To fully understand the horrors that were about to befall Angelica and I, I’ll first have to show you some pictures of where we were…
Palm tree meadows, pristine Caribbean beaches, 85 degrees, cute wild monkeys, plenty of food, and lots of prospective friends around us. After a light breakfast, we took our bathing suits, shades, and a towel to the beach. The waves that lulled us into sleep the night before beckoned for us to play with them. I wanted to stay warm and knew those same waters would make me cold, so I laid out the towel and sat down. Shortly after, Angelica couldn’t suppress the mermaid inside of her and she was in the water. I resisted her siren calls and finger curls. In total I laid in the sun wearing just my shorts and shades for 45 minutes. We did not have sunscreen but neither of us gets much of a sunburn, usually. Finally, I jump up and run into the waves and we carve out our own section of the ocean to splash about among the Colombians, Canadians, and Europeans.
So far, so good. When we get out of the water we find an ice cream salesman peddling delicious coconut popsicles. We take a walk to another beach down the way. We start to notice we’re a bit pinker than we figured we should be. Our shirts go back on and we keep exploring. We find a nice secluded spot on the end of one of the many beaches around. As soon as we sit down, one of the life guards sees something in the water near a large rock. We’re the only people on this half of the beach but he’s about 30 yards from us looking intently into the surf. I’m convinced it’s a pack of venomous sea snakes burst forth from a hellish womb. Two more life guards came over and looked at the same spot. We never figured out what they were looking at but a mysterious looking coconut shell floated around the spot. Later, a husky European came over and tried to snorkel there before the life guards descended on him. He got out quickly but was pissed he couldn’t snorkel there. He didn’t speak Spanish and the guards didn’t speak anything he did understand.
Now I’m starting to get uncomfortable. My skin is burning up and my shirt is rubbing my skin all wrong. What is happening? We head back to our sleeping area, gather our stuff and switch from a hammock to a tent. We had been planning on doing this all day but it seemed now was a good time to set up and take stock of just what kind of damage we were looking at on my body. I take off my shirt and I immediately know what Tickle-me-and-I’ll-Kill-You Pink looks like against pasty whiteness. Angelica’s normally Greek olive skin is now showing hues of pinks turning to reds as well. ‘How?’ ‘What?’ ‘This is impossible.’ And other similar sentiments get repeated ad nauseum. We only question it for so long before Angelica realizes we need to bring out the big guns, and quick.
Before this moment, I thought the bulge of coconut and essential oils, charcoal pills, lotions, salves, balms, creams, unguents, liniments, dressings, and poultices were mostly a waste of space and weight in our shared backpack. Keep in mind we stashed our larger backpack at Magic House in Taganga, so all of this was in our smaller backpack for our Minca/Tayrona trip. After this moment, I would have gladly dumped my books, innumerable spare copies of The Seasonal, shaving equipment, clothes, toothbrush, money, and extra pair of shoes to make sure there was room for her homeopathic witch doctor kit. I was immediately dowsed in coconut oil, to keep the skin from drying out. Then peppermint essential oil was applied to keep me feeling cool. (The sunglasses helped here, too) Then orange essential oil for…and my mind became like a child’s. The pain was coming in waves. Lying still and looking straight up while I tried to keep my mind silent was my only defense other than Angelica’s black magic.
At this point, our best guess at how this could have happened to both of us after such a short exposure to the sun is the yellow fever vaccine we had gotten days earlier. They warn people not to go into tanning beds after a vaccine…maybe the reason for that warning is the reason we became fried lobsters? After a few hours of lying there and discussing the possible cause and sure effect, we decide to take a walk into the jungle to find the famous chocolate bread Angelica had heard about. Walking through what I envisioned to be snake-infested jungle took my mind off of my terrible affliction.
Along the way, I saw the hulking shoulder blades of a descendant of Godzilla. Imagine an embarrassing way for someone to yelp in fear. What you just imagined, that’s the sound I made. Angelica jumped back at my sound and we took five to fifteen long strides in the opposite direction. Two Colombian women were hiking behind us and came up wondering what we were fussing about. Just as they walked up, a lizard about the size of a Yorkshire Terrier walked on the trail beside where I saw the Komodo Dragon. They look me dead in the eyes and shake their heads simultaneously. I open my mouth to defend myself but not only is there nothing that could possibly be said in English, I couldn’t muster anything in Spanish either. That thing looked so much bigger before. So we continued on, my head down, tail between my legs, skin pulsing. We pass a building selling chocolate bread that we don’t think is THE place that sells chocolate bread. After another hour walk we decide maybe that was it and by the time we get back the place is out of chocolate bread. We take a late lunch just as their closing up and collect ourselves for the walk back.
After the walk back we lay in the tent and I get another round of medical treatment. After dinner, we decide we’re cutting our Tayrona stay short and sprinting for the buses out front as soon as we wake up. A fitful sleep later and we’re doing just that. The sun is angrier and angrier every step we take and the backpack straps feel like they’re balanced poorly on every nerve ending in my body. For once in my life, I’m not worried about snakes as I charge through the woods. The hike out takes us a couple hours and we jump on the nearest bus headed for Santa Marta and then back to our Magic House in Taganga.
I don’t remember much of the trip back to Taganga, I attribute that to the skin trauma. I do remember lying in bed with a thick layer of oils on my skin for that day and the next. Here’s a probably NSFW picture of me taken when we got back to Taganga…notice you can only see the strawberry and then the vanilla parts of the Neapolitan color scheme.Taganga was perfect for the first couple days of our recovery. It had been one of our favorite spots so far and the owners were wonderful. The woman in charge even taught me the Spanish word for my affliction, quemado. Quemado por el sol to be exact but that’s a silly thing to do, quemado works just fine. After a day or two of soaking in oil on the owner’s nice new sheets, it was time for us to a take a bus to Cartagena and then fly to Medellin. I thought the worst was over and it could only get better from there.
The bus ride from hell that came next proved me exactly wrong.