After our typical Salinas Downpour yesterday (12 hours of rain, half-inch of precipitation), it was pleasant to take my walk this morning under clearing skies. In this part of December, by 9am the sun is already fairly high in the sky, shining brightly, and the temperature is creeping up to 80F. On the way, I was treated to a sight that I see fairly often on the beach here.
A young gringa lady was setting herself up for a day on the beach. She had her blanket spread, and was laying on her belly, readying her book and putting in earplugs. Clearly getting ready for a lengthy stay. She was wearing a string bikini, so there was just a spaghetti strap across her shoulder blades, and the single strip of anal floss that disappeared into the crack of her rather abundant ass. Quite a bit of acreage of flesh displayed there.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not fat-shaming here, although she was rather zaftig for so skimpy a suit. Ecuador is actually very refreshing, in that there is little or no body consciousness. People display their bodies without any esthetic concern at all (even when you might think that they should). People strip by their car to wash off sand, children routinely run naked into the surf, and breast-feeding is not even noticed. Also, I am in no position to speak of anyone’s weight, as when I try to lay out on the beach I’m generally interrupted by someone from Greenpeace throwing a bucket of water on me and trying to roll me back into the surf.
But here is the point about all of this rather pale flesh being laid out on the beach, with no sun screen, no beach umbrella, nada. Here is a person about to learn a very important lesson about the sun near the equator.
This ain’t your daddy’s sun down here. Spending twenty minutes in the sun in Ecuador is not even remotely like spending twenty minutes on a beach in the US. There’s a reason why you see Ecuadorians renting big, square canvas pavilions, or at least beach umbrellas, and staying in their shade most of the day. There’s a reason why the vendors up and down the beach are wearing long pants, long sleeve shirts, and Lawrence of Arabia hats that hide their necks. It’s that big , yellow reason up there in the sky.
After three years here, my skin had basically given up and said “okay, you’re a brown guy now”. I no longer get that redness you associate with a tan, I just get different shades of brown. But I still know that if I walk to the mercado and back, I will be a shade darker when I return. I’ve gone out for about an hour, wearing a hat, and come home to find that my scalp is burned enough to hurt when I comb my hair.
Another thing that throws off newcomers, is that you can get just as burned between 9-10am or 4-5pm as you can between 12-1pm. Here near the middle of the world, the sun rises almost straight up, and sets the same way – not the gentle slope it follows in most of North America. So within 30 minutes or so of clearing the horizon, you need to be aware that the sun is an important factor in your plans for the day.
Not showing respect for the sun at 2 degrees latitude (or less) is a big problem with new expats. It is so incredibly easy to get a burn, even on a cloudy day. We have often noticed that you still need sunglasses outside if it is cloudy, because of the UV rays that are still getting through. The UV Indicator sign pictured above was removed after a season or so – I think people found it too alarming. If the sun was out, it was showing UV rays as “Extremo”. If it was cloudy, it would still be showing “Alto”, sometimes “Peligroso”. I don’t think I ever saw it even at “Medio” – as long as there was enough light to trigger the sensor, there are already enough UV rays to take care.
And don’t think if you live in the cooler parts of Ecuador, up in the Andes, that you are any safer. In fact, you may be in more danger of over-exposure. Strolling around in Quito or Cuenca, it may be a beautiful day of 72F, a few clouds drifting by, and you are walking around hatless in short sleeves marveling at the pleasant weather. It is easy to forget that you are still close to the equator, and in fact at 8,000 feet or so you are even less protected from the UV rays than you would be on the beach at sea level.
So just a word of caution as we enter the warmer weather here – if you are new to Ecuador, or if you are expecting guests from North America, remember to respect and protect yourself and your guests from the power of the equatorial sun. Or like the young gringa I saw this morning, you may learn a valuable lesson about latitude.