Self portrait with fingers
It’s not that I’d describe myself as particularly accident prone or especially susceptible to illness, but if there’s a good dose of drama on show, chances are I will be the star attraction.
My life at home is rather dull, ordinary and uneventful. But when I travel I tend to attract rare and exotic ailments or have encounters that cause friends to hire me to entertain dinner parties with tales of my international misfortune. Thankfully, nothing major has happened that hasn’t been cured with an IV, a few days in isolation or some indelicate and rather embarrassing questions from a Tropical Disease specialist. But I certainly do provide a source of amusement for my less sensitive friends…and a few doctors.
The Red Sea is one of the world’s best snorkelling spots and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to slap on flippers and goggles for the first time ever…even though I can’t swim and am generally afraid of anything deeper than a saucer of milk. The sky was a flawless blue, the water was warm and crystal clear and the mountains of the arid Sinai Peninsula loomed over us to provide a glorious setting for my first aquatic adventure.
After strapping on my gear, I waddled over the jagged rocks and slipped into the water. A lifejacket ensured that I neither drowned nor was mistaken for anyone brave or naturally buoyant, and I rolled onto my stomach and kicked my legs with all the grace of a flailing octopus in a bowl of Jello. If the slap-slapping of my flippers on the top of the water wasn’t enough to scare all the fish onto land to begin evolution all over again, I’m sure my hyperventilation through the narrow plastic breathing tube certainly was.
I gradually swam further away from the shore. Bit by bit I gained some degree of coordination and confidence and actually began to enjoy myself – until the seabed suddenly dropped away beneath me into a bottomless abyss of murky blue perpetual darkness. My breathing went into overdrive, the rasping sound of panic became deafening and I desperately splattered back towards shore.
Despite my abject terror, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. I drifted in the tide just off great cliffs of coral and marvelled at magnificently coloured sealife. It was a world I had never seen before and I was absolutely rapt. My confidence soon returned and I began to really enjoy myself.
With time almost up, I headed back to the wooden ladder and walkway that led to the shore. I bobbed in the water while others descended to the sea, awaiting my chance to climb out. As the lapping waves pushed me towards the sheer rock, I extended my hands to keep the jagged edges at bay…and suddenly felt the most searing pain in the index finger of my right hand. I yanked back instantly and clambered ashore.
Blood streamed from the tip of my finger. I wiped it clear and saw two pin-prick holes, each surrounded by perfect white circles and then angry red circles that grew before my eyes. My efforts at maintaining a steely calm evaporated when an Australian colleague screamed, in utter terror, “It’s a sea snake bite!!! A sea snake…you’re gonna di….”
…or something along those lines.
Someone ran off to get the divemaster and I was hurriedly raced to a tented shelter and plopped down on a floor of carpets and cushions. Our ebullient tour guide had turned ashen white and knew he’d lost at least one tip.
“It’s a sea snake…” the Australian wailed. “They’re the most deadly of al…” she added before I heard a muffled thump and she disappeared.
The divemaster poked and prodded my finger before removing a very big and very sharp knife from his dive belt…and thankfully placing it on the carpet. He stepped away and returned with a glass of boiling water and oil, grabbed my finger and plunged it into the glass. He pulled it out and squeezed and pressed and poked, before plunging it in again and again. I couldn’t quite determine which was more painful: the poison making its way up my hand, the utter mangling he was giving my finger or the third degree burn I was getting from the treatment.
“It’s a sea urchin,” he said. “two spines. I got the poison out. You’ll be okay.”
He sheathed his knife, and swaggered away.
I glanced at my mutilated and throbbing finger, removed my lifejacket and headed towards the jeep that had brought us to the dive site. The sun was low and casting long shadows over the sea. There was a cooling breeze and all was tranquil…until I felt the searing pain on the back of my left hand.
I spun around just in time to see the driver move his glowing cigarette tip away from my hand.
“Sorry” he said sheepishly.
Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008