There are some things that I will leave until wine is present however I will try and tell this story as best to my sober ability and still make it interesting.
My tale begins in a small beach town in Northern Peru called Mancora. After a large night out and a whole day spent in bed with my fellow hungover travellers we decided that the following day we would be productive and undertake a surfing lesson. With no idea what to expect (the last and only time I had surfed was around 10 years ago and I fondly remember my oversized fiberglass board hitting my wind pipe) we trotted to the beach to meet the hostel receptionist/surf instructor… or so we thought.
As we donned our very trendy brightly coloured and a slight musky scented rashies (Australia slang for rash vest) we began to warm up on the beach and practice how we would intend to stand up if our board was on land and made of sand. At this point we were all still together in our nice little safety bubble. I was the first to be given my surf instructor. A young Peruvian boy from Mancora energetically met me on the beach, “ok we run”, and with that we were running up the beach to warm up. As we were running this boy began to look at me, a question was brewing, I could feel it. “Why you don’t message me back?”. And with that one sentence my stomach turned.
Let’s rewind to the big night out only two days prior that rendered me useless for a full 24 hours. While my memory is albeit a little foggy of that night (lets blame it on time) I quite vividly remember a young Latino boy accosting me on the dancefloor of a local beach club and attempting to salsa with me. Joke was on him, clearly this girl doesn’t salsa. This girl can barely squat with my tight hip flexors so there is no way my hips would ever be able to move like a Latina. After much convincing and my whatsapp number later I managed to wriggle out of his hold and his incessant desire to dance with me. The messages started to come through that next day but in the state I was in there was no chance him or anyone was getting a response.
Now forward to us running on the beach. I bet you’re thinking how I didn’t recognise him? Well that would be the foggy part of my memory and his whatsapp image didn’t give much away either. That split moment when I realised who my surf instructor was happened to be the same moment I realised I would now spend the next hour on a board with him staring at my ass (thankful that this particular day I had decided to wear my more modest swimmers). For the good part of the hour I didn’t stand up, fear had overcome me… not knowing how to fall properly or where the rocks were had nearly got the better of me. Finally Romario (yes, I’ll use his name) threatened me with going back in to the shore if I kept refusing to get up. He had well and truly cracked the shits at me. Legitimately. And as much as I had enjoyed him yelling ‘GET UP!’ for the last 45 minutes, I needed to get a little more enjoyment from this lesson. Finally, I got up. And then swiftly fell and scraped my butt on some rocks. But hi ho, back on it I got and managed to get up a couple more times before my lesson was over.
When we got back to shore we parted ways on the promise I would message him later and go for a drink. A lady of my word, we went for that drink. Fast forward a week, all my friends have left and I am still in this damn beach town learning how to surf with Romario and his puppy Sonko by my side. Getting me out on that board every day was a right struggle. I only went out if the conditions were perfect, I needed high tide to avoid the rocks, not too much sun for my poor skin and the waves had to be small because I was shit.
After about 5 days my confidence was building and the conditions didn’t have to be perfect. On one very fine day in Mancora (the weather is more predictable than the day of the week) we waded through the shallows into the water until…. the most excruciating pain of my life occurred. I had been stung, bit, eaten…at that point I had no idea what had happened. I jumped onto the board screaming with blood gushing from my foot. A combination of intense pain, confusion for what had just happened and then sheer terror for what was in the water exacerbated the situation. I was 20m from shore with waves coming at me and no rational thoughts anywhere to be seen. Without a second thought Romario was sucking the blood from my foot. Yes, you read right, this was the most animalistic thing I had ever seen. Through tears and screams I begged to get to the shore, this was the first time I had spoken in English to him. My Spanish was left with my sanity somewhere before I thought I had lost my foot.
On the shore he and his friends ran for boiling water and pain medication from the pharmacy. With Romario constantly by my side he began the ritual of putting my foot in close to boiling water, this would continue for the next hour. The pain began to subside somewhat and my tears began to dry up until I just became a snotty mess. Still confused by what had happened I assumed I had been bitten by one of the many sea snakes (eels?) that I had seen dead washed up on shore over the past week.
Once the pain had faded and the mystery pill had taken effect I hobbled back to the hostel to shower. I encountered my two surfer roommates who I re-told my story to, sea snake and all. Shocked like me, they had no idea that that could happen here in Mancora. After my shower I realised I was hungry (shocker!) so we made our way to my favourite little café. Still so confused about this illusive sea snake I asked Romario to type the name of it into my phone because my Spanish seemed to be letting me down (or so I thought). To my surprise the image of a sting ray appeared on my screen. Yes folks, I had been stung by a mother flipping sting ray and that primal act of sucking my foot was actually to get out bacteria, venom and the barbs of the ray.
I felt sick to my stomach. The thought of my foot moving gracefully through the water only to then step on a sting ray just made my stomach turn. Over and over I replayed this in my head. I expressed my disbelief to Romario, how confused I was that I had managed to do this. He looked at me just as bewildered, “Amanda, why do you think I told you to shuffle your feet along the sand bed as you walked into the water everyday?”. Umm rocks dickhead, I thought you were worried about my feet getting cut from rocks! Turns out he had warned me numerous times but I didn’t bother asking what the word ‘raya’ meant in Spanish. Guess what raya translates to? Ray. Good job Amanda.
It took me 3 days to get back into the ocean and that was with Romario pulling me along on the board through the shallows. Anytime I fell off the board I was hesitant to plant my feet onto the sand and so ended up flailing around until I had no option left but to stand. Flashbacks to the moment when it felt like someone was pulling a serrated knife slowly down the side of my foot had absolutely crippled me. Even a month on I am still unsure of how I will step back into the warm waters of the Pacific without fear of standing on a stingray! Good thing next stop is the Caribbean!