Now that Emil's gone back to the US, I'm the only native English speaker around for Brett to talk to, so all of his stories come through me first. One of these proved particularly helpful today. A few weeks ago, Emil started itching all over from chechen, a local tree with much the same properties as poison oak or ivy. Somewhere, he had heard that chaka, another local tree, had a bark and leaves that absorbed toxins on contact with the skin.
It worked, and Brett later used the same trick on an "especially painful sting" from an unidentified insect. As we were heading out to the field to track the King Vulture in ejido Veinte de Noviembre today, I told Mauro about chaka as I collected some of its peely, translucent red bark just in case. It was a wet, rainy day, which made getting and following a radio signal just that much harder. King Vultures preferentially hang out on big, branching trees next to water, so the signal we were following was a straight line along an undulating stream. After two and a half hours of crossing streams and jungle, we found the radio-collared condor perched in its favorite habitat.
We figured we were closer to the bridge we crossed on the way in than we were to base camp, but it turns out we were very, very wrong. We never did find the bridge, but I did try my hand at Macheteing for the first time.
After some coaching from Mauro I was doing pretty good. That is, until I hacked a wasp's nest hiding under a palm leaf. I gor stung on the eyebrow and it hurt like hell, but luckily I still had chaka in my pocket.
The thin wet bark stuck to my brow for a while and provided almost instant relief-relief that instantly ended when it dried and fell off. I think chaka works by absorbing water (and everything else) from your skin. As we found our way out and I replaced my chaka patch over and over, I could feel my eyebrow skin getting drier and drier. Its strange learning an ancient Mayan secret from a fellow Gringo, but thanks Brett!