The facial expression of the hospital consultant said it all. “You must be crazy,” she clearly thought when I told her we were heading to the remotest corners of Sri Lanka as a family.
That’s not the reaction of those who dream of a week of adventure on the Costa del Sol. This is a real concern of a doctor in his prime. Question: My daughter Issie has severe food allergies.
According to AllergyUK, the problem has become a growing problem in the tourism industry, with the number of people suffering from anaphylaxis in Europe increasing sevenfold in the past decade. Between 1992 and 2012, hospital admissions for anaphylaxis increased by 615% in the UK alone, and the problem is global.
Both airlines and hotels are making progress, but what happened next is vivid proof that they need to do more, and when things go wrong, the consequences can be severe.
Qatar Airways’ in-flight hypoallergenic breakfast includes a small bowl of unripe melon; unsurprisingly, Issy complained during a four-hour layover at Doha airport that she was hungry. It’s 5am and there are limited food options in the terminal, we settle for a bowl of plain fries. After the usual publicity, she has a severe dairy allergy, checked and double checked ingredients and cooking methods to avoid cross-contamination, we were assured the fries were safe.
However, after eating a few chips, Izzy complained of a tingling sensation – the first sign that something was wrong. The tiny white particles that look like salt are actually tiny shavings of Parmesan cheese. When her body stopped, we administered an epinephrine pen and within minutes the airport medical team was on the scene.
What happened next was one of the worst experiences in my 25 years of travel, even compared to the dangers of reporting from war-torn countries like Afghanistan. While Qatar’s healthcare system is excellent, the country’s national airline is far less impressive.
When my daughter was taken to the ambulance on a stretcher, the Qatar Airways manager claimed she could only issue one fast track visa because those visas were for business class passengers and we were flying economy class. My son and I needed to join the normal immigration queue like everyone else, which was already winding around the arrivals hall. The airport manager did take pity on us though and took us to the front of the queue.
We spent the next 24 hours arranging hotels and onward flights. We were not intimidated by the harrowing experience of the trip and we ended up in Sri Lanka stressed and exhausted.
Speaks good English in most restaurants and hotels and shows remarkable tenacity and flexibility in preparing food. There is a general “no problem, we can do it” attitude. In every moment of our travels, we’ve found that people are happy to go the extra mile.
After a week of difficult travel, we arrived in the spectacular Minneriya National Park in the Northwest and chose to enjoy five-star comfort at Habarana Cinnamon Lodge. Upon arrival, I asked to see the hotel manager to explain our culinary dilemma and he immediately called the head chef. Sunanda Kumar clearly takes great pride in his work and proudly leads me to the impressive modern kitchen, where he explains that due to the many cultural and religious differences in Sri Lanka, extra care must be taken to Make sure all food is stored and prepared individually. to avoid contaminated areas.
“I want people to be happy, and if a guest isn’t happy, I get hurt,” he said. “I just want to do my best for my guests, including those with food intolerances or allergies.”
Although all hotel guests dine in the large cafeteria, the potential risk of other guests mixing up spoons was too great, so we asked to order a la carte. On a small patio in a corner near the pool, we dined with another British couple and an important-looking Sri Lankan man who appeared to be accompanied by a caretaker.
At £175 for four including drinks, not cheap even by Sri Lankan luxury hotel standards, but one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time. “Dad, this is the first time I’ve eaten out for a three-course meal,” Izzy said.
While we waited for the pudding to appear, our companion came over and introduced himself: “I’m Ranil Wickremesinghe, I hope you like our country”, he said. Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, which has been limiting itself to holidays to the UK and Europe, is proving to be taking a giant step into the unknown. Despite the obvious restrictions, with the right research, caution, common sense, and plenty of oatcakes and canned goods, hardly anywhere is truly off-limits.
Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) flies from Heathrow to Colombo via Doha.
Cinnamon Lodge Habarana (cinnamonhotels.com) offers doubles from $64 (£49), rooms only.
Sri Lanka Travel Network