Monday, August 8, 2011

Alaska Highway
Episode 5 - Mosquitoes

People joke in Canada that their national bird is a mosquito; not super funny, I know, but true. Mosquitoes of the North (Canadian and the one from Alaska) are world famous.
Before this trip my understanding of mosquitoes habits was that they live in warm places, near stagnant water, bite in the evenings and not necessarily like me (I’m one of those lucky ones whose company, but not them, gets bitten). Well, the mosquitoes here are total exception from that rules. First of all there are at least twice bigger than the one in Europe (they say everything is bigger overseas…), you can find them by the sea and as high as 2000 m a.s.l.; they will bite whether it is 2C or 32C, whether it is early morning, midday, afternoon or in the middle of the night! And they are super aggressive; apparently they can drink over 0.5 l of blood from a moose a day! Poor moose sometimes gets mad and runs where is too cold for it and die.
However, we were lucky not to meet the worst ones. First mosquitoes appear in Alaska in mid May and last until August. And as their reproduce they are gaining better survival skills; each generation grows bigger and more aggressive, so if the first ones take some time flying around you before biting, the later generations just bites. Apparently tourists can barely stay outside by the end of August.
Though they can be vampires, they are not bad everywhere. We’ve been camping all the time and in some places, against all odds (damp and warm) there where hardly any mosquitoes and in others we had to be moving literally all the time to not to bet bitten. However, we both agree that our worst mosquito experience was not when camping, but when cycling; sometimes when we go up a steep hill we are so slow that these little beasts can actually catch up with us and be biting us! So imagine – warm day, us tired, going uphill, trying hard to pedal and breathe to keep the rhythm, eagerly looking at the top of this f… hill and suddenly feeling something itchy here and there, and there, and there...aaaaaaaaaaaa! And there is really no solution – it is too hot to put more clothes on and any repellent we will just sweat out in half an hour.
If it comes to dealing with mosquitoes on a regular basis, human’s creativity goes beyond expectations; or actually I should say tourist, because locals somehow get used to them. In supermarkets you can find the whole section with anti-mosquitoes stuff; repellents, nets (starting from just a head cover and finishing on whole body suit), ‘smelly-smoky’ stuff (apparently coils work the best), there is even an anti-mosquito application for smart-phones! Some people told us also that some type of washing powder rubbed into skin works well…they might’ve tried to trick us though…However, everybody says that, at the end of the day, DEET is the only thing that really works. So how are we dealing with mosquitoes? We have, let’s call it, our anti-mosquitoes outfit, which is long trousers, long-sleeve top and buff to cover head and neck (they will bite through hair and some don’t even have hair…) and sometimes this is enough; but if they are very bad we spray clothes with DEET and use some herbal repellent for face and hands (DEET is apparently cancerous, so it shouldn’t be used directly on the skin and it can melt synthetic fabrics, so cotton clothes are best for it). Nothing creative, but old tested method.
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