Strip and Search me please…. and thank you!
Well, I recently went on a holiday to an island off of the mainland of Estonia by the name of Vilsandi. Estonia is one of the Baltic coastal countries along with Latvia and Lithuania.
Now getting to Vilsandi Island is an adventure in itself. First, go to the outermost point of Estonia, take a half hour ferry ride across the Baltic Sea to a small Island called Muhu, drive across Muhu and over to another Island called Saaremaa to its most outer point and then finally take a 20-minute boat taxi to Vilsandi Island.
Vilsandi Island is a treasured National Park, but, if you were one of the lucky original inhabitants of this most pristine and remote of islands you can still have a summer cottage or home on it. I had the opportunity to be invited for an overnight stay to one of the summer homes on the island.
Surrounded by the sea and many islets, it is a step back in time, to homes with straw-thatched roofs, long, lazy evenings of savoured eating, drinking and late-night sauna’ing, and long walks along the shorelines and amongst the shrubbery and dunes inhabited by sheep. (The sheep are not indigenous to the island).
Now I recall (mind burp) as we were walking around the shrubs and chasing after the sheep, “this looks like a perfect environment for ticks”, low lying shrubs and other foliage, I mean ticks love to be on the ends of leaves and branches, their forelegs stretched out ready and waiting to attach to any animals or “humans” that might pass by. It was a quick mind burp that came and went as we excitedly absorbed the beauty of our environment and the uniqueness of our experience.
Well, that evening after an incredible meal of that days catch of smoked flounder, baked potatoes gratin with plenty of garlic and fresh Saaremaa butter, home pickled cucumbers and plenty of Viru Valge Vodka and wines to wash it all contentedly down, it was time for the true Estonian tradition of sauna’ing.
As is with all European sauna’s, they are unbelievably hot, you are already sweating profusely within 3 minutes of being in it, there is a lot of “whipping” going on, they take dried birch branches and leaves and then bundle them together and use this device to whip you about your body. It is an exhilarating experience, “one point for S&M”, I say.
It was around this time of whipping, that our hostess nonchalantly, almost dismissively said, “Oh, by the way, you should check for ticks, we check for ticks at every day’s end. Would you like to see one?!”
“Say that again!” I said. My mind was racing way out of control, Lyme’s disease, encephalitis…fatal. Had I known about this, for sure I would have brought some of the Mosquito Shield 30% DEET Insect Repellent…..but really I should have known better… it is a National Park, wilderness after all.
To those familiar with life on the island, ticks are just a normal part of existence and co-habitant. For the locals, it was just daily routine, each night before bedtime, brush teeth and check for ticks.
Our hostess had a tick that had made its way right into the crease of her upper leg and bikini line. She had been wearing a pretty summer mid-thigh dress with her bathing suit while we had been on our earlier walks.
Because it was in quite a difficult area of her body to properly and completely extract the tick, I was given the new job of “tick extraction” and as it turned out, it was not the only tick that needed to be extracted.
Tick extraction is best done with tweezers and depending on how deeply it has embedded into your skin a fair amount of squeezing, pinching is required, just as if you were squeezing a zit. The ticks that we found burrowing into the skin were the size of a large blackhead zit, hard and relatively easy to squeeze out. It is important to squeeze the tick out in its entirety.
Ok, after removing the tick and seeing how craftily it had found difficult to access areas of the body to inhabit, all my inhibitions and shyness were thrown out with the sauna water, please I begged, “Search me…everywhere!!!”
Even the next day in the morning and that evening after we had already left the island and were back on tick free urban habitat, I still had my sister check me in the morning and that evening for ticks. That crawling feeling of being a tick host just wouldn’t go away.
In the end, I was tick free, however, we did find one more tick on my 82-year-old mother, like I said, these ticks are crafty buggers, this one found its way under my mum’s armpit and it was successfully extracted. I now feel that I am a seasoned tick picker and can resoundingly say that I was never so happy to be stripped and searched thoroughly from top to bottom, please and thank you!