It was a sweltering late July Saturday in Phoenix Arizona. I was on a work project and I decided to grab my camera and head out to one of my favorite locations, the closest botanical or arboretum of the city. The Desert Botanical Garden is home to more than 21,000 plants including 139 species which are rare, threatened or endangered.
Coming from Canada, I don’t often have the chance to visit a botanical garden that houses so many cacti. In fact, the Desert Botanical Garden has more than 10,000 cacti plants. I knew that my visit would provide me with hours of touring and hundreds of photo opportunities. I consider myself somewhat intelligent, and at no time would I consider touching a cactus! Cactus spines (not needles) can be very long and oh so sharp, while others are so thin, you can barely see them, but, mark my words, they are very sharp as well.
I toured the garden and was so amazed by the strange plants. My exposure to cacti where little itsy bitsy ones I use to buy when I didn’t have a backyard to plant a garden. I would be patient, taking good care of each cactus and every so often I would be gifted a beautiful flower that lasted but a few days. Here I was, surrounded by oven-hot air and equally hot sand and rocks, starring at almost every plant in the garden.
Gnarly twisty cactus branches, unusual colours and long spines made for very interesting photographs. So many species and some so strange they look like they belong in some science fiction movie about travel to other planets. I was so careful while taking close up pictures as I knew the danger of a slip into any of those cacti would result in some major pain. As I was walking on my own, I asked a young couple if they could take a picture of me in front of cacti. They agreed and we talked a bit about our home towns and the beauty of the garden.
I decided that since the cacti behind me were young plants, it would make for a better view of them if I was to sit down. Before my photographer could say anything, I had sat myself down and looked up to see his face turn white. His wife looked over and said “oh no” and headed towards me. I was a bit surprised and after her husband had taken the picture, she asked him “didn’t you tell her not to sit there?” to which he responded, “no time, she just sat down”. They both looked at each other with a slightly serious gaze, and they looked back at me as I put my hand down on the ground to push myself upright. At that exact moment, flashes of light blurred my vision as the pain of the spines digging into my hand burned my fingers and palm. While getting up, my thighs and legs which had rested on top of the spines equally hurt as the heat and pain spread.
Just as I got upright and yelled at the shock of the searing pain a garden guard met us, shaking his head and looking at the couple, asked “are you all tourists?”. The couple explained that they were local, but didn’t have any time to stop me from sitting down. The ranger asked if I had any credit cards on me. Looking quite baffled I asked him if I was being fined! He explained that the spines of the prickly pear have small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate the skin. One way to try to remove the spines from the skin is to flick them away with a hard thin object like a credit card.
He suggested they all three would try to remove the visible ones, and I would then go to the bathroom, strip down and try to shake out the spines in my clothes. Imagine this sight – people were walking by and stopping to ask what happened, three people were scratching my legs and thighs… what a sight that was! I managed to get to the bathroom and try to shake my clothes, but the spines were so thin and virtually impossible to see, I resigned myself to getting in my rental car and heading back to the hotel.
The drive to my hotel room was so painful, as the fabric car seat seemed to push every spine further into my legs, thighs, and buttocks. I arrived at the hotel took a shower hoping this would help, wrapped a towel around me, and searched on the web for the best way to remove cacti spines from the skin. Turns out, one of the best ways is to use duct tape to snag them. DUCT TAPE? seriously? I was alone in my hotel room, how was I going to contort and try to put duct tape in places that duct tape should never be? I didn’t even have duct tape to start with, and couldn’t undertake another car ride. I called maintenance who were away but assured me they could bring duct tape to my room first thing the next morning.
Needless to say, I had one of the worst nights ever, but that was nothing compared to the 3 days of pain I had anytime I had to sit down on a chair. A small part of the massive amount of spines had completed moved under my skin, and I had to wait until the body self-rejected each and every one of those spines. This was a very challenging lesson to learn, and I’m more than happy to share my tale if it means someone will learn to take your cacti pictures with greater care than I took!
Interesting that the picture he took was quite nice, my smile is was just about to disappear! Do you have any travel stories of lessons you learned the hard way?