Travel Lows and Woes: Skin Agony – Palawan,Philippines

Travel Lows and Woes: Skin Agony
Palawan, Philippines

Every summer when I was in law school, I would almost always go with my
schoolmates to the beach or to an island adventure. It was part of the
summer activities of the law school internship program.

During my last summer in law school, I was one of those tasked to facilitate
the present group of law interns. We did the planning of the activities,
worked on the budget, prepared evaluation activities, and did other
things for the program.

At the end of the summer, the evaluation of the internship program for that
year was to take place in a resort in Puerto Princess City, Palawan
Province. The Kiao Beach Resort was owned by Christian, an Austrian (if I remember
correctly), who was referred to us by some of our friends working in the city.

His resort was located in an isolated area. In the middle of forest
trees, his resort sits in a serene part of Kiao Beach. Modest cottages made of native
materials, with shower and electricity from the generator (electricity in
Palawan is available only during a limited period of time during the day)
were made available for our group.

Being in a forest area, many insects abound in the place. We had ample
protection though, like mosquito nets, mosquito coils and insect repellant
lotions. But despite all these paraphernalia, mosquitoes would still find
their way to suck on a small quantity of my blood. I was used to this
anyway, so I really wasn’t so worried about mosquito bites.

One afternoon, while I was lounging along the beach, in front of the
resort, I felt a sharp needle-like sting near the ankle of my right foot. I
immediately looked at it, and saw a very small red spot. There was a tiny spot of
blood.

I asked a friend of mine, who had worked in Palawan for two months
already, if he was familiar with any insect that would sting like that. I knew it
wasn’t a mosquito, and I wondered what insect would create that small spot of
blood. He told me that there were small sand insects that create the small stings,
called sand mites, or locally known as “Nik-Nik.” But he had not come across a sting
that caused blood to come out. He suddenly teased me and said that it was
strange and maybe that was a fatal sting. I shrugged him off of course, and
didn’t mind the sting anymore, since the spot disappeared already.

That afternoon, I felt part of my foot itch. It was on the spot where I was
stung by the strange insect. There was no sign of any bite or sting, no
swollen or reddish mark or rash at all. But it really felt so itchy, like
something very tiny was wriggling inside. I didn’t mind it so much, but I
guess I would unwittingly scratch that part, until my skin would turn
slightly
red.

I forgot all about it anyway. In the evening, our last night at the
resort, we had a small celebration. I had a few drinks, which made me quite drunk. I
really don’t remember much of what I did that night, but I knew I would
lie on my back on the sand without having put on any insect repellant. I also knew
that I felt some itching sensation on parts of my feet and legs, but as I was
drunk, it didn’t bother me as much.

The next morning, I had several rashes on my leg. They were not like the
ones you’d get from mosquito bites. They were redder and smaller. And they were
much itchier. Again, I would feel the same sensation as if there were tiny
things wriggling inside each rash. I looked at the part where I got my first
sting, and surprisingly, it now had a rash on it too.

On the trip back home, I would occasionally scratch on the itchy rashes that
did not seem to go away on their own. My friends would remind me not to
touch them at all. One of them even offered me an anti-allergy tablet, but I
refused to take it since I wasn’t familiar with it. I figured that when I get home,
I’d visit my dermatologist.

A week after since we arrived home, my rashes did not subside. I wasn’t able
to go to my dermatologist earlier because I thought I could do some self-medication. By this time, the rashes had spread to part of my arms. The small little bumps resembled the ones of chicken pox. Itchy…and very itchy! I had
asked around about insects in Palawan. And I did learn that those were quite
expected from every visit to resorts and most other places in Palawan.

“You’re even lucky,” a friend of mine had said. “Some people get malaria
from
mosquito bites there. At least all you got were skin rashes and it’s nothing
fatal.” Yes, I guess I was. But still, the skin problem bothered me a lot.

By the time I had visited the doctor, some of the rashes were already bruised
from my incessant scratching. The doctor said that the scratching caused the
allergy to spread to other parts of my limbs. I was given medication, both
oral and intravenous. Antihistamine tablets and anti-puritic creams were
prescribed to me.

Months of medication did not relieve the discomfort nor the rashes on my
skin. In fact there were times when the rashes felt very prickly and caused burning
sensations on my skin. The medication only relieved the discomfort
temporarily, but the sensations would recur.

“That’s what you get from visiting places you’re not familiar with,” my
mom had said, partly blaming me for being such a persistent traveler.

My arms and legs were the victims of this dermatological misfortune. I
had to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants whenever I went out, lest people
would think I was suffering from prolonged chicken pox (which by the way is highly
contagious). I would visit my skin doctor almost every week to get allergy
shots and new prescribed medicines. All of these only served to relieve the
itchiness and the prickly sensation. But the rashes remained marked on
my skin.

A year after, I was almost bent on resigning to myself that I was
“marked” for
life. This caused me moments of depression. I always had fairly nice and
relatively unblemished skin, but after that trip, I was no longer to enjoy
wearing my favorite outfits: sleeveless shirts and shorts. I almost hated
Palawan!

I also resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beach
as much as I would want to. My tarnished skin caused me many insecurities and
I could not dare wear any swimsuit in public. My beach life was doomed!
Again, I almost hated Palawan!

But I guess when you stop struggling so much and refrain from worrying about
things that seem to be impossible to resolve, everything starts to become
better. I became preoccupied with my bar examinations. When I passed, I was
busy deciding what to do. My skin was still blemished badly, but it was more
important for me to know that I had become a full-fledged lawyer. I had
begun to enjoy my trips even if I still couldn’t walk along the beach in my
swimsuit. What’s a skin allergy compared to hurdling one of the most
difficult exams in the country?

My skin ailment was finally cured two years after that fateful bitten day in
Palawan. I must admit Palawan traumatized me a bit, and I didn’t go there
again until many years after. I am fully recovered now, although the doctor
told me that my skin was already predisposed to the same allergies and
rashes. Nevertheless, my never-dying need to travel and visit places with strange
insects again will not make me stay home.

Whenever I travel nowadays, I arm myself with the cream I use to soothe
itchiness and cure the first rash that attempts to burst out of my skin.
And I was able to visit Palawan again and marveled at its awesome beauty.

I am no longer afraid of the insects that threaten my existence as a
relentless traveler! I have vowed to wage war against them for the rest of my life!
(But of course, I still get worries whenever I see the first sign of an insect bite
on my skin…sigh…the plight of the unfortunately overly sensitive skin.

Traveler Article


Leave a Comment

  • Tezz Calvo said at 2013-12-22T13:39:57+0000: Oh my gosh i just came from el nido and i got the same thing... This is horror.
  • Ismhael Cantada Veran said at 2011-06-01T13:56:19+0000: I was bitten by nik nik too. I found out that these sand flies deposited a parasites in every bite that's why it is very itchy. What I did was I put salycsilic (I'm not sure of the spelling) acid using a cotton bud s to the bitten spot. Then after the solution dries out, I put canesten cream (anti-parasitic) morning and evening. The itching only last for about two days only and healed the following days.