Misadventures in Guatemala: Tattoo Edition

By Katie Campbell

I had been considering getting a new tattoo for more than a year. I had some design ideas in mind, but nothing definite. Last winter was my second spent living in Xela, so something to commemorate my time in Guatemala seemed fitting. In January of 2016, I was lucky enough to go camping at the top of volcano Chicabal, next to the sacred Laguna. I was there with a friend who is also a local guide, and while we were there, I had the rare opportunity to see Guatemala’s endangered national bird, the quetzal.

Decision made. Time for a quetzal tattoo! I obviously had to get it done by a local artist, because only a Guatemalteco would be able to capture the essence of this mystical bird. I spent a couple of days shopping around local tattoo studios and chose an artist whose work I admired. He designed my tattoo, and with a few tweaks, my appointment was made.

Two good friends came with me for the big day, for moral support. It had been years since my last tattoo and all I really remembered was that it hurt. A lot. I forgot about the instinctive fight response, which it turns out, converts to liters of sweat if you neither fight nor flee. After about twenty minutes of tattooing, my skin had turned a disconcerting shade of pale, even for an extranjera, so the artist asked my friend to go buy me a soda. She came back with coca cola and cocodamol, and asked if I wanted one tablet or two. I said one, she snuck in two, (thanks, Jane!).

Four heavy-handed hours later, I had a beautiful, colourful tattoo. I paid the man and went merrily on my way. Aftercare instructions are not standard practice in Guatemala, I learned the hard way, and it was some days before I searched some out online. The only thing I really remembered from my previous ink was to keep fresh tattoos out of the sun. Meanwhile, my daily routine included two back to back hours of intense fitness classes in a not so well ventilated room, invoking copious amounts of sweat. Turns out, one is supposed to avoid strenuous exercise and keep new tattoos dry for at least a couple of weeks —save for sparingly applying lotion a couple of times a day. Well, better late than never, right?!?

Off I went to a local farmacia to get myself some top quality lotion for my precious and now heavily scabbed investment. I began my little excursion by entering through the wrong door and promptly turned around, trying to make a graceful exit without anyone noticing my mistake. Instead, I scraped my freshly tattooed, covered in scabs, extremely tender arm against the iron gate and missed the step on the way out the door as I was temporarily blinded by the pain, and landed with my body partially slung over a moto parked outside. Fortunately, all that exercise I had been doing had given me abs of steels, so I used those abs to steel myself and stop the momentum of this terrifying moment and barely avoided toppling over with the motorbike into the incoming traffic in the street.

Not wanting to make a scene, I casually scraped my body and my dignity from the saddle of the bike and strolled back into the pharmacy, this time through the correct door. After a short time in the queue, a lady asked how she could help me, And I explained that I was looking for an alcohol-free unscented lotion. I was promptly escorted directly to the vagina cream section, where I stood bewildered for a moment until I realized what had been lost in translation. Eventually I left the pharmacy Q100 poorer, suitable lotion in hand, ready to begin proper care for my beloved quetzal.

Once I arrived home, I carefully cleaned my tattoo and gingerly apply a sparse coat of cream to my arm. Naturally, being the highest quality lotion made especially for sensitive skin could find, I developed a severe allergic reaction, which is heralded by the arrival of a fleet of angry hives. Most would assume that the story ends here, but oh no! Because my skin was still open, the allergic reaction entered my bloodstream and my whole body became a host family for itching angry spots.

Ten months later, and my tattoo has healed incredibly well, all things considered. It has lost a bit of colour and I do have a bit of scar tissue, but really those are just small tokens of the whole ordeal. Moral of the story? Take care of yourself!

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