John Pearson

LRO (UK) - - Contents - JOHN PEARSON

…con­fronts an army of bit­ing beasties

Mos­qui­toes, mopane flies, scor­pi­ons – John’s met them all. But no mat­ter how ir­ri­tat­ing they are, he draws the line at dous­ing him­self with diesel fuel ‘To com­bat clouds of mozzies I per­fected the art of drink­ing a glass of wine in­side my head net’

I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced most kinds of pests on ad­ven­tures over the years, but prob­a­bly the most ex­treme was when I was on sa­fari in Tan­za­nia. The air was so thick with flies at one wild camp lo­ca­tion we had to re­treat in­side the Land Rover and wait un­til night be­fore they went away.

The Aus­tralian out­back can be the same – that’s why peo­ple used to wear corks hang­ing from strings on their hats, but a mod­ern al­ter­na­tive is to wear a net over your head. It’s not a great look, but it does the job. I wear one over my wide-brimmed hat, which means the net is away from my face. Or you can buy hats with a net in­side a zippy com­part­ment.

While camp­ing in a for­est in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, I’d never seen so many mos­qui­toes. Flies are an­noy­ing, but a cloud of mozzies is scary, and get­ting bit­ten was in­evitable. I tried to com­bat them by wear­ing my head net and gloves, and tuck­ing my trousers into my socks. I also per­fected the art of drink­ing a glass of wine in­side the net. But even­tu­ally it all be­came too much and I re­tired to my tent.

One thing I’ve learned is to find out what the lo­cals use and try that. Af­ter that night­mare Scan­di­na­vian ex­pe­ri­ence I dis­cov­ered that the lo­cals swear by Mygga roll-on, which did seem to help. I also use Avon Skin So Soft, which – as the name sug­gests – is a less dras­tic sub­stance to use on your skin than some of the more ex­treme re­pel­lents.

I think noth­ing could be so po­ten­tially harm­ful as a bug so­lu­tion sug­gested to me by a fel­low over­lan­der in Namib­ian – diesel. We were plagued by mopane flies, so called be­cause they’re found near mopane trees (although they’re ac­tu­ally bees, not flies). They make a bee-line (sorry…) for the mois­ture in your eyes and nose, so they’re re­ally ir­ri­tat­ing. The over­lan­der sug­gested smear­ing diesel on my skin, which I de­clined. He said he also used it on his wife and chil­dren, which is scary.

We ap­plied a more con­ven­tional re­pel­lent and lit a fire to re­pel them with smoke, both of which had no ef­fect. But some­one told me later that sim­ply mov­ing away from the Mopane trees will work…

A st­ing in the tail – lit­er­ally An­other thing I learned in Africa is to check the ground be­fore pitch­ing a ground tent for signs of bug nests. Or, worse, for the key­hole­shaped en­try to a scor­pion’s nest. Sta­tis­tics sug­gest that a scor­pion st­ing prob­a­bly won’t kill you, but it can be a quite hor­ren­dous ex­pe­ri­ence – just ask the LRO Ad­ven­ture Club’s Charles Mor­gan, who de­scribes be­ing stung as one of the worst days of his life. Charles now al­ways wears sturdy boots when he’s any­where you get scor­pi­ons and al­ways warns LROAC cus­tomers against us­ing san­dals.

It’s also a good idea not to leave your boots or cloth­ing out­side your tent – and take a torch if you get up to go in the night. One of the ad­ven­tur­ers on a re­cent LROAC Morocco trip climbed down from his roof tent dur­ing the night, spot­ted a scor­pion at the foot of the lad­der and de­cided he re­ally didn’t need a toi­let visit af­ter all.

The sun’s rays

You can’t see the dam­age the sun’s rays do to your skin un­til it’s too late. Apart from po­ten­tial long-term dam­age and even skin can­cer, the short-term pain from sun­burn or the ef­fects of sun­stroke could pre­vent you from con­tin­u­ing your ad­ven­ture the next day. Any­one who’s suf­fered from it knows just how low it makes you feel.

I al­ways wear a wide-brimmed hat and, be­ing fair-skinned, I slap on plenty of fac­tor 50 sun cream. I cover my arms and usu­ally wear long trousers if I’m in the sun for a long time.

Other harm­ful things Some­thing else you can’t see, but which can do you se­ri­ous harm, is a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion caused by some­one’s lack of hy­giene af­ter us­ing the toi­let. I con­tracted gas­troen­teri­tis while cov­er­ing the 2006 G4 Chal­lenge in Bo­livia, where a lot of com­peti­tors, sup­port team and me­dia shared rudi­men­tary toi­lets – and cater­ing fa­cil­i­ties. I also picked up a quite de­bil­i­tat­ing case of trav­eller’s di­ar­rhoea in Morocco, which is a fairly com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence.

You can try to com­bat this by reg­u­lar use of an­tibac­te­rial gel on your hands af­ter con­tact with peo­ple, in­clud­ing han­dling money. I’m also care­ful what I eat, es­pe­cially any­thing un­cooked. And in north Africa I won’t drink tap wa­ter, pre­fer­ring to buy con­tain­ers of treated wa­ter. I ap­pre­ci­ate it’s in­creas­ing the use of plas­tics, but my health is im­por­tant.

Wa­ter­borne nas­ties

One def­i­nite no-no is to drink un­fil­tered and un­treated wa­ter. It could be in­fected with bac­te­ria, in­testi­nal par­a­sites, viruses and more be­sides. So don’t be tempted, no mat­ter how clear that stream looks – you never know what’s go­ing into it around the cor­ner.

But you shouldn’t let any of this put you off trav­el­ling – just take a few com­mon-sense pre­cau­tions, which will help you to en­joy your ad­ven­tures to the full.

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