I step out onto the deck to a bright sunny morning. The birds are sweetly warbling in the lush palm trees beneath a sapphire sky, and the resident cats are making their morning rounds. It’s quiet and serene at the villa. None of the other visitors are awake, as I roll my towel out on the smooth wooden deck for my morning yoga.
At 8:00 am it’s already a balmy 24 degrees Celsius. The tropical garden is glowing beneath the morning sun, flush with verdant greens and crimson blossoms. This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, vivid with color and life, and it fills my body and soul with the promise of things to come.
This vacation is my birthday gift from my husband. Our villa here in Albufeira Portugal is nestled in a lush tropical oasis. It is the perfect place to slip away from life for a little while. There are not a lot of guests here, giving us all the space and privacy we want to enjoy reading by the pool or lounging on our deck with a glass of wine.
I am lucky to have the chance to visit this charming country after a long journey to get here but staying healthy when travelling with RA or any type of chronic illness, especially in a pandemic world, gives rise to whole new challenge.
Portugal is a beautiful country. Here in Albufeira the average temperature is 28-31 degrees Celsius in June, going up to a whopping 35-40 degrees Celsius in July and August. Sun protection is extremely important as the Mediterranean sun is more powerful than our west coast sun in Vancouver B.C. — my pale skin is no match for these rays. I apply sunblock a couple times a day and reapply after swimming. Wearing a hat and staying in the shade is an effective way to prevent heatstroke and sunburn.
I drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. The constant breeze off the ocean is deceptive making one feel that’s it’s not as hot as it seems — even in the shade, it can be warm so try not to be too active during the hottest part of the day. If you take medication that could react to the sun’s rays (photosensitivity), it’s even more important to reduce time in direct sunlight.
Water and lots of it. Water keeps me hydrated, energized, and makes my body happy. It aids in digestion, moisturizes skin, and lubricates joints. It’s easy to get caught up with the romantic notion of drinking champagne or exotic cocktails by the pool, but alcohol absorbs the water in your body and can leave you dehydrated. That’s not to say I abstain from it on vacation, but when I do indulge in that drink by the pool, I keep it in moderation, and have lots of water on hand. The occasional chilled white wine with some veggies and hummus won’t hurt if you sip it slowly over a couple of hours with lots of water.
Fruit and vegetables are not as readily available in Portugal as back home on the west coast, so we try to head up to the supermarket early in the day to buy fresh fruits and veggies we need for cooking.
Exercise and Medications
Sticking to my normal routine even on vacation is part of the work in managing RA. I start my mornings with yoga on the deck and a visit with a couple of the resident cats. Maintaining my exercise routine with RA on vacation helps me prevent flares and keeps my body mobile. We are fortunate to have a pool on the property of our villa, so afternoon swims were always on the menu. I often swim at home in the summer, so it was nice to have the option to continue while away from home.
I try to keep my medication schedules consistent and on track. My RA often feels better when I’m on vacation, mostly because I am away from the stress of work and regular home routines, so it can be easy for me to fall off my medication wagon. Adjusting to a new time zone can temporarily throw you off, but within 24 to 48 hours you should be back on track again. I also made sure that I had an abundant supply that would last during our time here, and a little bit extra in case we are delayed returning home.
COVID is still with us but there are things we can do to travel safely. Canada still has masking requirements in the airport and on the planes, making it a bit easier to endure a long plane ride. Restrictions in Portugal, as in most of Europe, are more relaxed. Masks are optional here and the people respect everyone’s decisions. Nobody judges you for wearing a mask or not wearing one, and that approach makes it easy to take precautions without the ridicule. I carry masks with me every time we leave the villa — when taking a trip up to Old Town, our daily grocery shop, or taking a boat out to the sea caves. We are limiting tourist activities and spend most of our days at the villa with our closest guests, the resident cats.
Most of our time here is spent outdoors and in the privacy of our own space. Renting a villa or a separate apartment, if you can, while vacationing is ideal as it’s your own separate space away from the close contact of a hotel. Our location has nine detached villas and not all are occupied. Planning a trip during low season will help you to avoid crowds. My husband chose a villa with a fully equipped kitchen, so we have all the comforts of home and the option to do our own cooking if we choose. The villa, its pool, gardens, and our private patio is perfect for remaining socially distant while lingering over a leisurely breakfast or dinner. There is lots of room to spread out and chaises around the pool are aptly spaced.
I don’t want to take a vacation from my vacation. It’s exciting to see unfamiliar places and explore, and it’s hard to hold back from wanting to see and do everything in a mere 10 days, but the reality is, with RA, I need to pace myself. Naps when needed, lots of water, eating healthy and taking lots of breaks will help prevent fatigue and flares. A vacation is meant to help you recharge, not exhaust you, so you can return home refreshed to resume normal life. When I return home again, and go back to work and home life, I don’t want to be more exhausted than before I left.
Leaving RA Behind?
It’s the sunshine, the dry heat, the time indulging in leisurely activities. I spend my days doing yoga on the deck, some writing work, reading by the pool, and then dinner in the evenings. Here in this magical place, RA has temporarily packed up and left. Even my supraspinatus tendonitis diagnosed a few weeks before leaving is almost non-existent — no ache, no sharp pains — it almost feels normal again. Of course, disease is not really gone, it’s just dormant for a time.
Travelling to warmer climates can soothe the pain of arthritis for a little while — but anything can happen. RA is unpredictable so by carrying on with all the same measures I use at home, I can minimize the chances of a flare on vacation. But if a flare should happen, I am ready with my self-care tools that I brought with me: pain relief meds, a hot water bottle, and ice packs. I am now out of contact with my doctor (cell phone charges from overseas are astronomically high) and with all the money spent on this trip, I don’t need the extra expense of visiting a doctor in a foreign country.
Not all of us can afford the luxury of a vacation and many don’t feel ready to travel yet. We all must make the decisions that are best for us. I felt ready to go out into the world again, fully aware of the risk and armed with the protocols to keep us and others safe. In the capricious world of today, I don’t know when I’ll have this opportunity again — and so…
I sit under the shade of twilight on our patio, listening to the whisper of the ocean breeze through the palms. The glow from the lights around the saltwater pool illuminates the garden. The feral cats stop to say a respectful goodnight from a distance, as if even they are aware of social distancing. The rhythmic coo of the doves has finally wound down as nightfall approaches and the stars are tiny pinpricks of light in an inky sky.
We are a few days away from taking the long journey home, but for now, I bask in the splendour of this beautiful space and count my blessings in a turbulent world that has fallen silent for a few precious moments.
Com Amor De Portugal.
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