Anyone who has ever taught English abroad (or been a teacher at all for that matter) would back me up in saying that it is extremely stressful. So after Jess and I left Korea we were primed for cutting loose and some relaxation.
Fortunately, The Philippines was the first place we were headed. Beautiful beaches as for as the eye could see. Tasty drinks that come in coconuts with little umbrellas and what’s even better, I heard a little rumor from other travelers that rum was not only cheap but REALLY cheap in The Philippines. “What’s that you say? Cheap? Rum? Umbrella drinks?” oh yeah, this was going to be great!
Now, wait, to be fair, before you go thinking that I’m just a vagabond alcoholic, getting wasted on the beach was not the first thing Jess and I did upon hitting the islands, all though it was obviously high on the priority list.
We actually went island hopping a few times first. If you happen to find yourself in The Philippines, the coral reefs, snorkeling, and scuba diving are amazing. Jess and I weren’t scuba certified, but we did our fair share of snorkeling.
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The Ocean is Perfectly Safe...Right?
This was where we learned about the stone fish. Jess and I had been warned repeatedly by the local guides to NOT under any circumstances step on any of the coral reefs.
Now your first thought might be that this was for environmental reasons, not to damage the reefs. And while yes that is extremely important, and if you see someone damaging a reef intentionally you should stop them. In fact, you should shout names at them until they cry. Public shaming is a lost art in my opinion. But anyway the warnings we were given had a much more immediate reason. The areas in which we were snorkeling were known to have stone fish.
You might be thinking, “What the hell is a stone fish?” Fear not, I had the same question. The guides explained to us that this was a reef dwelling fish that looked much like a stone but had spines on it’s back. If you step on one, you are going to die.
They’re very poisonous and the nearest hospital was simply too far away for them to get you there in time. Needless to say, we were very careful, and fortunately we finished our snorkeling without anyone dying.
It's Beach Time!
After a few days out in the sun on the boats and swimming around we decided to check out this rum on the beach situation. We woke up at a decent time, collected our beach stuff and headed out.
It didn’t take us long to find this magical drink of the Gods, in fact, the lady across the street from us seemed to have plenty of it in the shed/store she was operating out of. “Your cheapest rum please!” I proudly proclaimed. She smiled and disappeared for only a moment before returning, bottle in hand. There it was, with its little yellow sticker reading “45 pesos” Ah it’s true! I thought. $1.00 USD for a whole bottle.
This Truly was a Great Country.
I bought a few bottles, just to be safe, and we were on our way. Jess and I took a short trike ride to a beach near the town, and we were ready to go.
We spent the next several hours enjoying our rum and listening to music on the beach. The sun was shining, and in my increasingly intoxicated state, the beautiful blue shimmering water began to call to me. “It’s so hot.” I thought to myself. “I should go for a swim.” I stumbled my way down to the beach leaving Jess behind and began walking around in the water. “Ahh, this is the life,” I thought “I could do this forever.”
And that’s when it hit me….. The most intense pain I had ever felt shot up my right leg and into my back. I fell backward into the water and screamed in pain. “Ah, God!” I thought “Stonefish, I’m gonna die!” How could I have been so stupid? I had been warned! Now I was going to die, here in the ocean! Oh God Why me? And I still had rum left!
That's It....I'm Dead
I grabbed my right foot to inspect it half expecting to find a fish sticking out of it, but instead found about a dozen black spines. Realizing at this point that I was at the very least not dead yet, I established that I should go for help. Looking around I spotted some locals in official looking shirts back on the beach. I got up and limped over as fast as I could.
“I stepped on something!” I said as I approached them only thinly veiling my panic. They looked at me slowly and lowered their joint to inspect my outstretched foot. “Sea urchin” one of them responded with a smile. “Am I going to die?” I said. “No” he laughed “But it hurts like h*@# doesn’t it?”
With the terror slowly wearing off I continued my questioning, “What should I do?” I insisted. “Pee on it,” he said, laughing again “Or put your foot in hot water.” After weighing my options I decided to go over to the tiki bar and ask for some hot water.
I spent the rest of the day pulling little black spines out of my foot and laughing at myself. My foot hurt for several days after that and a few months before it was totally back to normal. Even now under certain circumstances, it will still give me some trouble.
The experience didn’t even come close to ruining my time in The Philippines, but I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never underestimate nature. Or you know don’t run around in the ocean drunk. Either way.
Have you had a run-in with an ocean creature that stabs or stings? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!