Crohn’s Blog Post #3: When the Sh** Got Real

A short reflection on four months of international travel with Crohn’s disease

WARNING: This post contains some graphic descriptions of intestinal issues… If you have never experienced abdominal/intestinal distress, you should consider halting the reading of this post right now (but let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced bowel issues, am I right?)

It has been too long (a couple of months) since I last gave updates on my international travels with Crohn’s Disease, so I wanted to write this last post to fully update everyone! Since my last post, we have traveled through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. Overall, the day-to-day travels with my meds (Cimzia) became second nature and very easy for us. It truly just became part of our everyday travel experience, and I am so grateful for that.

Significant updates

With about a month or so left of our travels, I began to have worsening GI symptoms that to me, seemed like the signs of a flare-up. I was experiencing more frequent stools, urgency (a couple times almost didn’t make it to the bathroom in time), and abdominal pain. Nothing that I haven’t dealt with before though, and for a while, it was totally manageable. I did start to monitor it more closely and jot down when and how frequently I had stools, what they looked like, what I was eating, etc. For whatever reason, I REALLY did not want to take action about it until I returned home. “I was fine,” “I was fine.” I think that whenever I continually feel the need to say that I am fine, that should be the first sign that I am not fine.

I finally reached out to my wonderful team of doctors at Northwestern (who have been involved and aware of my travels) to see if I should just take a dose of Uceris (the steroid). They agreed. 

Two days after taking it I had my first solid poop I had had in a month! Woo! But the excitement and improvement didn’t last long. I then went on a four-day trek through the Colombian Sierra Nevadas where our entire group came down with what we guessed was food poisoning. So I was back to feeling miserable and “pooping my brains out” for a couple days, but I took an antibiotic, continued to take Uceris, and began to feel better again.

This was actually when I had been scheduled to return home to the US. I had to plan my return home at the time I would run out of my four months of Cimzia that I had brought with me. (This was a very frustrating reason to come home for me, but it was the reality). I scheduled an appointment with my GI docs right away and found out some very interesting things!

They ran their standard stool sample tests on me (which I always have to do, hate doing it…it’s gross, and they always come back negative, so it’s a waste of my time). However, this time, they didn’t ALL come back negative. I actually was positive for Giardia AND Salmonella! And had no idea! Gross! The antibiotic I took in Colombia doesn’t cover either of those, so I still had these parasites/bacterium and didn’t even know it…. I started two different antibiotics right away and have been feeling better since.

I wanted to share this because my doctors and I realized that my worsening symptoms could be from a Crohn’s flare-up and potentially from a decreased efficacy of Cimzia (which I was convinced that I needed to switch treatment for a while due to my symptoms and need to take a steroid again), but also I could have had these symptoms from the parasite or bacterial infection. YIKES! But such a good thing to consider and not to overlook while traveling. I was constantly eating street food and exposed to things that could easily get me sick.

So, here are my retrospective tips for long term/international travel with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (and for people who are on a biologic):

Carry your meds with you. (Insurance companies refuse to ship out of the US unless to an Embassy- and Embassies refuse to accept packages for citizens….a big bummer).

Have a proper and good quality cooler for your medication, whether you are on Humira, Cimzia, etc.     With my Cimzia cooler that I have used since the end of November, long-term bus rides and other times of travel without a refrigerator became way easier and less stressful. Honestly, it all became second nature to me. (Call your specialty pharmacy and/or Humira or Cimzia themselves, and they should help with this!)

Come prepared with a “Plan B” if your symptoms worsen and you flare while abroad. I brought a couple doses of Uceris, a steroid that has worked well for me in the past. (Although I hate the need or possibility of taking any steroid unnecessarily, you just have to be prepared for anything.)

DO NOT overlook the possibility of another GI bug and/or parasite being the cause of worsening symptoms. Exhibit A: me. 

Be in contact with your Gastroenterologist before, during, and after your trip. My doctors made my travel plans possible and sent me to South America with everything they could prescribe/recommend/warn me about. They also made themselves available to me through email while I was traveling, and got back to me extremely promptly when I most needed it. And my immediate follow-up appointment when I returned was a Godsend…. who knows how long I would have unknowingly dealt with that intestinal parasite.  

Last but not least, I want to highlight how possible international and/or long term travel can be while managing a chronic illness! There were more hurdles to jump over and things to plan for, etc, but I cannot stress enough how possible this is for anyone who has the desire to travel. It can be stressful and scary at times, but it all just adds to the adventure of life. I am a firm believer that life is too short to not take risks to pursue your passions. Travel became a passion of mine, and I was determined to make it work. Please, if you or anyone you know has Crohn’s, another Inflammatory Bowel Disease or another (chronic)
illness and desires to travel and would like to talk with someone who has done it, please get them in touch with me at any time!
And thank you all who read this for enduring all the poop talk!


God bless,


Colombia: Qué chevere! 

After a full 24 hours of travel and 3 different layovers, we FINALLY arrived from Buenos Aires to Bogotá! (It was the cheapest flight by hundreds of dollars but made NO sense if you are geography savvy… We went from: Buenos Aires, Argentina-> Panama City, Panama -> Quito, Ecuador (overnight layover) -> Bogota, Colombia 
We arrived safely to our 6th country together!!!
Our friend Nicolás is the best, and told us he would pick us up at the airport and drive us to his home. We met Nicolás back in the first two weeks of our trip. Our Aussie friend, Michael introduced us and the 4 of us traveled a bit together and got along great! 

Nicolas continued (as all South Americans have so far!) to treat Alli and I like queens. He invited us to his home and gave us everything we could have asked for. We were pretty exhausted, so the first day he let us properly rest, but took us to an incredible lunch at Andrés Carne de Res. (A popular spot outside of Bogota). It was good to have the chance to catch up after 4 months of being apart! 

Nicolás and his sister, Andrea, were wonderful hosts. They took us to the “centro” of Bogotá one day, and led us to amazing food spots, markets, empanadas, and ice cream! (We took a break from lent for certain “cultural experiences”). It was fascinating to be able to ask them questions about Colombian history, the military, police power, the problem of poverty, of machismo and young girls getting pregnant in their teens, and new political changes that are hot topics in Colombia. Nicolás was a wealth of information for us! We learned SO much that would later be useful for our time in Colombia. 

After seeing the centro, Alli, Nicolás and I made our way up to Montserrat, a church on a hill overlooking the entire city of Bogota. 

We got onto the teleférico, when suddenly Alli screams (terrifyingly), points over my shoulder, covers her mouth, and I assume the worst… Someone is being murdered right behind me!!!!

I turned around, but didn’t see anyone being murdered, thank God! (Nicolas only took us to very safest areas in Bogotá, but my mind just likes to overreact.) What are the chances that we had run into Nolan Grady in Colombia! Nolan is one of Alli’s good friends from college, and we had no idea he was even traveling in Colombia! We also previously camped with him in Antofagasta, in northern Chile. It was truly divine providence for us to run into eachother!!

We had a happy reunion and the four of us went up Montserrat and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over Bogotá together. We ended up hanging out with Nolan all that night and all the next day! 

The next day Nicolás led us to the Salt Cathedral outside of town. Alli and I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to exceed our expectations! It is a salt mine in the side of a mountain, in which the miners built a cathedral and the 14 stations of the cross. The four of us enjoyed the tour together, then made our way back to Bogota for “Gringo Tuesday” in one of the discotecas. Going out in Bogota was an amazing experience, complete with shots of Colombia’s typical alcohol “aguardiente”. 

Alli and I booked a flight to Medellin that left early the next morning. We were off again on our own! We enjoyed seeing a different city in Colombia, ate our fill of cheap street food, bought some cheap clothes off the street, and rode in the cable cars that take you above the city. 

Another day we spent doing a day trip to an outside pueblo, Guatapé, and had one of the best days ever, start to finish! Our tour made its first stop in Maranilla, a small pueblo. While Alli and I were walking around for our 20 minutes free time, two older gentlemen invited us to have tea with them. We accepted, and the four of us were soon chatting in Spanish about the history of Colombia, of Pablo Escobar and his nearby houses and farm, and how tourism is increasing, despite the many problems that Colombia has. They were delighted to hear that we love Colombia in the short time that we’ve been here, and that EVERY Colombian we’ve met has been nothing but friendly and inviting. Although it was a short meeting, those two cuties made a lasting impression on Alli and I! 

We enjoyed our multicultural tour to Guatapé, complete with climbing the massive rock (peñol de Guatapé), a boat ride, and a walk through my absolute favorite pueblo I’ve ever seen in my life!  If you want to live in Guatapé, you are obliged to have your house/business painted bright colors and/or paintings at the bottom edges of the building. It is the most colorful and quaint pueblo I’ve had the pleasure of seeing! We both agreed that our mothers would have also loved it! 

We were dropped off in Medellin on Friday night to Poblado park, full of young people chillin and drinking together. Alli and I decided to hang out in the fun atmosphere and chat together. As we suspected may happen, we were soon approached by Juan Pablo and Santiago, two Colombian chicos. We learned so much from chatting with them about the history of Colombia, drugs, cocaine, poverty in Colombia, not wanting to be a lawyer/have a “real” job yet, traveling, and their common passion for downhill skateboarding. The both of them were so kind and open, Alli and I had so much fun being able to share that time with them. We felt (as often happens traveling) that we knew them for a much longer time than just a few hours! 

We also were blessed to run into ANOTHER friend we hadn’t seen in 4 months, Derek!! (A friend of both Aussie Michael and our friend Nicolás). We had just an hour to catch up with him and meet his girlfriend (who had also come down from NY, USA). It was a sweet reunion, and he had tons of advice on what to see and do thru Colombia! 

We were off again early the next morning to head to Santa Marta. Our first stop was to go to a small pueblo in the mountains, Minca, and spend the night. We had a beautiful night overlooking the valley from a hammock, and even woke up to see the sunrise the next morning. We had to hike down from our hostel back into Minca the next day. On our way, Alli and I ran into two unexpected surprises that turned into quite the adventure…

We found two small puppies, so malnourished that they were just skin and bones. They could barely even walk! We attempted to give them water and crackers… But as we know from our experience of force-feeding babies in Bolivia… When you’re at a certain point of malnutrition, you don’t even want to eat anymore. The puppies were pathetically thin and all alone (we searched for a mother/more puppies with no result). We felt we had no choice… So we each carried one of the pups down the mountain back into Minca (we hoped to leave them a better chance for survival where there were more people around). 

Ladies and gentleman, Alli Slamkowski, who dislikes seeing or touching all animals, carried a puppy down the mountain! She sacrificed her own disgust for the poor cute puppy. South America has taught her a lot folks!!! We got some stares from Colombians as we carried puppies just the size of our hands (couldn’t have been more than 4-6 weeks), to look for a better life for them. Despite asking the animal shelter for help, the woman working there was cold hearted and insisted they could do nothing to help the helpless pups. She basically said “good luck” and sent us away with the sad pups in hand. We asked probably every Colombian in town, and nobody seemed to want to add two pups to their already full house of 2-3 dogs. Thus… a hostel close to the center of town has accepted (albeit unknowingly) these two adorable puppies as their new pets! Alli and I grew rather attached to these cuties in our 1.5 hour walk down the mountain with them… We believed them to be symbolic of our own journey together… Dying. (Alli was leaving South America in just 6 days when we found them). We decided to be a bit narcissistic and name them Buns and Bert. (Each puppy’s personality resembled us in a way). We hope that they are able to survive longer than our trip…

Please pray that Buns and Bert found a new home! 

Our next stop was a last minute major change of plans to do a trek to the “Lost City”. Instead of spending her last days camping on a beach, my Colorado gal wanted to finish with a bang and a huge 4-day hike thru the jungle! 

We had a blast, and both of us agree that it was the best possible way to spend our last 4 days together in South America. 

We had an amazing group of people from all over including Australia, England, Wales, Italy, France, Spain, and USA! Alli and I met some of our favorite French men ever on this trek! 

We were guided by an indigenous guide named Abél, of the Wiwa tribe. As Spanish was his second language (and he only started learning 2 years ago), he was next to impossible to understand. As many of the group didn’t speak Spanish, I attempted to help with translation… But even asking him questions for clarification turned out to be more confusing for all of us. Abèl was as sweet and patient as can be… But he didn’t say a whole lot that made sense… Or a whole lot period. Nevertheless we had a blast. 

It was one of the most interesting treks Alli and I have done, as at nearly every break there was crystal clear river water to jump into! The hike was dusty, wet, and very humid, so we took advantage of jumping into every body of water that we could! The water was amazingly clear and perfectly refreshing, complete with multiple spots to jump from rocks into the water below. We also loved that they offered us fresh fruit at every break- keeping us hydrated and replenished! 

One of the worst things about this trek was that nearly our entire group got food poisoning (NOT okay when you’re charging as much as they did…) Our ascent on day 3 to the Lost City was interrupted by one of our group members suddenly blowing chunks of his breakfast all over the trail. The rest of the group looks at each other nervously, wondering who will be the next victim. (Some already were up early with the “runs”.) Like a trooper, the poor chap continued up 1200 steps and we all made it to the top! 

At the top, I attempt to understand Abél’s senseless explanations of the Lost City and translate them to the rest of the group. We take pictures, and eventually head back down to our next lunch spot. 

There also seem to be lax protection of child labor in Colombia, as our server for the entire trip was an 8-year old adorable child…. We played and had a good time with him though! 

The last day, more of the group fell ill to diarrhea… I had the luck of feeling completely fine, so I finished at least 4 different people’s breakfast… Some were astounded at how much I eat and were calling me a “black hole”. Of 16 people, I think only about 4 of us remained symptom free. 

We all finally make it down the steep mountain to where we started the trek. We eat there, reminisce on some memories together, and say our goodbyes. Alli and I drive back with all our favorite people from the trek and were dropped off first at Costeño Beach. Our group is all jealous because it’s a picture perfect Caribbean paradise! 

Alli and I hike past a hostel… Crossing our fingers that our dream to camp on the beach our last night together will come true. We hike a safe distance away from the hostel, and relax and go for a swim in the Caribbean ocean! This beach is perfectly beautiful and absolutely secluded from the rest of civilization. We swim, lay in the sun (a well deserved rest after walking up and downhill over 26 miles of jungle).

We hide our bags behind a palm tree (there is literally nobody else on this beach except for the hostel down the way) and we walk down to the hostel to eat dinner. We’re both a bit nervous that our plan to camp will be discovered, so we don’t set up camp until after dark. But all went according to plan and we weren’t bothered! 

We we’re blessed with a clear night of astoundingly gorgeous stars! We also went for a quick dip after dinner in the ocean. We even saw beautiful luminescent plankton in the waves! It was the perfect last night in South America together. We woke up to the sun shining on our faces and waves crashing and breaking in the distance. 

In the morning we left for Cartagena, where Alli would take a flight back to Bogota, and then later she had another flight back to the US. I can hardly believe these words as I write them. She is now home! 

I couldn’t not have asked for a better travel buddy if I had written out the exact qualities I wanted. We have been perfect together… And now I’m riding sola. But more on that later… 

To show you all what a “team” Alli and I were and how much fun we had together…

On the Lost City trek, we had three different people at three distinct times tell Alli and I that we needed to stop traveling, go to NYC, and try out for SNL (Saturday Night Live- comedy show in the US). We didn’t always realize when others were listening in on our banter… (And we can get quite silly!) But the entire group insisted that the two of us have a chemistry and an “act” that can’t be beat! Alli and I were a bit surprised, but realized that after 4 months of traveling together… Were able to finish one another sentences, we have the stupidest jokes together, and look at each other and know what the other is thinking. I’ve never had anything quite like that with anyone. Quite literally we were able to read one another’s thoughts! We didn’t realize how noticeable it was to other people! I’m sad to lose my partner in crime, and have felt her absence distinctly… However, were both hopeful for this next period of life and anticipating our next reunion together. (Perhaps in NYC at the next SNL tryouts!) 
Next up: Alli and I will each share our post trip thoughts! 

Fab 7

Elizabeth here! To pick up where Alli left off…
We took the boat back from Uruguay and arrived back to Buenos Aires on Ash Wednesday. The plan was to find mass before our flight to Iguazú that evening. Alli and I were blessed (thank you Lord!) to stumble upon a gorgeous church that had Ash Wednesday mass that began just 20 minutes after we arrived! We were able to pray and experience Ash Wednesday in a new culture! Instead of marking with the cross on the forehead, interestingly, they just grab a handful of ashes and throw it on top of your head! We both enjoyed being able to experience that. Our first day of giving up sweets and desserts (which is usually our main food source while traveling) was a success. It was a good beginning of Lent! 

We made our way to Iguazu with no real flaws… Until we arrived at the airport. When we got in touch with Claire and Kyle (who had arrived in Iguazu just a few hours before us), they informed us that every hostel in Iguazu was full for that night… 

NOT AGAIN!!! After miserably sleeping in the bus station in Montevideo, we were determined to never have that happen again. Claire and Kyle were able to book the last available room at a hostel for themselves. They informed us that it was a private room for 3 and we would probably be able to sneak in if we were careful. 

Alli and I had no other safe choice than to sneak into the room with Claire and Kyle and share the last twin bed available. (Hostels never allow more than the number of alloted people per bed into a room.) As Claire and Kyle waited for us on the porch, they created their master plan. As they saw us approaching, Kyle gives us a severe look to stay put. Claire acts as the distraction and masterfully asks the receptionist at the hostel to show her how to turn on the stove (despite having cooked just an hour prior). As the receptionist turns her back, Kyle motions for us fervently– it was go time!! Alli and I shuffle past the desk into the private room with no issues! We simply whispered all night, showered one by one, and had to hide every time the door was opened. In the morning we created another distraction and we successfully walked out! First night in Iguazú was a success! Being stowaways was actually slightly thrilling!

We arrived in Iguazu park early the next morning. Iguazu is a very interesting destination because you find a mixture of backpackers as well as wealthy travelers who are spending hundreds of dollars a day on food and lodging. However, everyone comes because it’s an incredible experience. Walking up to the falls you can just barely hear the roar of the water crashing into the rocks below, but once we turned that corner and were given full on views of the entire falls, the marvel settles in.

Iguazu is truly a wonder. If I could chose any place in the world to ponder and pray, I’d chose Iguazu as my #1 spot. There are curtains upon curtains of water, stretching as far as the eye can see (from our first vantage point), endless water gracefully tumbling into the depths below.

I was struck with how utterly amazing it is to experience it. One stands there truly amazed at the beauty of it all! 

We started off walking on the lower circuit, where we were able experience the falls crashing down in front of us. After, we did the boat tour, where you’re taken into and under the falls and we got “doused”! It was 90 degrees and 90% humidity all day so getting soaking wet was a welcome relief from the unbearable heat! We ended the day with a panoramic view of the falls from the superior circuit. 

We head back to the town, soaking wet with sweat and water, but very happy! Claire and Kyle find their way to a cheaper hostel, while Alli and I set out to find a place to camp. We were both determined to use our tent and camping gear, despite the 90 degree weather and unbearable humidity.

We are both stupidly stubborn at times, and despite knowing we would be miserable and sleep horribly… We both still wanted to camp. (I’m telling ya, I couldn’t have found a better travel buddy for myself!) We find a small place just outside the city, that turns out to be a jungle in some old guy’s backyard. 

We walk up to the gate plastered with “Beware of dog” signs everywhere. (Turns out there is a pitbull guarding the place.) We find the owner, a hilarious Argentinian man, shirtless 100% of the time, cigarette in one hand and beer in the other. He shows us around his backyard “jungle”, takes 15 minutes to explain the common-sense rules of the place, and says “good luck” finding a spot. There was no open space or patches of grass as I had expected, but just small clearings between the jungle trees. Alli and I find a place to call our home, and agree that if we’re too miserable in the heat we’ll find a hostel for the next night. 

We set up camp, then set off to find dinner. We go to an air conditioned restaurant, realizing it was our only chance of respite all night. Afterward, we return to camp to attempt to sleep. 

In the morning, we agreed it was one of the most miserably hot nights of our lives…. Yet somehow it was “not that bad”. We decided to stay just one more night. 

Our second day, we met up with Claire and Kyle again and went back to Iguazu national park for round two, as your second day is half-price! We were able to see the center of the falls, where the majority of the waterfalls come together to form a massive, terrifying loud and strong waterfall at what is called “Devils throat”. It’s truly an awe-provoking and wonder-filled experience to stand at the mouth of such a large confluence of water, crashing together. The water crashing down stirs up a mist all the way to the look out deck (at least 150 feet above). From here we can see the Brazilian side of the falls. 

We then did the Macuco hike to a small and private waterfall where we were able to swim and be pelted by the waterfall crashing down from above. Alli, Claire, Kyle and I enjoyed our picnic lunch and the usual round of laughs here.

Our second night in Iguazu… Alli and I both agreed it was the absolute worst night of sleep ever due to the humidity and a few other unforeseen complications… but we survived! And we were off to Buenos Aires! 

We arrived early to Buenos Aires and were so blessed to be meeting our friend Bruno at his home. We had met Bruno the very first week of our trip in a hostel in Cuzco. It’s funny, because we chatted and laughed together, but never ended up exchanging names/numbers at this time. Alli and I were forced to switch hostels in Cuzco, but nevertheless we ran into these 3 guys THREE different times in Peru! Finally, we ran into them hiking the same remote small island 3 hours away from any civilization in Bolivia… We were so amazed that we were seeing them yet again, that we finally exchanged numbers, then we hung out for a few days on our next destination! That being said- it was clear that God wanted us to be friends with Bruno and Gonza, and to see them again in Buenos Aires. 

Bruno was also incredibly kind and asked his friend, Sara, if my sister Claire, and her husband Kyle could stay at her house during their time in Buenos Aires. She graciously accepted! (Such a DARLING!)

On Sunday, Alli and I arrived to Bruno’s house and got settled in. The three of us met Claire, Kyle, and the most gracious and kind and lovely host Sara, at a popular Sunday market. Gonza, another friend, got together with us later that evening. The 7 of us quickly realized how well we got along together, and how much we all laughed together! 

To summarize our week in Buenos Aires, it was one of the best weeks of our 4 months of travel. Bruno and his friend Gonza (who we met at a later time in Bolivia) were the most spectacular hosts anyone could ask for. It was nonstop laughs and incredible cultural experiences every second of our time together. Bruno gave up his bed and air conditioning (it was HOT and HUMID in BA), handed us keys, and gave us great tourist advice. Bruno even bent over backwards to get Alli and I tickets to a River Plate soccer game! WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE!! Here’s a rundown of our week in BA:

Sunday: San Telmo market, La Boca, typical choripan for lunch at a tiny hole in the wall, ice cream (Lenten break for Sunday!), tango dance lessons with the 7 of us 🙂

Monday: Bomba del Tiempo (percussion concert). After, we stupidly were demanding Mexican food, so our kind hosts brought us to an amazing Mexican restaurant at 12:30am, despite having to work the next morning. 

Tuesday: accidentally run into Claire and Kyle just before we were supposed to meet up, at La Rey (our favorite cheap eats in Buenos Aires!) 

– walking tour of Buenos Aires

– made dinner for our hosts 

– experience Argentinian fernet and Coke (yum!) 

– Gonza teaches the rest of us how to dance salsa 

– 1am ice cream run (again, despite the boys having to work at 7am)


– meet Claire and Kyle at La Recoletta cementary (Kyle manages to scare Alli GOOD!) 

– las cañitas and amazing steak lunch!

– Palermo lakes, Japanese garden

– official salsa lessons with Bruno and Gonza! 

– craft beer afterward at Antares bar

– bed at 1:30am (again, despite the boys having to work at 7am)


– Alli and I do Pope Francis tour through his old neighborhood and visiting his childhood church and home! 

– River Plate soccer game with Bruno!


– Alli and I go shooooooooopping! Epic fail. We both forgot for a bit that we both despise shopping. 

– go to Gonzas house after work 

– Gonza takes us out to the “locals only” bar Emily Daniels until 5am! Celebrating our last night in BA!!


– wake up after 2 hours sleep, Gonza drives Alli and I to airport, parks, and waits with us while we check in! What a sweetheart! 

When Bruno went out of town our last day, Gonza invited us to his house. Gonza continued the kindness and gave us his bed (despite us fighting that we could sleep on the floor!), took us out until 5am, then he woke up with us 2 hours later to drive us to the airport (which is absurdly a 1 hour drive from the city!) 

Bruno and Gonza were incredible examples of kindness, selflessness, and amazing hosts. Alli and I are still touched by their kindness, and the four of us had soooo much fun together! We hope we can be as good of hosts to others when they visit us in the US. We have learned so much about how to be good hostesses while down here in South America!!

Up next: The Breaking of the Fellowship…