“What in the hell,” my skin asks, “is this water in the air business?” My skin’s been contentedly living in arid climates for 32 years, its pores blissfully dry in the desert west of Palm Springs and the parched valleys of western Montana. Sure, I’ve visited humid places. But none as close to the Equator as my current latitude of 9 degrees north. I distinctly remember the visceral feeling of my first experience with wet air: I was 13 years old, visiting Washington DC on a week-long school trip. When I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, I literally panicked that I couldn’t breathe as the heavy summer heat engulfed me.
I was expecting that same initial panic when we touched down in Panama. But expectations don’t really help you transition to the reality. The good news: it isn’t quite as hot as I expected, thanks to the constant onshore breeze flooding across the Caribbean here at Shelter Bay Marina outside of Colon (although I recently learned that the “real feel temperature” is usually 102-104 degrees F, due to the 80%+ humidity). The bad news: everything is always wet.
Example: Rob and I were learning about the diesel engine our first day aboard Llyr, and he came up from struggling with the oil filter. “Whoa! My brain sprung a leak!” he said as sweat literally poured into his eyes. He was drenched. Soaked through his t-shirt completely, even more than if he’d played an hour of basketball in the summer in Montana.
I’ve calibrated a finely-tuned scale for monitoring my skin’s wetness level while living in the tropics: it begins at sticky and ends at immersed. In between, you’ve got moist, damp, or dripping. The most comfortable level is full immersion. It just feels better to be all the way submerged or standing under the rain, rather than constantly adjusting to new varieties of sticky damp drippy-ness. Plus, the wind across your skin post-immersion provides a blessed 30 seconds of air conditioning.
Sadly, you can’t immerse yourself in the ocean here, since the marina and the nearby Panama Canal are cesspools of engine byproducts, human waste, and many other undesirable compounds. But luckily for us, the marina has a little pool. We visit it often.
I’ve also taken to showering with my clothes on, which serves the dual purpose of cleaning them as I shampoo my hair and maintaining that post-immersion air conditioning effect for up to half an hour. I figure I’ll adapt eventually, right? Adaptation is the path to groundbreaking human evolution…or at least that’s what I keep telling my balking, desert-born skin. Maybe one day I’ll even sleep under a sheet again.
P.S. Can someone tell me if the humidity lets up when we sail away from land? Or should I expect even worse as we get to the Equator?