Last Sunday I led a hike to the Selva Negra Nature Reserve near Ahuisculco.
This was one of a series of monthly hikes organized by Bakpak Magazine. On our way to Selva Negra, we took a side hike to El Valle de los Perícos (Parakeet Valley) to see the huge obsidian workshop there.
We found the workshop, a waterfall I had never seen before, several parakeets and … lots of chiggers!
So, I guess it’s time for my yearly reminder: summertime is chigger time! In Spanish, these annoying creatures go by the name of ácaros rojos or güinas (pronounced GWEEnas). They are Trombiculid Mites, famed for their ability to cause more misery (for their size) than any other creature on earth!
You go for a hike, come back in fine shape ... and then, a day or two later, red welts begin to appear somewhere on your body (usually the softer parts) and if you’re unlucky, they may appear in the dozens and they will itch worse than you can imagine. Should you innocently think of them as mosquito bites and scratch them, you are now in big trouble. Scratching will bring infection and infection will result in them plaguing you for weeks.
You can get these mites when you brush past a tall weed overhanging the trail you’re on. Since they are so small that you need a microscope to see them, you’ll never know when they climb onboard your body.
Sitting on the ground is another way to pick them up and I know one experienced hiker who actually carries a super-light folding chair in her backpack and that chair is the only thing upon which she will place her posterior when hiking or camping.
To discourage chiggers, just spray bug repellent (containing DEET, sorry to say) on your socks, calves, waist and neck before the hike and always wear long sleeves and long pants. Upon arrival at home, immediately take a shower and scrub every inch of your skin – twice. Then toss all your hiking clothes into the wash. Should red welts still appear, lather on calamine lotion (Caladryl in Mexico) and don’t scratch! If the itch is too much to bear (especially at night), apply Andantol.
Other annoying bugs you may encounter during this season are jejenes, tiny black biting flies that many a tourist may identify with the famed port of San Blas in Nayarit. If you are visiting San Blas this time of year, you need to lather DEET-based repellent onto every exposed skin surface except your eyes and forehead. That may hold you for a few hours. Be prepared to repeat the show twice more in the course of a day. That should prevent you getting bitten, but won’t stop the jejenes from swarming around your head in a cloud, so you may still find yourself performing what Douglas Brown calls “The San Blas Salute:” waving a handkerchief in front of your eyes whenever you’re trying to talk to someone.
Another bloodsucker I might mention is Triatoma infestans, the Big Bed Bug (chinche hocicona) which likes to sneak up on you while you are sleeping under the stars and insert a needle in your neck. Because they sometimes transmit Chagas Disease (which killed Darwin), I suggest you always sleep in a tent.
As for scorpions, arachnid expert Rodrigo Orozco says Mexico is the world champion, with 120 species. The most dangerous are members of the Centruroides species, typically found on the Pacific Coast. If you get stung, head for a hospital and try to bring along the creature that stung you. If you discover ticks on your body, use alcohol to clean the area around the tick and use tweezers to grab it as close as possible to the head. Pull it out and clean the bite area again with alcohol or soap and water.
Finally, we have Africanized Bees, which you might run into if you step off the beaten path in Mexico. For a succinct list of do’s and don’ts, just Google “Recommendations for avoiding a Mexican killer-bee attack.”
Placing all these dire warnings on one page should not put you off. Most likely you will not encounter even one of these pests on your next hike. But if you do – and you are now wearing long sleeves and long pants – you should still be smiling on the following day. Happy hiking!