I’ve been quiet lately on the blog as I was struck down with a water-borne parasite after travelling in a remote area of Nicaragua. Yes, I went back to one of my favourite places on earth – Ometepe Island! I’ve shared some photos of this magical place with you in this post, but that is not the objective of my article today. I want to share some tips on how to eat well and safely if you are travelling in Central America on a long-term basis especially in a more remote area. These tips would also apply to travellers in South East Asia, South Africa and less developed areas of Europe.
If you are backpacking around, or if you work overseas, you will likely come into contact with the dreaded parasite. Most of the time they are water-born and not serious, but they make you feel terrible. Failure to treat with antibiotics can lead to lung and brain complications, but that rarely happens as they simply live in your gut and soak up all the vitamins from the healthy food you are eating.
I wanted to write a bit today about how to manage meals and how to eat safely on a budget. You’ll find renting an apartment with a kitchen or having access to a kitchen when you travel will help you to stick to a healthy diet and reduce expenses considerably. Check out our beautiful vacation apartments with fully equipped kitchens – with this kind of kitchen you can shop at the local market and make most of your meals in privacy.
- Stay in a hotel or rental with a Refrigerator & Kitchen – this is where you can make at least 1-2 meals in your kitchen, making sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Wash your lettuce leaves, and all vegetables, in filtered water with a dash of salt. Peel all vegetables especially carrots and potatoes. Fruit like bananas, papayas, pitayas needs to be washed and stored in the refrigerator in Tupperware if you can find it. In a tropical climate, they have a shorter shelf life.
- Water: It is wise to carry plenty of water with you when travelling in remote areas like Ometepe Island. Bottled Water is widely available from local corner stores throughout Nicaragua called Pulperias, but you need to check the seal is not broken. Drinking tea also helps to cut down on the risk of contracting parasites. The national water brand in Nicaragua is called Fuente Pura.
- Snack Safely: One of the best and safest snack foods available throughout Central America are eggs. They are organic if purchased from the local market. You can boil them and eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Another snack I carry everywhere is bananas!
- Pack your Favorite Vitamins & Protein Powder Pre-Trip. This includes power bars which substitute as meal replacements, individual shake packages, peanut butter and crackers, nuts, and dried fruit. Pick non-perishables that do not require refrigeration. These foods are not widely available in Central America especially gluten-free items. If they are, you will find them to be double the price and considered luxury items. One of the things I like to bring back from Bermuda when I return home is dark chocolate squares- Lily’s Stevia sweetened chocolate and Luna bars.
- Let the hotels know you have Special Dietary Requests– at jungle ecolodges with limited menus, make sure the food is cooked and served very hot. I would avoid eating salad in these locations. If you are served a juice, ask if it is made with filtered water. This is normally the case, but asking will let the staff know you are being cautious.
- Manage Street Vendors with Caution. Many of our guests, myself included, want to help local people by purchasing street food. This can be dangerous as you do not know how the meat or vegetables are stored (the majority of Nicaraguans do not own refrigerators). In this case, ask for a vegetarian option and you will get a wonderful plate of plantains, rice and beans (Gallo Pinto), and tortillas. If you have access to a microwave, take it home and heat the food until it is steaming hot. Like in South East Asia, many Nicaraguans prefer to eat food that is warm and not hot.
- Stay at a Yoga Retreat or a Small, Sustainable Hotel. Hotels and Retreats like the Apoyo Lodge & the Gracious Living Oasis (GLO) offer sustainable, vegan and raw cuisine made by local people living in the remote communities where these retreats are situated. You will enjoy an incredible variety of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables prepared with love.
- Find your Nearest Grocery Store. Many small hotels like Casa Lucia will allow guests to store food and make light meals. Sandwiches, pasta, eggs and simple meals will help to reduce expenses of eating out at a restaurant and soothe any recent tummy troubles.
- Choose a Good Restaurant: When you decide to eat out, review Trip Advisor recommendations ahead of time for the best restaurants in your area. This doesn’t mean the most expensive or the cheapest, but rather restaurants which are clean, medium price range, and focus on customer service. In Granada, Nicaragua we recommend Pita Pita, Café des Artes, the Garden Café, and Bocadillos Tapas Bar as the best local eateries.
- Relax. There are plenty of wonderful foods to try in Nicaragua, and since food is not likely the main focus of your trip you can relax. Being away from home will also open your mind to a new way of life and a new style of eating. Rice and beans, Gallo Pinto, is a staple of most Central American kitchens. It is safe to eat, inexpensive, delicious and high in plant proteins. It is also served for breakfast with eggs and tortillas.
Feeling tired and lethargic? Try Moringa.
If you have been recently affected by a parasite and feel weak, try ground Moringa leaves or capsules. This superfood comes from a plant that grows in Nicaragua and is considered one of the world’s most powerful, antioxidant remedies. The plant is endemic to India but grows well in tropical and sub-tropical locations. It has seven times the amount of vitamin c in oranges and four times the amount of potassium in bananas! Also high in iron, it helps fight anaemia, and to elevate energy levels. You can find this sold at small health food stores or vitamin kiosks in Nicaragua. At Casa Lucia we sell Morgina in our gift area in the powdered form. The brand I consider to be the best on the market is Bodhi Superfoods. They also sell a range of turmeric, ginger powder, amaranth and other superfood blends not available in grocery stores in this country. Try adding it with a teaspoon of honey to your morning smoothie!