Piojos

by Matt Samet
Spring 2006

We stepped off the plane into a sick yellow haze that stretched to the horizon – the product of 100-plus-degree temperatures coupled with rampant car exhaust. Mark and I had come to Mallorca, one of Spain’s famed Balearic Islands, to climb. Late spring seemed ideal: warm water at the beach, good temps at the crags, the shoulder of tourist season. But reality dictated otherwise: Not only was the isle mobbed, the heat made me itch.

We soldiered on through the blistering sun, visiting Fraguel, with its relentless lines on overhanging pockets and blobs; Alaró, a limestone butte housing a clifftop castle as well as stellar 30-meter routes such as Buf!, a 7a (5.11d) up pendulous stalactites that felt more like wrestling an octopus than climbing; Santanyi, a seaside cliff with coral-sharp grips and short, pleasant climbs on bomber red stone; Cala Magraner, with its wave-like walls lining an estuary; and myriad other crags, all top-shelf. On an evil-hot afternoon at the giant cave of Las Perchas, I flung myself at an 8a (5.13b). The moves went easily, but my core temperature rose so much with each go that I kept sliding off the crux pinch, drenched in sweat. And when I sweated, I itched. And when I itched, I scratched.

The weather went from hot to hotter, driving us to the beach, where we hoped to find Swedish nymphs cavorting in the surf, dark-skinned Mediterranean beauties lolling about in thongs, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the only women showing skin were antediluvian, slack-teated hausfrau. And the men, pregnant with beer bellies, strutted around in Speedos. Cranky with the heat, we passed the time by shooting tourons with a Ping-Pong–ball gun from our rental car and slogging through acres of charbroiled flesh, trying to find a vacant patch of sand. Finally, a cold front came, a drizzly mist driving the throngs back to their hotels. We took advantage of this three-day window to put the smack down on a few outstanding climbing projects, and I tried my best to hide The Itch.

“Why are you always scratching?” Mark asked one night while we stretched on the balcony of our hotel room.

“Umm, I hugged a homeless guy in the Baltimore bus station and he had body lice,” I told Mark.

“Okay, whatever. Just stay away from me,” he said. “And maybe boil your clothes ... and get some medicine.” I washed my togs, but two days later they were back: in my crotch, on my chest, in my armpits. I walked to the pharmacy. My Spanish is rudimentary; I pointed downward and muttered, “Licios ... por todo el cuerpo ... dolor ... muy mal.”

“Licios? Oh ... piojos!” the pharmacist, a proper-looking woman, exclaimed. “Piojos, piojos, piojos.” She disappeared into the back. Meanwhile, a family had shuffled inside, catching the whole exchange. The father, gathering his two teenage daughters close, eyed me suspiciously; the mother stared daggers. I felt the sweat creeping, crab-like, off my brow. This was horrible, humiliating, awful! I flashed back to all the name-calling and tourist hazing I’d done on this trip. Could karma boomerang so quickly? The pharmacist returned, passing me a white tube. I thrust a wad of Euro notes into her hand and bolted.

Strong, caustic stuff, the shampoo worked. With one less distraction at the crags, my climbing improved. And by the time I flew home one week later, the crabs were gone.

About the Author

Matt Samet, formerly the editor of Rock and Ice, now lives crab-free in Boulder, Colorado.