There Will Be Sun

23 04 2008

Orange River

The Orange River, yellow sky, red grass 

Unfortunately, because I am not very tall I am unable to see the top of my head.  I am therefore blissfully ignorant of just how rapidly my hair is thinning…until I spend a day in the sun and see steam rising from my reddened pate in the shower the next morning.


Being of northern European extraction, I was not designed for vast quantities of sun or extreme heat. I am well accustomed to rain, not especially perturbed by gnawing damp and consider a fine mist to be, well, just fine. However, even though I love hot sunny weather, it has been known to take its toll and leave me resembling Larry the Lobster.


There is a tree in Costa Rica which the locals refer to as “The Tourist Tree”, because its bark turns bright red before peeling off. It could just as aptly be named “The Adventure Blogger Tree”:  it doesn’t seem to matter how much sun block I apply, how big the brim of my hat is or how careful I am in choosing my place to sit, I always end up somewhere between pink and puce. It’s as if the sun takes out a slide-rule and determines how best to refract off any available surface in order to burn me.


Given the decrease in the ozone layer and the rise in skin cancer, this is not something I take lightly. As my favourite trips are active ones in tropical areas, it’s always an issue for me and despite my plentiful experience with them, severe sun burns are not a lot of fun. I once embarked on a 5-hour canoeing trip on the Orange River in southern Africa. Well aware of how brutal the combination of water and tropical sun is, I wore a baseball cap and slathered myself with the highest sun block available until I look like a lard-covered turkey just before the Thanksgiving trip to the oven.


I emerged from the trip seemingly unscathed. My arms, my face, my knees…even the tops of my ears were all fine. It was only when I climbed ashore and attempted to lift the canoe from the water that I realised that I had quite possibly become the first human ever to sunburn their armpits. For comfort and ease of movement, I had worn a loose cotton t-shirt and unbeknownst to me while on the river, with each upward movement of my paddle, the sun evilly shot-down the baggy sleeves and singed my pits…stroke after stroke, hour after hour.  I spent the next few days in annoying discomfort, applying a careful concoction of aloe and deodorant to the tenderness.


Sunburns are very serious and the closer you travel to the equator, the more brutal the sun is. Even if you are not susceptible to sunburns at home, make sure you are properly prepared when you travel. Overcast days can be just as perilous as a clear blue sky, and a bad burn can not only spoil your trip, but can have considerably more serious repercussions later in life.


A nice tan is one thing, but sunburned armpits are, well, quite simply, the pits.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008





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