Between March 13-16th, 2016 I was able to take my first flight in over 20 years. It was not only my first flight in decades, but it was my first time traveling with an ostomy and as a vegan.
In this post, I’ll be detailing my experience, as well as explain why I was even in South Africa!
If you prefer a narrated video, then I’ve got one just for you :) I have added more photos and video clips about my trip in this video than I could have added in this article.
Friday, March 11, 2016 (Toronto)
I spent the morning making sure I had everything packed and ready to go since my taxi would be picking me up at 1:30 pm. I also made sure that I had a fresh appliance on, since it would be nearly two days before I could comfortably change it again.
For this trip, I decided to pack carry-on luggage plus a backpack. Because I’ve heard too many horror stories of lost or delayed luggage, I really wanted to keep things simple for this trip.
For ostomy supplies, I packed enough wafers and pouches to be able to change my appliance once per day.
In addition, I packed gauze, adhesive remover wipes (spray would have taken up too much of my liquid allowance), barrier rings, gelling products, medical scissors (short, rounded blades), kitchen bags for disposing my soiled supplies, aqua seals (in case I decided to hit the beach or pool), small mirror (that can stand on its own), stoma measuring guide, pen, pouch deodorant.
Along with those supplies, which I kept in my main carry-on, I also kept a few moldable wafers, ostomy bags, disposal bags and gelling products in my backpack.
These were for emergency only, since the moldable wafers I had don’t provide good wear time for me, and I wanted to minimize the supplies I carried in my backpack.
Because you are only allowed to travel with a maximum of 1000ml of liquid in your carry-on per person, I did limit what I was bringing, so I could also include shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. It isn’t absolutely necessary to carry these things, since most are either provided at the hotel room or can be purchased at your destination.
I’ll be writing more about the specifics of travel in a future travel guide, so stay tuned for that.
The drive to the airport took about an hour, and I made my way through the terminal to reach security before making it to my gate.
The Toronto airport security was pretty easy to pass through. I did mention that I have an ostomy, and they did a pat down and tested for explosive residue, but that was pretty quick.
There was no direct flight to Cape Town from Toronto, so I made my first stop in Amsterdam. My flight left Toronto at approx. 6:10 pm on Friday and we are expected to land in Amsterdam at approx. 7:25am.
Saturday, March 12, 2016 (Amsterdam)
My first flight since I was a teen was pretty cool. I did experience some nausea from the takeoff, but things settled once we reached our planned speed and altitude.
Because I had my last meal Thursday night, my stoma has been very quiet, and I only really needed to empty it when we were very close to landing.
I will say that the bathrooms on the airplane – if I can even call them that – are tiny. I can’t imagine being overweight and using one! But I was able to empty my pouch with only a bit of maneuvering.
One thing I found cool was that the toilets used suction and a tiny bit of water to flush, so it was important for me to lay toilet paper down on the inside of the bowl to avoid “skid marks” and to allow things to flush properly.
We did have dinner and breakfast on board, but snacks and drinks were also given throughout the flight. These meals and snacks caused my stoma to wake up somewhat, but I didn’t experience ballooning or an urgent need to empty my bag because of them.
And speaking of ballooning, I didn’t find that I had more gas while on the plane or that my bag would fill with air… I’m sure that’s a myth about traveling with an ostomy.
Dinner! A nice vegan meal of steamed veg and mushrooms, small salad, and fruit. Nothing substantial, but it sure beats the hell out of hospital food!
I watched a movie and kept myself entertained, and before I knew it, breakfast was served (approx. 5 am Amsterdam time). I was given mixed fruit, applesauce that was strawberry/kiwi blend. I’ll be honest, it was fantastic.
I should mention that all my meals were vegan, and this was an option through Delta/KLM at the time of my booking.
We land in Amsterdam ahead of schedule, but it was still a seven-hour flight.
I meet up with Julie, an employee of B. Braun, who’s the person who will accompany me for the duration of my trip – but not before I walk through half of Schiphol airport looking for our meeting spot! LOL
I did go through the security at this airport, and it was far more involved compared to the Toronto airport: full body scanner, full pat down, questions asked about the contents of my backpack, etc. I also told them about my ostomy, and they asked if I’d like a private room before the pat down, but I declined. It really was no problem passing through.
Our layover was about 3 hours, and we were scheduled to take off at 10:10 am.
Off to Cape Town!!
This flight was more turbulent than the first, but I had the window seat and saw some pretty cool things!
More snacks were passed around this flight and we had lunch just before noon.
Lunch consisted of fried tempeh, rice, curried vegetables, mixed fruit, and salad. The tempeh was amazing, and the curried veg was soooo good! The salad was tiny, but it included vegan dressing.
I’m quite tired during the flight, but the view was incredible and kept me occupied for several hours at least!
Dinner came at around 8 pm, and it vegan pudding, mixed fruit and a patty that was stuffed with mixed veggies and zucchini – it was tasty but difficult to eat because it left a lot of crumbs.
We land in Cape Town at around 10:30 pm, South African time – nearly 11 hours for this flight.
Our cab driver, who felt no reason to wait for us to catch up with him, got us to the hotel in about 20 minutes.
We got in after midnight, and I only had a chance to unpack, shower and record a very quick video (you can see it as part of the longer video at the top of this article).
Sunday, March 13, 2016 (Cape Town)
I woke up bright an early as there was a tour planned for Julie, myself and one of her colleagues, Elaine.
Elaine is a native of South Africa, and we had a blast with her! I even picked up a bit of Afrikaans –
Our tour was being given by Maydicai who works for Hotspots 2C. He was an awesome guide, and we had loads of fun!
Maydicai took us around the city and drove us on a coastal tour. We had planned to visit table mountain, but the cable lifts were closed due to the clouds and wind, so we headed off to see some other places instead.
I took my backpack on all my outings since it not only carried my cameras (yes, more than one), but it also carried my ostomy supplies, too.
We visited several beaches to take photos; it’s amazing how different the weather can be between one area and another! The wind was often so strong that even posing for a photo was difficult, but at other times it was calm and the temperature hot.
I absolutely loved the vastness of the landscape, and every turn was filled with beauty. I have no doubt that South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We stopped off for a snack at a local grocery store. The selection of locally grown produce was so nice to see, and I also found many vegan options for anyone living there. We picked up water and grapes and headed off to our next destination: Penguins!!
The penguins live at Boulders Beach, and they were an absolute blast to be around! Some were basking, others were standing tall, and some were scurrying around in typical penguin fashion!
For lunch, we headed to a winery and ate at a place called Jonkershuis Eatery. As we stepped out of our vehicle, we saw a sign that said: “Watch for baboons”. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, after hearing stories of how they behave, we saw no baboons.
Picking food I could eat from this menu was difficult since there was a heavy emphasis on fish and meat, but I was able to inquire about certain menu items and I ended up with a lot of tasty options.
Our next stop was Signal Hill, which not only overlooked the city but also faced Table Mountain – this was an amazing experience!
From Signal Hill, you could easily see Cape Town Stadium, which was built in for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and you could also see Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years in prison.
We returned mid to late afternoon so we could make it to the opening ceremony of the WCET conference.
Our hotel was within walking distance from the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), and I was able to go and meet some other people from B. Braun as they set up their booth.
The opening ceremony was amazing!!! They called a representative for every country attending, and then had an interactive music and dance component, too. It was so much fun, and I loved every minute of it!
But while we were there, I felt a lot of pressure under my stoma, which was becoming quite bothersome, and I knew something wasn’t right.
As I walked around in the main event hall, I excused myself and visited the bathroom, where I discovered that I had a major leak going on!!
I had texted Julie to say what had happened and that I’d be returning to the hotel to get it taken care of.
Back at the hotel, I assessed the leak – it was bad, but could have been much worse has my output been liquid. I ended up having to handwash my jeans, underwear and the top I had on, as well as needing to do a full appliance change (like, no shit, right?!).
I remained calm during this ordeal, and I really wanted to learn why I had the leak. I concluded that the follow factors contributed to it:
- Not drinking enough caused my output to become very thick.
- Because I was wearing a stoma guard and had thick output, my stool wouldn’t fall to the bottom of my pouch as expected and simply collected on the top of the bag (pancaked) until there was too much pressure.
I could have easily prevented this had I been drinking more during the day, but I underestimated the effect that all the traveling had done on my body.
When I was all cleaned up and changed, Julie and I ate dinner at the hotel bar. They had vegan burgers and fries, and I was in heaven!
Monday, March 14, 2016 (Cape Town)
Monday was spent at the convention center, and I listened in on several talks.
Two, in particular, dealt with ostomy complications and also the management of high-output stomas.
I found the information given in both presentations to be quite interested, but it was clear that the patients in the first talk were much older and did not have their stoma because of IBD.
One thing that really opened my eyes was during the Q&A session, where many stoma nurses got up to ask questions.
I could feel the passion that they had for helping their patients, but I could also sense frustration about not knowing how to appropriately deal with the mental health side of a new ostomate; many of them spoke about depression being a big concern as many of their patients experience it while trying to adjust to life after surgery.
I had a chance to walk around the exhibit hall, and to chat with people from several ostomy supply companies.
There was nothing too new, but I did see some Hollister appliances with inspection windows on them, which is new for them.
Later that afternoon, it was time to go over the full presentation that I was taking part in, just to make sure there weren’t any last minute changes that were overlooked.
That evening, we (like three buses full) went to a restaurant by the shore called The Bungalow – the view here was out of this world!!! Even the drive through Cape Town during sunset was breathtaking.
The restaurant had already been informed that I would require a vegan meal, and they did not disappoint! My meal was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I took great delight in savoring each and every bite.
We had some good conversation at ate under a blanket of stars.
Tomorrow is the big day!
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 (Cape Town)
I woke up early today – around 5 am to make sure that I had enough time to get ready as I was expected at the conference center by 6:30 am.
When we got there, the audio/video staff made sure that things were all set up. I was told how the remote for the presentation slides worked, and I had a chance to quickly look over my slides one last time.
I was greeted by the other speakers, and to be honest, I wasn’t nervous at all. The total attendance was over 150 that morning, but it could have been 1500 and I would have been just as comfortable talking.
Here is the video of my talk – the full presentation with all speakers will be available at a later date.
Nailed it! =)
After my talk, I was approached by two people (one stoma nurse and a gentleman who ran a support group for ostomates in Kenya).
It was so nice to share my experience with everyone there.
As a celebration, Julie and I went to Table Mountain – and I’m sooooo glad that we did!!
You have two options to get up to the top: hike (which can take half a day), or a cable lift, which is what we took.
The view from Table Mountain is breathtaking, and I’m at a loss for words to describe it. It’s over 1000 meters tall and the “table” part of it is so flat that you’d think you’re on a field.
I didn’t have my FitBit on me that morning, but we hiked for several hours. I was so hot up there, and I managed to burn my head even while wearing sunscreen and a (rather goofy) hat! LOL Oh well, it was so worth it!
Standing at the top of Table Mountain really summarized my journey as someone with Crohn’s Disease and later an ostomy: I went from near death to feeling like I had conquered the world.
I wish and hope that every person with IBD can experience the same, and I would want anyone facing ostomy surgery to know that all things truly are possible.
At the top of Table Mountain, there’s a restaurant and gift shop. We picked up some souvenirs before heading to lunch.
The restaurant is À la carte and there were plenty of vegan options. I settled for salad, rice wrapped in spinach, potatoes, mixed vegetables and seasoned rice – it was all so amazing!!
But as we ate we noticed the clouds starting to roll over the mountain and the wind starting to pick up – this was a bad sign and soon after we heard their sirens wailing as they asked everyone on the mountain to get back to the cable lift.
From hot and sunny to cold and windy – that’s Cape Town! LOL After waiting in line for what felt like hours, we finally made it to the cable car that took us safely back down.
We went back to the convention center to catch a few more talks, and while I was there I picked up a painting and hand drawing from the very talented Petros Mwenga.
That night was the WCET Gala, and that’s where I’d have dinner.
The staff had not received my special request for a vegan meal in advance but were able to accommodate me on-the-fly with some creative dishes.
For starters, I had a beet salad with mixed veg – not bad, but I love beets.
For the main course, I was given a pepper dish in some really nice sauce – the peppers were layered in a way that you couldn’t see the one under the pepper you were eating.
Since I don’t dance, and since we had a long day, I decided to head back to the hotel. I ended up watching a horrible movie starring Robin Williams, followed by the movie John Wick, with Keanu Reeves – that was pretty awesome.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 (Cape Town)
This is my last day here, and it was another day of sightseeing!
After spending some time at the convention center to say bye to the people there, I went on a bus tour with several of the people from B. Braun.
The bus tour was really fun, and we were on the upper deck with no roof – clear view all the way!! We also had headphones from which we could hear the full tour as we went – high educational!
The way the tour works is that you arrive at different locations and you can either stop and explore or continue on the tour – either way, you can pick up another bus, which comes every 15-20 minutes.
We stopped off at Hout Bay, which has an amazing view – and seals!
We drove by Camps Bay, Sea Point, and Mouille Point before stopping at the waterfront.
The waterfront had everything you could imagine: restaurants, a market/mall, entertainment for the kids, boat tours (even one that goes to Robben Island), an amazing view and lots of places to walk to.
After getting a few more souvenirs, we stopped by a restaurant called The Greek Fisherman. Unlike the name, they were easily able to accommodate me with vegan dishes (which were really tasty).
We walked around for a bit more, spending the rest of our souvenir money before catching a cab to Plant – one of the all-vegan restaurants in Cape Town.
Plant was pretty awesome, and everything from the drinks to the main dishes were fantastic. I did make the mistake of ordering their large nacho platter, which was soggy by the time I got to it.
By the time I did, I was rushing to finish, as we still had to go back to the hotel and to the airport to catch our flight out!
We were taken to the airport using a shuttle, which almost didn’t make it from the sound of the car and the fact that our driver was slowing down while on the highway! LOL
Cape Town International Airport was pretty empty that night – our flight left at 12:30 am.
I will say that the security at the Cape Town Airport is similar to the one in Toronto – very basic, although they didn’t test for bomb residue (I didn’t mention I had an ostomy this time).
Thursday, March 17, 2016 (Amsterdam & Toronto)
Since our flight to Amsterdam was through the night, I basically slept the entire flight – stopping mainly for meals and a single movie.
They did feed us at around 1 am (shortly after the flight), and it included a wrap with cooked veggies, mixed fruit and mixed veggies (including corn). All of it was delicious.
The drill at Schiphol airport was the same as it was the first time: heavy security and a short layover.
We were given a meal soon after takeoff. Mine included cooked veg (potatoes, spinach, beans), a bun with jam, mixed fruit, a fruit snack and orange juice.
Since this flight was going against the time zone, we landed in Toronto soon after take off (crazy mind games!).
But before landing, we were given another meal. This time, it was that amazing tempeh dish I had on my first flight, along with salad, mixed fruit and a bun with vegan margarine. But unlike the previous tempeh dish, this one included chutney, which I gladly added over my rice.
Now, a couple of things regarding these two flights: Because I had eaten quite a bit the following day, I had to use the bathroom many times during these flights, in addition to the times at the airport.
Fortunately, I was sitting on an aisle seat, so I could get up as often as I liked without interrupting other passengers.
I arrived in Toronto after 4 pm, but not before flying by Canada’s Wonderland first =)
Quick points about bathrooms
All the bathrooms in the hotel and restaurants in Cape Town were modern and very similar to those in North America.
I experienced the same challenges using the public washrooms there as I do here (namely with self-flushing toilets and difficult to handle toilet paper), but it was manageable with my ostomy pouch.
The airplane can be tricky for those who like to kneel or squat when emptying their pouch (like I do), but should be much of a problem for those who empty their bag while sitting.
Quick points about eating
Finding vegan food wasn’t difficult, and every restaurant was able to accommodate me – even the ones that were nearly exclusively built on fish and meat (of all kinds).
It is helpful to know what questions to ask the server (I’ll have a future post on this – subscribe to know when), but I was never hungry regardless of where we went.
This was an amazing trip, and I thank everyone at B. Braun for making it possible.
Special thanks to Julie, who had to put up with my jokes for the entire time we were there!