This entertaining (and informative) guest post comes from Jade over at Our Oyster.
“Whatever you do, don’t look like a tourist!”I’m not sure who said it first, or how it came to define what it means to be a successful traveller, but for some reason, six years ago when I started travelling this motto became my personal mantra. Of course, as a six foot tall, skinny white (ish) girl who moved abroad to study in Denmark – this was not too terribly difficult.
Things changed when I moved to Costa Rica – but not my attitude and aversion to “looking like a tourist.” And nothing can stop me when I put my mind to something.
A gringo trying to blend in, in Costa Rica
I love travel (obviously) and I also love volunteering while I travel, which led me to sign up to spend three months in a small village in Costa Rica, living and working with 13 other young people. This fulfilled not only my desire for new adventures, but also my need to come up with an excuse to take another year off of university. (sneaky!)
I stuffed my suitcase with every “teach yourself Spanish” book that I could find, and decided to pack light on the sunscreen. I was going to capitalize on my part Asian genetics and naturally dark hair to tan as dark as possible – I would never look like a local, but I could look damn close!
Every day, after working along side the local people on their eco tourism project, myself and one other girl went sunbathing for as long as possible in the afternoon sun. Our house was surrounded by cattle paddock, and our bovine friends didn’t mind if we – ahem – bore all for the noble cause of no tan lines. (Because you won’t convincingly look like a local if you have tan lines!)
We were an accident prone bunch. If it wasn’t wasp attacks and strange leg fungus, then at least one of us would be chopping our legs open with machetes. The nearest hospital was in a town about an hours bus ride away, and of course, the doctors do not speak English. But armed with my determination to blend in, and my “teach yourself Spanish” books, I became one of the main people in the group who was responsible for escorting the sickies to the clinic.
I became a medical translator – of sorts
The clinic was clean, not too crowded, and the staff were also very friendly to our rag tag crew. I guess word got around of the volunteering effort we were making, because they never once asked us for the $40 registration fee, and all of our medications were given to us free of charge.
So when I wasn’t working in the rain forest, studying Spanish, or escorting fungus victims to the clinic, I was sunbathing with my partner in crime. One day another member of our group decided that she also wanted to work on her tan. Unfortunately for her, her skin was not as used to the rough (and probably very hazardous) sun exposure that we subjected it to. But as with all mistakes, sunburn does not become apparent until after the fact.
After an hour or two of tanning, we would go inside to let our tans “develop” like polaroid photographs. Except that our poor comrade’s tan didn’t stop developing…it got darker, and then it got redder, and then it erupted into blisters two inches in diameter….. on her butt.
What happens when the sun shines where it isn’t supposed to
The next day I escorted her to the clinic. As we passed time in the waiting room I brushed up with my Spanish dictionary. “Sunburnt ass” was a new phrase for me.
We finally got to see the doctor, who was used to seeing someone from our group at least once a week. (As I said, we were an accident prone bunch.)
Ella teine…. una …. quemadura de sol …. uuuhhhhhh…. una ampolla …. en su … trasero!!
First he looked shocked. Then quizzical. Until finally he broke out in a laughing fit. When he gained composure, he gestured to my burning red (from embarrassment) colleague that he needed to have a look. Laughing some more and shaking his head at us, he gave her a variety of salves to help heal the burn and keep an infection away.
Sometimes I wonder if us gringos were given free medical attention solely due to the comedy we must have brought to the hospital staff. After all, you know what they say – laughter is the best medicine.