A Blister In The Sun

16 02 2009


              “Is this really where Victoria fell?”  (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia)


For thousands of years, blood letting was a common treatment for many ailments. It was believed that by withdrawing considerable quantities of blood, the evil could be released and the ailment relieved. Blood letting was widely practiced until quite recently – and in fact still exists in slightly different and considerably less dramatic forms even today – but it is now largely accepted that draining someone’s entire blood supply to relieve a case of hiccups is probably not a good idea.


Now, I’ve always believed that anything worth doing is worth doing properly and therefore a foot blister that indulges in a little blood letting is far more satisfying to me than one that merely causes great discomfort.


At the Zambezi, I was to be a very satisfied boy indeed.


Whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River is a test of endurance on so many levels. There’s the physical exertion of climbing into the chasm without slipping and landing head first in the river, of fighting Grade 5 rapids with a paddle, of gripping on for dear-life to an airborne raft, of swimming through raging whitewater to safety…and most demanding of all, simply surviving the 400 foot vertical climb out of the gorge when the day’s over.  


I was wearing rugged rubber-soled sandals with velcro straps and, not wanting to lose them in the maelstrom and thereby endure the climb-out barefooted, I pulled the straps so tight that my toes almost turned blue and fell off. No Grade 5 rapid, no hungry crocodile and no Flying Walenda impersonation was going to separate me from my footwear…but my footwear was going to separate me from several layers of skin, I was to discover.


By the end of the day I clambered from the raft and regained land. I was suitably sun-burned, my finger-tips pruny and my toes bluish…but I still had my sandals as I gazed skyward at the trek out. By the time I reached the top of the gorge an eternity later I was completely breathless, hunched over…and my implanted sandals had cut several impressive swathes through my heels.


These weren’t just any blisters, these were epic: almost as deep and dramatic as the chasm itself. The sort you could lose a pair of socks in or mistake for a mouth. And as far as blood letting goes, there was enough here to end the Great Plague of London.


That evening I saturated my own Zambezi gorges with enough antiseptic to drown a pod of hippos. Unable to put the sandals and their offending straps back on, I dug out my hiking boots. They were a fabulous new pair with fancy Goretex, odour-eating pads and great ankle support.


My feet slid in and felt their delicious support. The softness of the cotton socks against my war wounds was equally wonderful and the earlier agony was forgotten. My feet were again in Nirvana and I headed off to explore more of the Zambezi Valley. It was only when I was halfway through the hike and precisely at the furthest point from home that brand new blisters on each of my little toes began to make their presence known.


With each step, their screams intensified, reaching a crescendo that even their rafting ancestors couldn’t match. I hobbled back to camp with teeth gritted and brow furrowed.


“Problems with the boots?” someone asked as I carefully unlaced. “I find sandals much more comfortable.”




Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan