Sunday, February 19, 2012

Letters from Matt #3: Tulum, Mexico: Stung by Stingray!

 Letters From Matt are letters from my brother, Matt, from various of his domestic and international travels. The letters span decades, and I share them on Living Rootless at intervals, in no particular order.

Stingrays. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

14 July 2003
Tulum, Mexico

Dear Mzuri,

Now I am living on the beach in Tulum. My hut has a thatched roof, stick walls, a flimsy door, a concrete floor, a dirty bed, but with washed sheets. This is one of the best huts because it has a concrete floor and a bed and it is closest to the beach so I get blasted with a fierce ocean breeze that keeps me cool and eliminates all but a few mosquitoes. I sleep with the doors open all night feeling the breeze and the ocean glimmering in the moonlight and framed in palm trees. The ocean is just 150 feet from my door. Beautiful girls from Europe sunbathe topless outside my thatched-roof front porch, where I stay in the shade most of the day.

Yesterday, I was snorkeling … I saw a small manta ray laying in the sand under water a half kilometer from the shore. I went under to agitate it just a little to see it wave its winglike body so gracefully like a butterfly. It wasn’t a manta ray, but a stingray.

His tail stung my hand, leaving it bleeding and paralyzed with pain. I tried to squeeze out any venomous or infectious stuff or stinger even though I don’t know if any of these things are a part of a stingray’s bite. My fingers couldn’t move and the light bleeding wasn’t stopping immediately so I swam to shore without the use of my left hand. By the time I got to shore, my hand felt like it was on fire and someone put out the fire by smashing it with a hammer. Soreness moved up my arm almost up to my shoulder. This lasted about two hours.

Concerned onlookers offered thoughtful suggestions for treatment. The first was from a guy who helped around the scuba shack.  He was a tall and thin Mexican man, a heavy drinker and smoker who like others had found a lifestyle hanging around the beach catching work where he could find it. He had many tattoos,very muscular, had skin like leather.  In previous conversation I found he knew something about traditional healing.  He earlier mentioned a kind of wood that could be brewed in tea to treat kidney stones. His suggestion for the treatment of a stingray sting was to allow a friend to urinate on the wound. The tourists and locals who were standing by looked at me to see what I would say, then away from me or to the sand as if realizing I might recruit them.  I suggested I would pass on that treatment

A Mexican guy poured alcohol on it and then swabbed it with merthiolate. His name is Iban. I thought Iban liked me, but after his first aid, I’m not sure, because that hurt like hell.

A French-Canadian gave me some Bactarin ointment. I guess this may have helped prevent any chance of infection, but nothing for pain.

An Israeli asked if I wanted something for pain. Damn right I did. He gave me a little white pill. He couldn’t remember the over-the-counter name, but said it was good and would work in a few minutes. He was right. My hand feels fine now. However, people keep melting in front of my eyes and a palm tree turned into a bird and flew away.

Just kidding about those last two details. I’m fine now and see the world as a benevolent place. … Anyway, I want to get back to the beach, now that I know the difference between a manta ray and a stingray.

And now I know why they say don’t touch anything in the ocean.



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