Bites and Stings
Sand Fleas and Sand Flies
Among the more annoying bichos (bugs) are sand fleas, which are virtually imperceptible but can leave a trail of welts on feet and ankles. The best way to avoid bites is by washing off after walking on sandy areas. Annoying and also extremely painful are the bites of sand flies known as tábanos inhabiting coastal areas, mostly on the Caribbean Coast. They look like a cross between a bee and housefly. You may not feel them on you until it’s too late, as they have a knack for landing gently on their victims. Tábano infestations are worst during the dry months, when breezes off the ocean are greatly reduced. If traveling to remote beaches, go prepared with pants, long sleeves, bandana, hat, and bug spray. It may seem silly going to the beach with pants and long sleeves, but it sure beats the very unpleasant experience of being bitten and pursued by these persistent critters (I speak from experience).
Lowland Guatemala is home to some of the world’s deadliest snakes, including the aggressive fer-de-lance, a pit viper also known as barba amarilla for the yellow coloring under its mouth. It’s easily distinguishable by its diamond-shaped head and intricate diamond patterns on its skin. It is fairly common in Petén, Izabal, and the Verapaces. Bites are usually fatal unless the victim receives medical attention within a few hours. Other poisonous snakes include rattlesnakes, the red, black, and yellow-banded coral snake, and the eyelash viper, which you should be particularly wary of, as it tends to blend in to vegetation, especially palm trees.
Wear high boots and long pants for hiking in the jungle. Always watch where you step and be particularly careful of woodpiles and rocks. Snakes tend to hang out near jungle watering holes and gaps created by fallen trees. For extended trips into the jungle, it’s a good idea to go with a guide. Let guides lead the way, as their eyes are keenly attuned to the presence of snakes and they are usually armed with a machete.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com