About Bugs & Chilis

My first three weeks in Costa Rica (1999) my legs were red and itchy from the knees down. After those three weeks, it’s been smooth sailing. My legs cleared up, and aside from the occasional bloom, bugs have not been a problem.

I’m not clear on what happened, but as is my custom, I’ve got a theory. However, it is just a theory because truth be told, I’m just guessing here.

Bugs swarming
Bugs are a feature of nature.
Bug bitten legs.
What legs might look like during the first 3 weeks in Costa Rica.

I’m not clear on what happened, but as is my custom, I’ve got a theory. However, it is just a theory because truth be told, I’m just guessing here.

I have always figured that the bugs stop biting due to one of two reasons.
1) They are still biting me but I have developed an immunity to them, or
2) My body adapted and emits some type of repellent substance, scent or what-have-you and they are simply not interested in me.

Frankly, in looking at my theory in writing I would say that it needs some work. #1 is highly suspect because I think that I would know if the little blighters were biting me, even if their bites didn’t result in itchiness. I’ve always leaned a bit more towards #2, and maybe this one’s it, or close. And then there is a new addition to my theory which I will expound on below.

In working with my prospective property-buyers here, most seem to have the same experience. Many are here for less than 3 weeks so they could easily conclude that Costa Rica is buggy and so pack the repellent. Others who have stayed longer than 3 weeks relate that they too have had the same experience of a 3 week term and then it tapers off.

There are some however, generally women, that never get the reprieve and that simply live here as bug banquets, regardless of how long they’ve been here. I’ve come to recognize a skin “type” that enshrouds such ones.

Part of my theory states that the use of bug repellents work against, or cancels out #2 – the body adapting and emitting pheromones or whatever. I haven’t used bug repellent here in forever. My theory states that you set the clock back every time you use the stuff. I’ve also done some study of essential oils and marvel at what these medications of nature can do, simply by being absorbed through the skin. This makes me leery of what I put on my skin, even those that tout the “organic” label.

Read the ingredients of a bug repellent and decide if this is the kind of stuff you want coursing through your system, because that is what they will do, ending up in your liver (please keep in mind my disclaimer above about my level of expertise on such matters). So, for those who get the 3 week reprieve, I suggest avoiding bug repellent.

A mosquito net can be a good idea for the bed. My immunity to their bites does not free me from being harassed during the night by buzzing in my ears. I like nets mainly for the cozy, Arabian tent kind of feel they create. Or maybe it’s a “back to the womb” effect. Whatever, if you’re concerned about bugs, get a net. They can look classy as well. I don’t personally use one but instead rely on window screening and being careful about having lights on in the house at night with a door open.

For those who have the skin type that will always be a bug magnet, well… you’re on your own. Sorry. Actually, you can dress against the bugs to some extent, and you can use the nets mentioned above – OR, you can read on…

Here’s an addendum to my theory. This was propounded to me recently by the seller of my island listing in the Golfo Dulce. If there is any place where one would think bugs would be present, it’s there. She noticed the degree to which I spiced up my food. After I turned down a couple of her offers of bug-repellent, complete with the proviso of being “organic”, she said, “you don’t need bug repellent because of your hot-spicy diet.” Well now, this is a new thought for me, and makes as much sense, or more actually, than any of the other parts of my theory.

I have an extremely high tolerance to spicy hot. I also have an addiction to said foods. Recently I was at the farmer’s market in Uvita. Maria, the gal that makes all manner of excellent food-stuffs: tahini, coconut oil, chips and so on, also makes some of the best darn chilero (hot sauce) I’ve ever had.

On a recent visit, I had a visitor with me and he sampled one of Maria’s hot sauces, which resulted shortly in whisps of smoke emanating from his ears. I thought, “hey, that looks good”. So I tried it. And sure enough, same effect. Now, keep in mind that my tolerance is high and so it takes quite a bit for a chili pepper to get smoke to come out of my ears.

“Maria!!!” said I, “What the heck is this salsa??!!” She replied that in her delivery of chili peppers there were a couple bunches of ghost peppers.

Ghost Peppers / Naga Bhut Jolokia
Home grown ghost or Naga Bhut Jolokia peppers

Ghost peppers are high on the scoville scale of hotness. This was my first experience with them. My guest saw my enthusiasm about having found such a chili and he bought me a good sized jar as a gift.

I have since gone back to Maria and bought out whatever she had and so I now have a good supply and am planning my ghost pepper garden. I think that Maria is glad to see that batch go as they were hard to sell.

I relate all this to underscore the possible beneficial effect of spicy hot to our topic of bugs. Maybe, instead of slathering on the mix of repellent goo, start to build a tolerance to spicy hot. This can be done. I’ve seen friends of mine do it. Start light, and gradually build it up.

I did some research (read: visited a few websites) about the effect on the body of eating lots of spicy hot food. I was concerned that the level at which I ingest such foods might have a negative effect on my body. What I found was the opposite. The concerns of spicy hot foods causing ulcers and rectal cancer are myths. Turns out that hot-spicy chili peppers are one of nature’s super-foods. My friends will attest to my zealous preaching about the benefits of building a tolerance.

Capsaicin is the ingredient in all hot spicy chilis that makes them hot and spicy. One thing it purports to stave off is prostate cancer. Really! The article said that scientists witnessed prostate cancer cells “committing suicide” in the presence of capsaicin. And this amidst numerous other health benefits to eating the stuff. If you don’t want to add spicy hot to your diet, do not do the search for “health benefits capsaicin”.

And apparently, there is the locally tested, and now here documented, empirical data to support that such a diet will also keep you nearly bug-free in Costa Rica.

* The Naga Bhut Jolokia or ghost pepper rates at 855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), a measurement of spiciness. That’s 107 to 417 times hotter than a jalapeño (8,000 on the SHU) and 10 times hotter than a habañero (100,000+ SHU).

“10 Reasons Eating Hot Spicy is Healthy”

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