Labios rajados; it’s the topic of conversation that has been the concluding item for each meeting with each group of travelling cyclists. Are you suffering and what is your solution? It’s a comparison and exchange of information on food availability, of road conditions, Argentine inflation and finally, chapped lips.
One French couple, who have shunned air travel and are on an Americas end to end, are fellow sufferers, two months of affliction in her instance. She’s found a tin of menthol impregnated unguent, and we now have a shape and colour to help us in the hunt.
I’ve been here before. Last time it was black blisters, possibly ignited by green chillies, that refused to heal. This time we’ve taken all the preventative precautions, used the high octane sun blocks, the badger barrier crème, the bandit mask, yet all to no avail. Time and ‘Nivea’ was the cure last time. Only we’re now in Argentina’s northern and most impoverished province, Jujuy, and the farmacias are all behind us, back down on the low ground, away to the south. Time has run us hard up against the Andean Puna, the altiplano, the high plain, where high altitude, low humidity and strong cold winds are a far more effective inoculators than any caffeinated stimulant or fiery vegetable. Try to eat a crusted bread that’s desiccating instantly from hard tack to shard glass, or an empanada that the Forager had understood to be meat but transpired to be potato curry. It’s a dispiriting experience, one that makes me realise how much of food mastication involves the lower lip.
First day in Bolivia, and there’s all this surfeit of street food, humitas, boiled beans, rellenos, pan casero and knackered lips. But relief is at hand, for everything is available in Bolivia. A stall selling gin traps and nail clippers, leather insoles and woollen hose, has sprawled out across the pavement beside the fruit stand that we’re re-supplying from. There, hidden amongst the effluvia of the miscellaneous is a thin khaki green tin, our unguento mentolado. Instant relief, blessed redress, even if the symptoms are merely masked, the condition anesthetised. Still not a cure, but a return to the deep fried, grease dripping, calorie engorged street food. The relief so pure that we return to buy another tin. The natural assumption being, that we might not find it again. The conclusion is, of course, that we will spot that thin cammo-green tin, along with all it’s cousins, (in particular, lettuce balm) in every other store the length and breadth of this country.
Hopefully no more waking in the night, lips gummed closed, the pain as another layer of skin that appears to be ripped off. A return to puckered lips, hot cups and a passionate kiss.