I am thrilled to share today’s guest post with my readers. Today’s post comes from Candice of Embrace G-Free. I randomly “met” Candice through a giveaway on my Gluten-Free Fun blog a few years ago. We kept in touch after her win, finally met in person after many emails and Tweets, and she soon started her own blog: Embrace G-Free. Candice is a strong and encouraging young woman who recently took her first gluten-free trip outside of the United States. In her guest post, Candice shares her stores of a service trip to El Salvador. I am so proud of Candice for overcoming her fears of gluten-free travel and thrilled that she shared her story with us today. I highly encourage you to follow Candice’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Her posts are very honest, emotional, and inspiring. Thank you Candice for today’s post!
Embrace G-Free in El Salvador
Since I was little I have always had aspirations of traveling and seeing the world. I am blessed to have parents who love to travel and have been fortunate to travel to many breathtaking destinations both domestically and internationally.
Traveling is one of my many passions, and I have a list of places I want to see. However, my ultimate dream is to travel to Italy, and I want to go on a cross-country adventure, since one of my goals in life is to see all 50 states.
Another passion of mine is to engage in service activities. Service became a huge part of my life in high school, but was then fostered by my Jesuit education at The University of Scranton. Throughout my undergraduate career I engaged in many domestic service activities which all have made an impression on my life. In engaging in many service opportunities, I have not only had the privilege to serve others, but they have taught me so much about life, myself, and have helped me develop an understanding about cultures that are different from my own.
Since I step foot on Scranton’s campus I knew I wanted to be apart of Campus Ministries’ International Service Program. However, after being diagnosed with gluten-sensitivity during my sophomore year, this dream seemed unreachable.
How could I safely follow a gluten-free diet, while being immersed in another culture?
Not only did going on an international service trip seem daunting, but traveling in general seemed like a stressful task when I first received the news that I had to be gluten-free. However, as time moved on and I began to gain more confidence I began to realize that just because I had to be on a gluten-free diet, did not mean I had to stop chasing my dreams.
It took a lot of support and encouragement, but four years later, during my first year of graduate school at The University of Scranton, I succeeded in my dream of participating in Scranton’s International Service Program (ISP) and traveled to El Salvador this past May. To say this was a trip of a lifetime is an understatement, and I can’t fully express how wonderful this trip was.
Traveling to El Sal was different then any other trip I had taken. Unlike many of the travel posts you read on Erin’s blog, I can’t provide recommendations on the best gluten-free/ accommodating restaurants to eat at when traveling to El Salvador, because as part of ISP we were immersed in the culture and lived at Casa Voluntariado Santa Rafaela Maria (Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).
That being said, I was able to enjoy many authentic Salvadorian foods which was made by the outstanding cooks each night. My favorite meal which the cooks made were Pupusa, which is a traditional Salvadoran dish; tortillas are stuffed with pork, beans, and cheese – when made this way they are called “Crazy Pupusa”. However, the cooks only made theirs with beans and cheese. This was a naturally gluten-free meal, however, they made me a special Pupusa with just beans, since I can’t have dairy. Although I was not able to eat all the same meals as my group I was thrilled I could have a Pupusa, plus the rice was amazing! My host site was more then accommodating and Sr. Gloria (our host) was always making sure I had enough to eat!
When going on a trip like this, preparation was key! I worked well in advance with the ISP program director to select a host site which would best accommodate my needs. Everyday we were at work sites during lunch so we all made PB & J in the morning. This made it easy because all I needed to do was make sure I traveled down with plenty of gluten-free bread, almond butter, and many gluten-free snacks. Schar Deli Style bread traveled well in my suitcase and is great because it has a longer shelf life. Additionally it was helpful to travel down with individual almond butter packets from Barney’s Butter. I also made sure I brought down my Triumph Dining card and made an allergy card on Allergy Translation, which was a great suggestion by Erin for my additional food allergies. This helped tremendously with the language barrier!
Overall, the biggest message I want you to hear from this post is just because you have celiac or gluten-sensitivity doesn’t mean you can’t travel or go on an immersion trip like I did. Although food is central in so many of our experiences, it doesn’t always have to be the center of your attention. To me traveling down to El Sal (and taking a day trip to Guatemala) was so much more then the food I ate. It has only been 2 months since I took this trip and honestly the memories of the food I ate are not as clear, but the memories of the people who I met grow stronger everyday. I saw more beauty in a week; in a place which is so impoverished, then I have ever seen in my lifetime.
After traveling to El Salvador, I can honestly say that although nothing will compare to my first international service trip, seeing a country in this way is something I want to do again. This trip and overall planning experience was a blessing in so many ways. Not only did I get to combine my love for travel and service, but overcoming my worries to pursue this dream made me truly believe that my traveling aspirations don’t have revolve around my dietary restrictions. I promise you, with a little extra planning and preparation it all works out!