Rain, pizza, pit vipers and John Waters

(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)

Saturday, September 1

I spent most of yesterday writing, or more accurately, rewriting the first chapter of The Book. I’m really happy with where it landed, but it’s just a second draft. It still needs a lot of work. And about 20 more chapters.

The rain let up around noon, so I ventured to Pizza Time, a nearby restaurant I’ve been meaning to try. It’s the real deal. I had a vegetarian calzone and a caprese salad that both were excellent. I really liked the place. It’s a short walk from here (not much is) and they have wireless. Might become a new haunt.

I finally finished Jack Ewing’s Where Tapirs and Jaguars Once Roamed: Ever Evolving Costa Rica, which I highly recommend. He has a scientific mind and a writer’s gift for description. His anecdotes about local people are fascinating. More than once I put the book down wondering how folks can be so mentally tough when facing physical adversity.

In one section, he tells the story of Alvaro Mesa, who is bitten on the arm by a tericiopelo, a type of pit viper. There are a few types of them here, and they’re incredibly nasty. After the bite the swelling starts almost immediately, and his friends try to get his wristwatch off:

The swelling had enjulfed the watch band in flesh. When Daniel gave up trying to remove it, his hands were covered with blood. It was oozing from Alvaro’s pores.

PigPen after his encounter with a rattler on Skyline Drive. This was a few days after the bite …

I once had a lab cross, PigPen, who was bitten by a rattlesnake on Skyline Drive in VIrginia. It took about an hour, all in, to get him to the vet, who told me the real danger at that point was infection. Snake bites can cause skin necrosis that leads to a lot of nasty infections and complications. If PigPen was still alive by the time he got to the vet, no need for antivenom. The vet did hook him up with antibiotics, and the poor dog’s leg swelled to twice its normal size. But within a week or two he was back to normal.

Pit vipers are much worse.

As his friends scramble to find a way to get Mesa to a doctor, they come across his archenemy, Eliecer Castro, who has a Jeep:

Eliecer Castro looked at the swollen form of Alvaro Mesa sitting at the edge of the road, blood dripping from his nose and dribbling down his shirt.

The sight was disturbing enough to prompt Castro to provide a ride despite his past differences with Mesa. It takes four hours from the time he’s bitten to the time he gets medical treatment. And it still isn’t enough to save his arm, which he loses to infection and gangrene.

That’s why Jeff strongly advised against bushwhacking here. I’ve even noticed that when someone’s running a weedwhacker they tend to armor up like a medieval knight — full face mask, chaps, the works. It’s like going to war.

As an aside, the most fascinating thing in that pit viper story (I guess I buried the lede here) is that after the bite, one of the men’s pregnant wife approaches and Mesa freaks out.

God, no! Stop her! Don’t let her get near me! If she gets too close I’ll die on the spot.

Apparently, it’s a common belief that being near a pregnant woman will instantly klll a snake bite victim. How strange. I’d love to know the origins of that …


Recommendation: Last night, I listened to a 2014 New York Public Library podcast interview with John Waters that was uproariously funny. Somehow, the sounds of the jungle all around me only added to the hilarity. Waters was discussing Carsick, the book he wrote about hitchicking across America, and it’s everything you’d expect from the man who made Devine famous. Definitely worth checking out.