Flu Free Guarantee

14 05 2009


When old soldiers gather together they exchange tales of brushes with death while comparing old war wounds. When old travellers gather together they exchange tales of brushes with death while comparing tropical diseases. Because, let’s face it, you really can’t claim to be an adventurer until you’ve lost a digit to frostbite or started a conversation with “When I had malaria…”

Likewise, I would bet that anyone who sidles up to a bar now and casually says “I’ve just got over Swine Flu…” would likely be plied with free drinks until they tell the full story of their bout with H1N1.

Of course, there’s nothing humourous about diseases, especially tropical ones that kill millions of people in the developing world each year. But the occasional well-treated and thoroughly-defeated exotic disease for an intrepid traveller is a badge of honour that can be great fodder for dinner conversation for decades to come. Now however, such an infection can actually provide a free vacation…or three.

The recent outbreak of H1N1 has made headlines throughout the world, claimed the lives of more than 60 people and practically decimated Mexican tourism. But Mexico is fighting back!

So confident is Mexico’s Caribbean coast that the risk of contracting Swine Flu is over, that earlier this week several hotels on the Mayan Riviera offered free vacations to any tourist who catches H1N1 while on holiday there. Forget t-shirts and postcards, it’s a good virus that visitors are queuing up to take home these days!

“The ‘flu-free guarantee’ assures three years of free holidays to travellers who present flu symptoms eight days after returning from their trip,” explained one hotel group.

Another resort explained that the offer applied only to Influenza A-H1N1 and that guests “…must provide positive blood results, taken within five days of departure from the resort in addition to the certification of the doctor who performed the test in order to redeem the three free stays.”

“The guest must also not have been previously diagnosed with Influenza A-H1N1 prior to their stay,” they added.

No word as to whether the offer also applies to people who don’t wash their hands,  get enough sleep, eat properly, sneeze without covering their mouths…or don’t listen to their mothers!

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau


Bubble Boy Goes Snorkelling

27 05 2008

Red Sea 1

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.


Red Sea 2

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