A Day at the Beach Gone Awry

A Potentially Perilous Estuary

Earlier today I was on a mission.  My objective was to reach the Pacific coast and get into the salt water. For at least two-and-a-half years my skin has been deprived of the therapy that the ocean’s prodigious pool provides.  Actually, I can’t remember the last time I went in the ocean before today.

I boarded an old, but seemingly refurbished United States school bus.  I sat on it for about 20 minutes.  When it filled up, the driver started the engine and drove off.  The 40-minute drive to Las Peñitas from the city of León cost 10 Cordobas or about US $.50.

Upon entering this super laid-back and scorching beach town, I couldn’t wait to get in the water.  At first I couldn’t tell where the actual beach was.  I’d deemed that I’d need to cross an estuary to get to it.

Because I had a small bag carrying my day’s supplies, including my camera, I needed to find a part of the river that was shallow enough to not require swimming.  I pondered: Why didn’t I take a friend’s advice and purchase an underwater camera for slightly more money?

After strolling for a distance, it looked as if I’d found my spot.  After crossing it, I’d be able to walk a short way over a dune.  I’d then see the seemingly infinite Pacific in front of me.

By the time I’d found my shallow stretch, I was in a secluded area.

I had no idea that danger existed, as I’d swum in tropical beaches on numerous occasions, even closer to the equator than this. However, I don’t remember ever walking across an estuary to get to a beach.

I was enjoying the refreshing walk immensely.  I was very close to being across.  The hot natural setting caused mental senses to move through my mind via words, similar to when I’m typing and my fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts.

I was maybe five steps away, five out of 40 roughly.  The water was not crystal clear.

All of a sudden, something very nasty and painful protruded into my toe.  I started howling at the top of my lungs.  There was nobody around to hear me.

I had my sandals in my hand.  I thought: Why didn’t you wear your sandals?  Why didn’t you ask a local if it was safe? Farther up I’d seen locals crossing in boats but thought nothing of it.

The first thought that came to mind is that I’d been bitten by a crab.  I quickly got out of the estuary, screaming and swearing in dire pain.

I still had a mission.  I walked up over a sand hill when I saw the great vast ocean.  I dropped my bag and looked down to see blood oozing from my toe.  All I had in my bag was a napkin to act as a soaking agent.

I thought that the ocean could only help this wound while the pain became more excruciating by the second.

I put my sandals on this time.  The current was very strong.  It almost took the sandals off of me.  It was hard to get in and under as the surf was potent, pushing me into the ground.  But I got under.  I’d done it.   I’d reached my mission, even if it only lasted for less than half a minute.

Then I had a new mission.  I needed medical attention.   I walked along to find another area and asked some local boys in a small row boat if the water was deep.  Using body language they motioned that it would be over my head, that I’d need to swim.  I pointed at my bag.  I didn’t want my new camera to no longer be operable.

I ran back to the area where I’d been. I crossed, with the sandals on this time.  The water was clear enough to see creatures on the sand.  I easily avoided them this time.  Upon reaching the other side of the estuary, I still had a ways to go to get to the main road.  I ran.

Finally I came up to a couple of local guys doing some sort of labor.  They noticed the expression on my face and wondered what was wrong.  I told them that I’d been bitten by a crab, even though I couldn’t remember the Spanish word for bite or bitten.  They took a look and said:

Raya! Raya! Raya!”

I’d been bitten by a stingray.

I asked them if there was a clinic.  They said:

Yes, but you can’t walk.”

They also told me not to worry, that the extreme pain would go away in 24 hours and that there was no danger.

They noticed a small pickup truck driving towards us on an otherwise desolate road.  The two men motioned for the pickup truck to stop and asked the man to take me to the clinic.  He motioned for me to hop in the back.  In a few minutes we were at a small clinic that doubled as a pharmacy.

A Makeshift Doctor Administering Anesthesia

I showed my wound to a man who hardly looked like a doctor.  He had me lie down so that he could stick me with anesthesia.

He gave me five days worth of antibiotics to prevent potential infection and enough pain killers for three days.  In total, I paid him $10.  I was worried as I’d only brought $20 with me.

The pick up driver happened to be driving back to León and offered me a ride in the back as his two kids were in the front.  Riding in the back of pick up trucks is extremely commonplace here.  I said that I didn’t like the vibrations that the back of the truck made on my toe, that I’d wait for the bus.

The pain was subsiding.  Both the clinician who seemed to know what he was doing and the pick up driver were genuine and altruistic.

The man of the clinic pointed at the bus stop almost next door to him.  We talked for 10 minutes while I waited for the bus.  He told me that this is common, but that most of the time it’s tourists that get bitten as the locals are in the know.

The Tropical Doc Writing My Dosage

He said that if I’d waited about a half an hour, it wouldn’t have happened, that I’d crossed during feeding time.  The stingrays usually hover on the bottom.  I’d stepped on one.

He said I was lucky that it happened on my big toe as he’s seen people get bitten in the ankle or leg and that the pain was even worse.  He mentioned that he’s witnessed people who had been bitten in the testicular region and that that pain was the absolute most excruciating.

He told me to rest for 24 hours and that I’d be just fine after that.  I was planning to drift away from León tomorrow but I may now stay a little bit longer as I know that my Dutch hostel owner can recommend a good doctor for me here just in case this thing does get infected and I need more medical attention.

–   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

HARD LESSON LEARNED: When walking across estuaries, shuffle your feet to warn the stingrays that may be hovering there.  This way they’ll get out of the way so you don’t step on them, causing them to bite out of fear.


10 responses to this post.

  1. This post has gotten more comments than any, not sure it was worth the pain though, and I’m not out of the woods yet, taking my last antibiotic tonight and still have two days of pain killers to go. It’s definitely getting better though. Yeah, pics are a crucial element.


  2. One adventure down, N to go… I think this kind of thing is part of what makes it a more real and memorable travel experience than the more common airport-resort-beach-gift shop-airpot kind -not that you’d want to get bitten if you can avoid it, but sooner or later these things will happen if you get-off the tourist trail. Glad to see more pictures in your postings, too. The one at the “clinic” was a nice touch.


  3. I still managed to get my entire body into the water, unfortunately just for an über brief stint. Ideally I’ll get over to the Caribbean and or Pacific again soon. Next time you can be sure that I’m gonna be asking people about these “rayas” before getting in. Also, I found out, that in these estuaries, one should shuffle their feet while crossing, as this warns the rays to get out of the way, although I’ve since read that people have still been bitten while doing this. Looking down at my toe now, I see puss like blood. This reminds me, gotta take my antibiotic in half an hour.


  4. Glad to hear you’re ok though. To bad you didn’t get to swim. Salt water sure is great for the body’s largest organ, the skin.


  5. Posted by Darren on February 2, 2011 at 20:00

    Raya! Raya! That is too funny! I don’t mean to laugh at your pain, but I couldn’t help it. Be careful earth traveler.

    By the way, great photo of you in the clinic, though you look like you’ve had better days. 🙂


    • The pain sure wasn’t funny, nor was the fact that my day at the beach ended as soon as it started. I thought it was a crab until the locals dudes said “Raya, raya, raya.” Then the word stingray instantly came to mind. I learned a new word in Spanish, raya, the hard way. 🙂


  6. Posted by Noel Keating on February 2, 2011 at 16:02

    Ouch! Scary I bet. What a deal though for $10. Here in the US it would probably have run you up to $1000.


    • Yeah, as we all know, the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is absurd. Even with insurance it would cost way more than $10. This is the the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere yet all citizens have free healthcare. I’m not sure of the quality but it’s free. I just hope that the needle the man poked all around my toe was clean. He seemed to know what he was doing. Treating me seemed routine for him.


  7. I got anesthesia from the doc. He also gave me five days worth of pain killers called Diclofenac Sodico so there is only very mild pain now. It was ridiculously painful when and after it happened though.


  8. Posted by Maida on February 1, 2011 at 19:56

    Wow, that’s horrible! You must be in a sh**load of pain! Hope you feel better soon and get back to drifting!


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