleen’s South American restaurant reviews onGlutenFreeTravelSite.