â€œNoâ€¦seriously man.. you donÂ´t understand.. there are THOUSANDS of them. â€�
And that was actually an understatement. The constant itch on my legs had gone unaccounted for throughout the night. That is, until, I clicked on my headlamp and took a closer look.
The moles on my ankle seemed to be crawling around, and the dirt on my leg was migrating up towards my groin and waist. Armies of ticks were marching in droves up my body and every time I brushed them off, reinforcements arrived within minutes.
I was not content with my companions mundane reaction, so I further emphasized the situation, â€œYou guys. This is not all right. I have never seen anything like this. Are yaÂ´ll not getting attacked? How are you NOT freaking out?â€�
Granted, I have proven myself more susceptible to panicking about insects, particularly swarms of bees and hormigas (ants), but hundreds of ectoparasites seeking accommodations seemed different. Like the ancient naturalist, Pliny the Elder, I shared his thought that ticks are, â€œthe foulest and nastiest creatures that be.â€�
My companeros simply looked up at me, said nothing and returned to what they were doing: calmly reading. Vectors of more than a half a dozen diseases including Lymes and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, I had easily and instantly convinced myself that I had read in some guide book that ticks in the area harbored multiple undesirable diseases.
That night we found ourselves pedaling around looking for a suitable campsite, but ran out of light in a populated neighborhood. A large horse corral seemed like our best bet. I had gone to ask the neighbor about camping there and she said it was owned by somebody down the street but he wasnÂ´t home.
She asked me, â€œVan salir manana?â€�
â€œSi, muy temprano en la mananaâ€� I replied.
â€œCreo que esta bien, porque no?â€�
So, I sat picking off the endless supply of bloodsuckers and wished that she had not been so encouraging. In fact, I even wished I had spent money to get a cheap hotel room. Ten bucks would have been a fair trade just to get all the ticks off my body.
A fundraiser ride across Costa Rica had been organized to help us earn some money to keep our trip going, but the dozen riders who planned on joining all ended up bailing for different reasons. All the same, GoatÂ´s dad; a local adventure race organizer Mike and his son Chris were eager to ride and planned to meet up with us that night. The tick infested horse corral was not what we would have planned for our new traveling companions.
Our good friends Tom and Kenny had driven down from California to spend some time with us in Costa Rica. Tom brought his dog Ottie, a half coyote mutt he rescued while hiking the Appalachian Trail – itÂ´s coat of hair full from the Sierra Nevada winter was shedding wildly, particularly as it began to notice the ticks.
I had convinced Tom of our dire situation and he was busy inspecting Ottie, busily plucking the parasites.
â€œWhoah. Ottie is completely covered with Â´em. ThereÂ´s no way I can get them off. â€œ He commented with an equal measure of fear and amazement.
I decided I would fare best in my hammock. With some vigilance, I believed I could get most of the ticks off. With a combination of DEET and about 45 minutes of dedicated seek and destroy tactics I was able to rid myself of all but 4 (discovered latched onto my crotch when I woke up the next morning).
The sound of police sirens encroached on my dreams, and I woke to the reality of three SUVs skidding to a stop, and about a dozen uniformed police officers with bulletproof vests and machine guns arranging into double-file lines. A fourth car, apparently a taxi arrived and dropped off a few more policemen to reinforce their numbers. Quickly in formation, they advanced on our campsite with weapons at the ready. An impressive display.
I opted to get my clothes on and chat with them instead of waiting for them to come and roust me, a lesson learned from previous lynch mob encounters in Guatemala.
I heard the tried and true greeting, â€œSomos gringosâ€� from Goat or Sean and was not surprised to find them sufficiently collected (guns down) by the time they started questioning me. Always reassuring when they do not approach you with weapons cocked and pointed towards you. We are just a bunch of harmless skinny gringos, after all.
“Pasaporte?” One asked, with a discernible smirk coming across his face that made me wonder if he felt silly to have put on such a show for a few skinny gringos on bicycles.
It seems that neighbors had passed along the street and saw our headlamps, something they could only associate with drug dealers. The cops arrived ready for a showdown.
I handed the cop my passport. He opened it up and found himself distracted by a subtle itch on his hand. Then another somewhat further up on his arms. I noticed a similar phenomenon occurring with the other officers.
Instead of a shootout with a ring of drug smuggling long distance bike tourists, they found themselves fighting against a nearly invisible enemy beginning a dedicated war of attrition. And they didnâ€™t even know it yet.
Soon the whole police brigade was subtly scratching their various itches much to my amusement. After going down the typical list of FAQÂ´s about our trip, they departed; the last two officers squishing into the back of a taxi.
The so-called fundraiser found its end (after an unforgettable stretch of Costa Rican back roads where my companeros would all eventually encounter a bit of their own tick hysteria) along Lago Arenal at the foot of its respective volcano. We sat, attempting to fish with maggoty pork and finish off a bottle of fine Scotch while the volcano randomly spewed lava down, accompanied by an earth trembling groan and a crackling sound. Our cheers grew louder with each fiery display as our bellies burned from the Scotch and we contemplated the last few days.