Sunburned in Paradise

Finally…the beach!  The Blessed Beach!  We had survived a whirlwind tour of Thailand and Cambodia and our reward, finally, was a glorious stay at the beach.  I counted on my fingers how many days I had to lie around and do nothing except hop between the sea and the swimming pool.

The first day in our Thai tropical island paradise, we laid on the beach in the afternoon. The sun wasn’t necessarily “out” so why would we need sunscreen? We laid our white bodies across the chaise lounges under a clouded sky. Brian, my brother-in-law, laid under his beach umbrella, which proved unnecessary.

Unnecessary because he got as burnt as we did. I don’t mean, pink, or a touch of red. I mean a full-on, beet red, please please don’t touch me sunburn. The kind of sunburn that heats up your  body and your entire hotel room. In fact, a dozen sunburned bodies like this could probably replace a power-generating dam.

I was in so much pain I could barely wear clothes.  I looked for anything that was free-flowing and wouldn’t touch 90% of my suddenly crunchy skin.  Clothing options like this were limited and full nakedness seemed best.  I also refused to bathe. I couldn’t bear the thought of water beating against my searing skin. Clearly we needed help of the soothing kind. Aloe Vera Lotion would be our savior.

The four of us ventured out, down to the “road” outside our hotel. A small string of shops lined the almost-empty, narrow, half dirt-half paved roadway. The German entrepreneur spotted us first. It could’ve been our burning-bush bodies that alerted him we were first-timers to Thailand. We glowed, and not with the enthusiasm of vacation. “Ahh, you have the sunburn. You need aloe vera. You can get it next door at the mini-market. Then come back for coffee.”

I bought the largest bottle of aloe vera available, along with sunscreen, potato chips and chocolate cookies, all necessary ingredients for recovery.

Now it was time for my medical care. I pulled out my large bottle of aloe vera.  When applied, the green gel melted into liquid the moment it touched my skin, like oil on a hot pan. I quickly tried to stop the flow of my liquid gold, scoop it up and re-apply. It was to no avail.

Onto the bed I went, face-up, so the aloe vera could soak into my body instead of the floor. Once the gel dried, however, I stuck to the bed. When I tried to get up, the dried gel pulled at my sunburned legs as though it would rip the skin right off. Oh my gosh, the sheer pain!!  Nevertheless, I repeated this procedure every hour, believing in my heart of hearts that if I applied enough aloe vera my sunburn would magically disappear. It did not.

The next day I laid on the beach, mummified. I only had 6 days here and if I waited for the sunburn to be over, my days at the beach would be over too. I determined to soldier on. My outfit consisted of aloe vera and sunscreen (both of which are considered a layer of clothing based on the volume I wore), swimsuit, beach cover up wrapping around every inch of my legs, t-shirt, and long-sleeved blouse over the top.  Add to that a scarf around my neck and chest, along with a big, floppy hat and sunglasses. I looked like Jackie O in her later years.

Going for a swim became an undressing ritual. And once in the pool, the water repelled my body like oil and water. I could glide with ease, secure in the fact that not one drop of chlorine was touching me or my sunburn. How could it possibly breach my armor of sunscreen and aloe vera?

At the poolside, the most troubling aspect of my ordeal became apparent: I felt a duty to tell every guest at the pool about the status of their own sunburn. I felt a moral obligation to one guest in particular. She had the look of a Russian, and the body of a wrestler. A wrestler with a very bad sunburn. As I swam in the pool with Gracie, I couldn’t quit looking at this Russian woman. I told Gracie, “I need to tell her to get out of the sun.” Finally, I had my chance when she hopped into the pool. I surreptitiously watched her from all angles, trying to determine exactly how bad her sunburn was, and which areas in particular were most vulnerable.

I know she thought I was stalking her, which is probably why she decided to get out of the pool. Not to lose my chance, I swam over to her while she hoisted herself up the ladder. And being that my Russian is a little rusty (or non-existent), I said in English, “Very Red.” And then I took my index finger and pointed and actually touched her shoulder. It was the least I could do in an attempt to save her life. Gracie looked on, horrified.

The Russian woman smiled at me the way you smile at a psycho, then scampered out of the pool. To humor me, she draped a cover up around her legs, kind of. Just enough to taunt me and convince me she’d call 911 at midnight when she woke up with her body on fire.  She actually may have died from it, since I never saw her again after that day.

The good news is that my sunburn didn’t keep me from ordering fruit smoothies every day on the beach, reading through all my books, and napping. These essential ingredients remained intact. On Day 4 we were finally un-sunburned enough to go ziplining, wearing a harness around legs previously too hot to touch. And I don’t mean in a Cindy Crawford kind of way.

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