Here Comes the Sun

copy-of-steven-j-srommer.JPGAnd it’s all right. Except if you’re from Scandinavian and Eastern European genetic stock like I am, and happen to be in equatorial or tropical climates. It’s then that sunshine and heat can be akin to “The enemy”. It’s kind of strange to me that I’m even thinking like this since in my part of the world we just came out of a few weeks of arctic type temperature and weather. Not to mention the older I get the more I long for warmth and sunshine during the dark dreary months of wintertime. Daydreaming of golf and fishing, beaches and swimming, warm sultry breezes and blue skies and sunny days. Romantic isn’t it?

It’s only romantic during the winter. The reality is more like oppressive heat and relentless humidity with scant sources of shade and the never-ending quest for an oasis of air conditioning. Truly the grass is always greener elsewhere, but all too many times I’ve been on the road traveling and have been subjected to weather that at home would have been manageable (because of familiar resources) but when away from home make each day away a struggle (I’m such a softee) in a quest to achieve a measure of continual comfort. By and large though it’s always been an issue of sun and heat being the main culprits. Coming from a temperate location I’m usually traveling when it’s either cold or moderate at home and it always seems that no matter what the guide book may say about the climate at a given time of year of the place I’m going to, when I get there it always tends to be warmer than normal or a heat wave is in full effect. This is not to say that on more than one occasion you learn that even in a place like India or Turkey or Egypt it can be cool to very cold in January also.

Those bargain prices too Thailand were there because (Duh!) it was during their “Hot” season, and trust me when they say it’s hot there, that IS saying something.

Staying warm for me has always seemed simpler, grueling yet simple. Wear lots of clothes and find a source of heat, easy. It’s not that there aren’t inherent perils to the cold, there are, but if you can find some shelter and the proper clothing you can manage to stay warm, and I’m not talking about a survival situation either (I may be wrong but isn’t there some validity to cultures that exist in moderate to cold environs tending to be a bit more vigorous than their hot weather compadres?). The problem is there’s only so much clothing one can shed when it’s hot and even that solution has its limitations. It’s one thing to be a native and to dress like one, it’s clearly another to dress like that when you clearly aren’t, especially when the natives don’t wear much. To be a paleface on top of that seems dangerously perilous. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating, as it clearly hasn’t deterred too many Swiss, Germans or Danes from doing that very thing.

There are a few considerations to take into account when it comes to this type of scenario at least for someone as fair in complexion as myself. The last thing I really need at this stage of life (given all my other lifestyle risk factors) are a few new moles that are decidedly not stationary, but in fact want crawl around on me. The bright blinding hot tropical sun is not my friend. I’ve given up on ever considering myself a tanner. I turn red, peel and then get freckles (or moles) and start the process over again. The lesson has been taught to me repeatedly over the years. The last time was in Ethiopia where the sun scorched my forehead and scalp badly and I spent the next few days brushing scabs out of my hair and searching in vain for sunscreen. Imagine the look of confusion on the local faces as I tried to describe what this faranj wanted. They kept trying to sell me hand cream. My forehead is still mottled to this day. I probably doomed myself then and there. Of all the things that could have happened, it will more than likely be sunburn that gets me in the end.

Hydration and shade are the obvious ways of dealing with heat and sun. Remember I’m not talking about crossing deserts or surviving in the jungle here just places that are maybe a bit unlike home (if it isn’t Bangkok or Khartoum). One of the great boons to the traveler now is some of the fine light clothing made for sportsmen in particular for fishing. Because the chance of getting some bad burns out on the open water, much of this light, multi pocketed very functional clothing now is made with SPF 30 protection built right into the fabric. The clothing breathes, dries quickly if wet and comes in a variety of styles and colors. I have to admit some of the colors aren’t exactly great if you’re trying to blend into the local populace (Crawfish, Sea breeze??) but most are more than sufficiently bland enough to do so. And did I mention the pockets? Of course I did. Some lines from outfitters like Cabela’s and Columbia have pockets upon pockets, for giving virtually everything you’ll need if you’re on the road a home. Saris and local attire is fine if you can figure them out or have help in doing so.

Where my skin is exposed I tend on the side of error and use the highest water resistant SPF I can find. The stuff made for little kids rated at some ungodly high number suites me just fine. Providing when I apply it that I don’t look any whiter than when I first started it’ll do, and because I will sweat profusely (due to high hydration rate and high blood pressure) I’ll need it to stay put and not run off me whether walking on the beach, snorkeling or kicking around town. Some brands even come in handy rub on stick form.

I’ve also taken to wearing a hat, something I never do when I’m at home (except when it’s cold) and when I do a “boonie” style serves a few purposes, style is one and function is the other. Style wise it makes me feel like the rugged individualist (Not!) and functionally it will keep sun and rain out of my face yet I supposed the baseball hat makes more sense though strangely it always has me feeling like “Look at me I’m an American!” (Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that…is there?). The wider brimmed hats make me feel like the member of an elder hostel group old before my years and a sombrero well whatever floats your boat is ok by me. Baseball players of yore used to swear by wetting a leaf of lettuce and putting it underneath your hat, and a wet towel or some ice water soaked and applied strategically can’t hurt either. In areas where they are available fresh coconuts are a cheap nourishing treat that can’t be beat for fluid safety and refreshment. Hydration salts can be helpful to keep on hand also for this and other applications.

Some other important considerations when in the sun are:

1.Certain medications can be problematic, be sure to check if there are any particular warnings involving sun exposure and be careful of any creams or lotions you may wear that could potentially sensitize your skin. Drinking alcoholic beverages (or smoking tobacco) will actually do you a disservice and might help speed along any negative heat related health issues.

2. A good rule of thumb is avoiding undue exposure to sun when your shadow is shorter than you are (Usually between the hours of 10am and 2pm).

In a worst-case scenario you might even come down with a case of sunstroke. This is when the body is unable to regulate its internal core temperature. Some symptoms of this are:

  • Headache, nausea, dizziness
  • Red, dry, very hot skin (sweating has ceased)
  • Pulse-strong and rapid
  • Small pupils
  • Very high fever
  • May become extremely disoriented
  • Unconsciousness and possible convulsions

If one or more of these manifest themselves it may be prudent to start the process of lowering your bodies temperature by taking some tepid showers (if possible) and drinking plenty of cool fluids, cold compresses fans and obviously air conditioning are all pluses. Sunstroke is no joke and face it the older we get and the less attention we tend to pay to our well being the more apt we are to suffer from something so simply prevented.

Unfortunately for someone like myself all this is easier said that done.

For all your heat related issue needs, this and so much more can be found here.

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