Many sportsmen complain that despite the health benefits of sports, they often do suffer from blows, fractures and more as they practise these sports.
A naturalist could say the same, the benefits of living an active life in the nature are quite tremendous… but what about the risks?
During my first visit and the Iguazú National Park in 1993, I got separated from my group of four friends and wandered off trail in the jungle. I finally ended up seeing them from a much higher point. I had a view of the endless jungle from above.
At the same time as I found my friends from a distance, I saw my first group of capuchin monkeys, jumping from tree to tree. So I let my friends know and of course they didn’t believe me because they couldn’t see them from below where they were.
Meanwhile, I was leaning my hand on the wooden rail in front of me, which did not please the giant red wasp that was resting right were my hand was and that of course, I didn’t notice. The pain in my hand and arm lasted a day or two.
Another time I also got lost and separated from my friend on the Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol), right in the middle of the lake Titicaca, in Bolivia (yes, I have absolutely no sense of direction, but that doesn’t keep me from travelling all around the world), I mistakenly wounded up in the garden of a house.
The dog of that house didn’t seem too pleased with this intrusion and invited me to see myself out with its barking. We were basically face-to-muzzle for some time, him barking, and me trying to explain that I was lost but still leaving his territory. As soon as I turned around to leave, he bit my foot so hard, but thankfully I was wearing thick pants so his teeth didn’t pierce through my skin.
However, he did leave me a large bruise that remained visible for weeks along with the big insect bites that I already had. The Bolivians gazed at my feet with obvious horror and disgust, to the point where some women asked me what happened.
My first big scar, which would stay with me all my life, dates back when I worked at the Córdoba Zoo.
And no, I wasn’t bitten by an animal but the quite heavy and rusty door of a cage that fell on my fingers, which cut opened one of my fingers lengthwise and crooked the bone of another a little bit.
We were three people trying to close and when the door, and just when the door closed, my finger was between the top of the cage and the door. I didn’t feel anything; I only saw blood dripping on my clothes. At that moment I had a little monkey grasping me, so I asked my friends to take it away. I fell half-unconscious as they did so. When I was a bit more aware and conscious, I asked my friend who was disinfecting my hand if I still had all my fingers. Lucky me, the answer was yes.
Otherwise I would have been writing this story with only 8 fingers.
Once at the hospital, I received a tetanus vaccine and the doctors got mad at me because I refuse to be stitched. I treated my wound myself using some aloe vera and within two weeks I was healed. When I got back to school the following Monday, my friends taught some animal bit me.
Other things didn’t leave scars, like the many times that jellyfish tentacles touched me while I was swimming in different beaches, monkey bites, parrots, baby jaguars, which one day got infected and hurt, but after some time, they didn’t anymore. The various and unknown fungi or skin problems that monkeys and rescue dogs infected me with or that I got by walking hours on humid creeks and grounds. As for the lice, I won’t talk about it otherwise my mum will get pretty mad.
There have been many other situations that could have ended really badly.
Like this year, when a female Vervet monkey at the Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, thought that I was too close to a tree where her babies were.
One the babies fell and started screaming; the mother thought I was responsible of what happened, so she started shrieking at me and showed her teeth with a clear intention of biting me. This time around, I didn’t even try to reason her, but I just started running while screaming: “Don’t bite me!” I think that the fact of having me scared and making me stay away from her babies was enough because she didn’t bite me!
Fortunately, I never had any case of zoonoses (infectious diseases that animals and human beings share) like psittacosis, nor was I infected with hepatitis that monkeys can transmit, which happened to a friend of mine at the zoo. So I can’t complain much, I only suffered from superficial wounds.
I found it interesting in a certain way, to have scars. Like those I got on my feet from horse falls, or on my elbow from a bicycle fall on a sand terrain in Kenya. They are memories of my full-of-adventures and busy life… even though some of these adventures didn’t always end well.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa