On day six of our seven-day vacation, a whittled-down portion of Billy's family and I decided to take a trip to see some Mayan ruins about half an hour away from our hotel in Playa del Carmen. The six of us pushed our way through the heat and humidity and climbed into the very van we had driven the two hours from our place in Merida to our brand new hotel in Playa. We picked our seats, pointed air-conditioner vents directly at our heads, and were ready to go.
The drive was spent, in large part, talking about how oppressively hot it was outside. Although we never actually witnessed a thermometer or weather man saying so, we believed it to be roughly four hundred and thirty nine degrees outside, with 8,562,264% humidity. Save for one brief interlude with a small monsoon, the sun was bright and strong and the air was thick and wet for each moment of each of our seven days south of the border.
The sun and I do not get along well. Sure, I love to spend time in the sun, and I enjoy a beautiful warm day just as much as the next person, but the time that the sun and I are allowed to commingle is very limited. And, though I can go out into our watered-down Pennsylvania sun for many, many hours, it seems that the sun found in states such as Nevada and Florida, as well as the sun in Belize and Mexico, has little to no use for me. More than a few hours, and my formerly starting-to-tan skin turns a bright shade of burnt, and I know I'm fucked.
Roughly four days into our vacation, my skin began to itch. It's a bad sign of a problem I encounter with pretty much every vacation I take to sunny climates: Sun poisoning. It usually affects my just my back and my chest, though sometimes it creeps down my arms, and occasionally down my stomach and onto my legs. Only mildly uncomfortable, the sun poisoning wouldn't bother me so much if it weren't so hideous to look at. Bright red splotches erupt first on my chest, in the cozy little nook between my boobs. It starts there, the rash spreading not unlike mold, taking root in one section of my skin and working its way outward and up. Before long, what look like small continents of red bumps cover my chest and shoulders, rendering all of the cute low-cut tops I brought along with me completely useless. If I'm lucky, it stops there.
Mexico, however, had other plans for me. My rash decided to stretch out and cover my entire upper half, little islands of blotches staking their claim on my shoulder blades, my arms, and along my spine. Though it limited itself to the upper half of my torso, it was of no comfort. Now I looked like a leper coming and going.
It was probably the fifth day of my vacation that my sun-poisoning really kicked it into high gear, taking up residence on, not only my chest and back, but my tummy and my thighs as well. After each shower, I would, quick, run to the mirror, hoping against hope that some mysterious salve in Mexico's water had miraculously and suddenly cleared my rash. And each time, I gazed upon my naked body only to be greeted by new strains of my rash, the fluorescent lighting of the hotel bathroom multiplying the horror exponentially.
"It's not that bad," Billy would say, walking up behind me and wrapping his arms around me.
"Yes it is," I'd mumble, dejected and sad, fingering the brightest and reddest patch of poisoning on my collarbone. "It's so gross."
"You look beautiful," he'd say.
"Yeah, but you love me. It's different."
And, with that, I'd put on whatever outfit I thought would best cover my rash, or at the very least, whatever outfit would distract the average eye from the rash. Then, I'd go about trying to figure out how I could spend the next twelve hours either indoors, or in the shade.
This proved to be difficult, as this vacation was of the family variety. Traveling in a pack makes it difficult for one to insist that, though we are in Mexico and staying ten paces from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, we should find the nearest air-conditioned bar and stay in it until the sun goes down. And though I was vetoed nearly every day, Billy's family was quite sympathetic to my plight, offering me seats in the shade and allowing me to bow out of any activity that involved too much sun exposure.
The sixth day, however, I just couldn't reason trading a Mayan ruin for another vodka-tonic. So I wore a t-shirt and a skirt - covering what rash I could, and deciding not to care about the still visible rash my fashion choices wouldn't cover - and climbed in the van with the rest of my party.
It was when we were about halfway to the ruins that it occurred to me that it was roughly noontime, the witching hour of Mexico. I can sweat sitting still in the shade at this hour, and we were headed somewhere where walking would be involved. "Are there any trees in Tulum? You know, trees for shade?" I asked Billy, eyeballing the jungly landscape.
"No, not really. Just ruins." My skin began to whimper prematurely, burning already just at the threat of sun. Billy looked over. "We can get you an umbrella or something," he offered.
"Listen," I said sternly, pointing a manicured finger at him, "I am not carrying around a frickin' umbrella, okay? My rash is bad enough as it is, I don't need to highlight the fact that I'm clearly unwell. I may be able to pass people undetected looking like this, but bringing an umbrella into the mix is certain to draw attention to what would appear to most as a skin disorder. No thank you."
He shrugged his shoulders and said okay, but the tone in his voice taunted me: "You'll be sorry," it cried. My skin acted tough, but it was scared.
In refusing to take the umbrella, though, I was forced to shade myself by other means. This included hopping from tree to tree, shady spot to shady spot, in an attempt to limit the amount of time I spent baking directly beneath the sun's scalding rays. Turns out, sun rash doesn't much care how many actual minutes you spend in the sun, it's going to itch and be uncomfortable either way. So I scratched and whined silently through the majestic ruins, only to discover that where the sun doesn't get me, the bugs will.
I climbed back into the van, a scant forty minutes later, with new splotches of rash and brand new mosquito bites to show for my trip. Looking at my own legs made me queasy. I rubbed Benadryl cream all over my arms and legs and tried my best to ignore it.
We pulled into our hotel and headed in the direction of our rooms. News in Billy's family spreads fast, and it turned out that a 4 wheeling expedition had been planned. Anyone who wanted to go should just turn right back around, climb in the van, and meet the rest of the family for a bumpy ride.
"Do you want to go?" Billy said, smiling at the thought of doing something crazy, involving risk and possible injury in one fell swoop.
I stared at him blankly. A few seconds passed with our eyes locked, his face hopeful and excited, mine full of confusion and disgust. "Look at me!" I demanded. I backed up and spread out my extremities to give him a better view of my body. "My skin is in ruins! I'm wearing band-aids to cover my surgical incisions! My belly button is still raw! I have a rash!" I pointed to a bug bite that had metastisized into what appeared to be a softball beneath my skin. "I don't even know what that is, but I'm sure it's nothing good." I looked at him quizzically. "Do you really think I want to try my luck with something that involves speed, wheels, dirt, bugs and sun?"
"I'll see you as soon as we're done," he said, kissing my cheek.
And I headed straight for the shade near the clear pool and nursed my wounds with the most effective medicine around: Vodka.