PHOTOS BY Carter Clark

Jungle Type 1 Diabetes—A Day in the Life


As the photographer for an off-the-grid sustainability institute in a Panamanian jungle, my life is not super easy to explain. From our lack of walls to radical conversations, our lazy river days to all-night biodiesel production missions, I’m not even sure my mother understands what my life is like. Having type 1 out here is just another interesting addition to the mix. One thing is for sure though —I can thrive out here. Every life, regardless of how wild, can be coupled with great control if the right efforts are put into it. Knowing this, the world is ours to explore and find our passions in. Here’s a look into my day, with jungle-style diabetes control included.

My morning starts with the sun and the sound of howler monkeys. During this time, if my blood sugar is above 120, I take insulin immediately to combat dawn phenomenon.

When there is a sugary breakfast down in town center, my roommates and I stay on our platform and make eggs. This keeps my blood sugar in check and takes away late-morning energy crashes for everyone else.

My mornings are never the same, but unless it’s an editing day, I’m wandering around with one of our academic programs with my camera. This could be anything from a hike with our biology program, building a tiny home with our design thinking crew, or teaching English to second graders in neighboring San Miguel with our education team. The only thing consistent is that there is no sitting still.

To stay away from lows while constantly on the move, I munch on fruit or juices throughout the day. Most of the time, these do not require me to take insulin. It’s a delicate balance, but paying attention to needing these snacks makes mealtime dosing and control much easier and saves me time in the end. Not to mention, casually grabbing coconuts and passion fruit is not to be taken for granted. The tropics might be the best place in the world for fast acting, natural sugars.

All of our meals are prepared by our farm-to-table culinary crew, which means I am not a part of preparing or planning any of them. I had to learn a bunch of different carb counts upon moving here, in addition to knowing that my afternoon activities and what my morning looked like control the majority of what my dosing is.

When programming for our students ends in the afternoon, the valley is open to explore with much less planning. Swimming holes, volleyball games and back and forth conversations between hammocks are consistent parts of life. The everyday freedom to roam out here gives me strong incentive to keep my blood sugars in check.

Nights have always been the crux of my diabetes control. Knowing which way my numbers are trending after dinner is the big determinant in whether I’m going to join in on a night hike up the tributary or if it will be a slow night on the platform playing board games.

This life is far from what I imagined adulthood would be like when I was young. It comes with a lot of hurdles, but the rewards are far greater than those I ever thought life could deliver.

WRITTEN BY Carter Clark, POSTED 07/04/17, UPDATED 07/25/23

Carter Clark was diagnosed with type 1 in 1996 and at 23 is enjoying having found her voice in this thriving type 1 diabetes (T1D) community. She believes in the importance of chasing after things that make us feel most alive. Living a nomadic lifestyle for the past couple of years, she is currently a professional photographer for a sustainable education program in Panamá.