…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.
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.