Spanish Word of the Day: Garrapata

“When we ignore the body we are more easily victimized by it”

Milan Kundera

It was last weekend at some stage, at some point, at some time.  The memory of the discovery is vague. I can’t recall whether it was Saturday or Sunday when I noticed something stuck in my skin, under my chest, right on the outside of my right ribcage.

On Saturday afternoon, upon returning from a bike ride for the ages, –at least for me– and taking a cold-water shower which has become the norm by default, I passed out in a hammock.  I was so exhausted that I didn’t get around to writing a post, the article that I’d planned on writing that evening.  I’d also felt a touch of sun poisoning that would fortunately be gone the next morning.

At first, I thought I had some sort of skin abscess hanging, or a broken mole; but, I don’t have any moles of that size.  My thoughts continued: And how would a mole partly pop off like that? Was it some sort of oddly formed skin hanging? I tried to squeeze it.  I twisted it around and around, but it didn’t snap off.  My gut feeling told me that I should try to burn it off.  But I still didn’t know what it was.  Then I noticed tiny, almost furry legs.   That’s when I confirmed that it was an insect.

I needed advice.  I wasn’t sure how long this thing had been hanging from me as I hadn’t felt a thing.  On Sunday night I happened to meet a Canadian med student in my Hospedaje (Guesthouse).  He confirmed that it was indeed a bug and that I needed to get medical attention.

The next morning I showed it to the owner of the guesthouse.  He immediately took a match and burned the garrapata (tick) that was sucking blood from me.  It then easily pulled off.  He looked at the spot and claimed that the head was still in there, and that I’d simply need to go to the Centro de Salud (Health Center), a forty-five walk along the windy lake road made of dirt, to have the head removed.

Upon arriving at the clinic I told a woman of my scenario.  She informed me that the medico was at a meeting but assured me that I would have a chance to talk to him at some point that day.

After a couple of different ladies telling me that I was in line to talk to the doctor, I waited right outside of his office.  Finally I got in and showed him the tiny wound.  He told me that it wasn’t the tick’s head but the antenna, and that you must always  check your body for ticks.  He told me I was lucky as the worst is when they get people beneath their underwear.

He said that he couldn’t pull the antenna out at that moment, that I’d need to put hot water on the bite for ten minutes, twice a day, for three days, and then come back and see him on Thursday morning when he would remove the antenna easily.  He had me pick up five days worth of antibiotics and four days worth of Ibuprophen at the center’s in-house pharmacy.

By Thursday, I’d already moved back to the Landing Hotel for fast Internet access; so, I had to cab it more than half way across this huge island.  After the hour-long cab ride I found out that the doctor wouldn’t be in until the next day, Friday.

I knew that there was another Centro de Salud in Altagracia, a scorching and sleepy little town.  There was no option but to hitchhike the 25 or so km to get there.  A woman in a small pickup truck picked me up and asked what kind of sightseeing I was going to do in Altagracia.  I informed her of my situation.  She told me that there is always a doc on staff on weekdays there, unlike at the other clinic in Santo Domingo.  She also seemed to know all about garrapatas.

She was turning left while I was going right.  I hopped off, thanked her, offered her 10 Cordobas:

Are you sure it’s OK for you to part with that?”

The ride was short and I’d read that it’s polite to offer something when being dropped off.  In Nicaragua, it’s considered normal behavior to ride (hitchhike).  Yes!  They say “ride” with a Spanish sounding r.

Shortly thereafter a truck stopped.  I hopped in back with a bunch of laborers.  I had to balance myself standing up by holding onto the side rails as we roared into the refreshing wind.  They stopped in Altagracia to let me off.  I hopped out and found the clinic. 

The health center was surprisingly quiet.  After navigating the place, and finally figuring out where I should be, the doctor came out after just a five minute wait.  I showed her the wound.  She brought me right in and said that removing the antenna was not the best solution.  I was prescribed Hydrocortisone Cream which was given to me on the spot.  She also wrote down another cream called Mupiral.

I was advised to rub one cream on, let it sit for a half-an-hour, wash it off, then rub the other cream on, and leave it on for a half-an-hour before washing it off.  I’m to do this three times a day for three or four days.  The antenna will then come out on its own.

Both visits were free.  At the first clinic, I paid two dollars for antibiotics and Ibuprophen.  At the second clinic, the visit and Hydrocortisone Cream were free.  I asked the woman who gave me the cream if I needed to pay and she said:


The Mupiral lotion cost me $8 at the pharmacy down the road.

Granted, the conditions are far from perfect; but, Nicaraguans and foreigners alike have the right to free medical care, which was even possible on this remote island.

NOTE: The pictures here are rather compromised.  In dealing with the situation at hand, blogging was the last thing on my mind, all I could think about was getting this damn piece of foreign object matter out of me.

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If you have any opinions or knowledge about removing a tick antenna, please let me know.  Feel free to use the comments section.  You can also email me at


4 responses to this post.

  1. JUAN: Yes, I’ve had to learn garrapata and raya the hard way. My hope is that the rest of the vocab building comes much more painlessly -literally- although, there was no pain from the tick.
    Interestingly, the English word tick only has one syllable -easy- while its Spanish counterpart garrapata has four, which takes four times as long to make part of one’s permanent repertoire 🙂


  2. Posted by Juan Lison on February 26, 2011 at 07:29

    What a way to have to learn garrapata. Hope you won’t have to learn more Spanish words the hard way! Good Luck!


  3. DAVID: Thanks! Yeah, I’ve gotta be more on top of stingrays when I go to the beach, ticks out in the wilderness, and even tarantulas on the eastern side of Ometepe. At an outdoor lounge area, I noticed a big arachnid coming very close to me. I’d never seen anything like it. I was told that it was harmless.


  4. Chances are since the tick is dead, the part left in your body will naturally reject and push out over time. I know many people that have had ticks stuck in them and nothing came of it. No worries. Like the doc said you need to check your body/clothes for ticks often. I pick them off my dog by the dozens at times after we hike in the woods. He wears flea and tick meds and he still sometimes gets covered.


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