The first week of Costa Rica landed me in the doctor's office. It felt like someone was standing on my lower ribcage. I never experienced anything like it. Turns out all I needed was a 14 day dose of PPI's (Proton Pump Inhibitors), and a slight change in my diet.
This slight change in my diet was hard for me. I've always been an adventurous eater. I love having lots of coffee. I love beer and wine. The black pinto beans here in Costa Rica are to die for. I'm basically willing to try anything that is not on the endangered species list. If its smells good, if it looks like its been cooked clean (meaning not reused oil), I'm down to taste it. Tip: you can taste when food is cooked in bad oil. If you feel like its going to make you sick, it probably will.
Funny thing was, Costa Rica has been the first place where I was knocked for a loop with food issues. Southeast Asia's exotic spices and blends suited me fine. Nepal's dahl bhat was wonderful. While I wasn't a huge fan of the cuisine in Myanmar, it was never a huge issue. But in Costa Rica, I woke up in the middle of the night for a good five nights in a row with the strangest pain I ever felt in my life.
When I travel, I like to eat locally. In San Jose, Costa Rica, a city in the middle of the mountains, that means casados. Casados are rice with beans, a small veggie dish on the side (either a salad, some cabbage, or picadillo), and some meat. If you want a delicious vegetarian meal, you might have trouble finding one in the local sodas (small local family room restaurants offering local cheap food).
Basically, while I was on my PPI dose, I was instructed not to eat anything that could produce gas- beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, milk, and a few other things. This literally made up 75% of my casado dish.
You know what- it wasn't the end of the world. While I might have been a little bored with my diet, I simply made some easy substitutions. I ate more rice instead of beans (I much prefer those delicious Costa Rican black beans). I ate more sandwiches (the bread here is delicious). I cut out coffee and wine and beer.
After those 14 days, I slowly started to integrate those lovely items I missed back into my diet. Christmas came and I allowed myself my holiday drinks. A moderate amount of beans are now included in my casados. I still watch myself, monitoring my digestive system carefully, but allow myself more freedom.
The truth is, my adventurous tongue may have caught up to me. My stomach isn't as hardy as I thought I was. Turns out, I'm a bit of a sensitive traveler.
If you think this could or would never happen to you, there are a few things prior to your trip there you can do to prepare. Learn about the cuisine in the country you are heading to volunteer in or simply to visit. What is the base of their diet? In Costa Rica, its rice and beans. People love their beans. If you rarely eat them, start eating some. Give your body time to adjust. In Nepal, you'll have lentils with every meal. Try some out at home.
Understand how your system will react to different foods, so you won't have so many surprises will abroad. Carry a few basic medicines with you like Imodium, gas relievers and alka seltzer. When abroad, give yourself time to adjust. Don't fret if you run into an issue. Consult a doctor if you need to. Remember- its only a small bump in the road.