Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sweat and Tears

I've had some difficulties with the climate in the jungle. It's been hot, to the extent that even the locals are complaining. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem: I'm an evangelical hot climate convert. But a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of getting quite badly burnt at the beach in Mollendo (Arequipa), when I didn't spread the sunblock around well enough when we went to play volleyball and football.

By the time I got to Iquitos, I was peeling on my back and chest, and had dried-up blisters. A couple of days and nights of the intense humidity and constant sweating, and I had come out in a rash all over my chest and the lower part of my back. I would wake up from a disturbed sleep scractching furiously. I tried smearing myself with aloe gel, moisturizer, and, following the advice of my local self-appointed nurses, alcohol (not recommended!).

Something had to be done, as I was about to head into the jungle itself for a couple of days, and I didn't want to even contemplate mixing with the mosquitos with my skin in such a state.

So I went down to the pharmacy, described my problem, and the woman there gave me a cream containing ani-inflammatory steroids and antibiotics. By then they were getting sick of the sight of me; in the first couple of days I had started to develop an irritating sore throat, and requested something to relieve that. Later, I returned and demanded their best insect repellent, as I have a history of being sweet meat for mosquitos.

I'm happy to report that the medicines were all cheap and effective. The pills and lozenges they gave me for the sore throat cleared up the irritation nicely, though they couldn't prevent the snuffly cold that developed a couple of days later. After using the entire tube of cream over a couple of days, my skin rash had settled down well too. This was also helped by a decision to sleep under a single sheet with the fan on its lowest setting (still rather strong) blowing directly over me. Part of my problem had been sleeping the first few nights with no sheet and the fan switched off, causing me to wake up with the sensation that somebody had empited a bucket of warm water over me.

And the excellent combined mosquito repellent / suncream prescribed by the woman in the pharmacy really worked! Together with the couple of long-sleeved t-shirts that I bought before heading into the jungle, it helped me to return to the city without a single bite, despite the clouds of voracious insects that accompanied us on the jungle walks (story to come).

I have a tendency to avoid all medication this side of Panadol, and generally go along with the post-Silent Spring distrust of too many chemicals and medicated lifestyles. In the jungle of Peru it's a different story. With the outdoor lifestyle abundance of fresh fruit and fish, chronic Western ailments are not really the problem. What is going to hurt you will hurt you swiftly and without apologies. You need to fight back fast with good drugs. My philosophy for living here has become: when in doubt, medicate, medicate, medicate.

I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford to do that, but that's the flip side of the inherent gringo vulnerabilities that we bring with us and cause us to fray at the seams in a beautiful natural setting where people wander cheerfully round explosing their healthy, bronzed and glowing skin - not something I can ever aspire to.

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Cecilia said...

I feel your pain, big brother...Just as well pale people still rule the world.

sophia said...

people actually choose to go hiking and camping with me as all biting creatures attack me first. Then they're too full to move on to others in the camp.