Photo Credit: Erica Christine Gordon
Erica Gordon: 'I’ve Been Declared Walking Dead 4X, But I’m Just Getting Started With Life!'
Last month, Erica Christine Gordon spent an amazing week in the Central American country of El Salvador, after thinking she would die from an illness that prevented her from traveling for over a year. The 35-year-old is originally from New Orleans and currently resides in Houston. For the past 12 years, Erica has run Elite Eventz, her luxury event and travel planning company.
Having had El Salvador on her travel bucket list for some time, she decided to finally make the trip after seeing a great $169 round-trip flight deal that was too good to pass up. She booked her flight three weeks in advance, and planned everything at night after work.
“El Salvador has 14 Departments and I visited two: San Salvador and La Libertad. The cities I visited in those Departments included Mizata, El Taquillo, Chiltupan, and Santa Tecla. I stayed in the Centro (San Salvador) City and just drove to the different areas daily. I visited during their Independence Day, so it was exciting to see the celebrations at the capital, as well as all of the locals’ pride for the holiday.”
One of El Salvador’s most popular tourist attractions that Erica had been looking forward to enjoying was the country’s massive rainbow slide. Actually called the ‘Imagine Slide,’ a ride down will only set you back a mere $5. The slide is a part of The Picnic Steakhouse, and dining at the restaurant earns you a pass to skip the line, which unsurprisingly can get pretty long. Interestingly, the slide sits at the top a mountain near a volcano.
“Because it’s higher up, there’s more precipitation. When I got to the front of the line it started raining, so I had wait for it to stop. The rain left the slide super slick and I literally screamed at the top of my lungs because I was going so fast. I remember thinking, man, other people’s videos are so deceiving and look much slower! I went so fast the drone couldn’t keep up! I literally slammed into the wall at the end. So, I had to do it again to catch it on the drone. The sun was out the second time I went, and I was able to go at a normal speed. It really was so much fun!”
During her trip, Erica visited several beach clubs, hotels, and resorts on day passes. She found this was a great way to enjoy all the amenities and views a property had to offer at just a fraction of the cost. Ranging in price from $20 to $35, some included only access to the amenities, while others also included perks like welcome drinks, food and beverage credits, a table and/or cabana, massages, and other entertainment, such as horseback riding.
“Nawi Beach Club was so much fun and also where I checked ‘horseback riding on the beach’ off of my list. This was a big deal for me, because as a kid the horses in the Mardi Gras parades used to terrify me and I developed a fear of them. Not only did I conquer that fear, but I did it in a gown! Queening! I also visited Hotel Palo Verde and Lagarza Hostel, which was my first-ever hostel experience. Overall, I loved all of the food in El Salvador, but Lagarza had the best food I had during my whole stay with such large portions! They have a passion fruit margarita that I got as my welcome drink that’s simply divine.”
As Erica’s first solo trip abroad in a long time, it felt good to be reunited with the thing that makes her the happiest and brings her so much peace, travel. The pandemic, coupled with the fact that she’d been extremely ill, had kept her stuck at home for over a year. In 2010, Erica was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease affecting the digestive track. She has been living with the illness ever since, and recalls being sick and struggling through the majority of her trip to Iceland in early March 2020.
“I almost fainted while glacier hiking and attributed it to not eating enough (one of my ways of coping while traveling) but the day after I got back to the States, my mom and sister found me unconscious, lying in a pool of my own blood. The doctors discovered that my disease was extremely flared up and that I had an ulcer that was almost penetrating through the lining of my intestines. I had no idea what this meant or how serious things would get over the next year.”
For three months this past summer, Erica had to go without any treatment or medication due to a long battle with her insurance company as she attempted to get approved for a new medicine after her old one stopped working. She found herself in and out of emergency rooms, dehydrated, malnourished, and struggling do basic things such as walk, eat, speak, and even breathe normally.
“Through most of July, I just thought I wasn’t going to make it. Because of the physical state I was in, along with the effects of the ‘rescue drugs I was prescribed, which compromised my immune system, my GI doctor advised me to eliminate travel and limit my interactions with other people. Talk about punishment! As an avid traveler, I literally felt like a huge part of who I am was taken away from me. So, my solo El Salvador trip felt like I was being liberated and had gotten my true independence back.”
As with many other chronic illnesses, Crohn’s is an invisible disease that is often difficult for people to understand. Some common misconceptions Erica faces include people assuming she is exaggerating since she ‘looks fine.’ In reality, however, there are many precautions she must take while traveling, especially during a flare up.
“Traveling with Crohn’s can definitely be a daunting task, so I try my hardest to build different systems to be best equipped for my holidays. I pack what I call my ‘diaper bag,’ which is an LV wristlet stocked with Imodium, panty liners, maxi pads, panties, and feminine cleansing wipes just in case an accident should occur. I also wear maxi pads in all transit methods and strenuous activities where restroom access may be limited (planes, trains, hiking, etc.) I choose to limit eating and drinking prior to excursions that have long drives and I avoid my trigger foods.”
Other precautions Erica takes include avoiding booking trips close to her infusion/treatment days and notifying the airline about her disease and dietary restrictions. She always keeps her medicine in her carry-on and makes sure to purchase travel insurance with medical coverage just in case there’s an issue.
For those feeling limited by the diagnosis of a chronic illness, Erica shares some advice:
“You are not your diagnosis, and your diagnosis is not the end of your life. I’ve been declared ‘walking dead’ four times now, but I’m literally just getting started with life! In fact, I’ve found that life truly begins on the other side of fear. This is why seven years ago I decided to create a bucket list of all the things I always wanted to do but was too afraid to do them, and all of the places I wanted to go but was afraid my illness would prevent me.”
“Every time I check something off of my list, whether it’s horseback riding on a beach in El Salvador, skydiving, learning to dance La Rumba in Cuba, glacier hiking in Iceland, or swimming with sharks in D.R., I feel that much more ALIVE! Travel has given me permission to truly live life, happily and unapologetically on that other side of fear. It’s a place where I can meet new people, try new things, eat new food, learn, and live. After the year I’ve had with my health, I’ve pushed up ‘being baptized in the Jordan River’ on my list, so I’m going to Jordan and Israel next month!”
You can follow Erica’s travels at @EricaChristineTravels.
Related: Traveler Story: ‘I Don’t Let Sickle Cell Disease Stop Me From Seeing The World’