I didn’t know I had been stung–at first. And then it hit me. My legs burned, screaming for relief from the salty water. I vividly remember three things: the Mediterranean breeze drifting across my brown nose, the whoosh of escaping air from my lungs, and Emilio’s hand in the small of my back pushing me toward the shore.
I met Danny when he plopped down next to me on the bus at Mykonos port. He turned his big blue eyes to me and we talked about the solo-backpacking trip I was smack in the middle of. He traveled to Greece with a group of guys—three of his American cousins from Miami, and one Canadian. Within minutes, I tucked in as their sixth roommate. Less than an hour later, the six of us ran into the ocean.
Emilio and I were the only ones brave enough, daring enough, or maybe stupid enough, to swim across the 40-foot man-made shelf on Paradise Beach. It seemed like a brilliant idea to swim from the 15-foot shallow water to deeper 100-foot water in the Aegean Sea. The other five remained on shore in favor of cold beer over our deep-water escapade. But we went anyways.
We floated in the open water, two specks lost in Greece’s turquoise ocean. Layers of tropical fish darted around several feet below us in the crystal clear water. We dove deep enough to set our sinuses on fire, somersaulting through the cool salt water.
I didn’t even see the jellyfish behind me.
But after it brushed, ever so softly against my legs, I sure as hell felt it.
It itched at first. And the itch turned into a sharp, annoying pain. And then it felt like someone stabbed my leg with a knife and twisted it around and around. Something was wrong. I had to get out. I called to Emilio and swam toward the shelf. Within seconds he was there. He grabbed my hand. We slipped our way across the shell shelf. I collapsed off the other side into shallower water and he pushed me toward shore. From afar, I’m sure we looked like two idiots goofing around, but as we got closer Danny knew something wasn’t right.
He waded in to help Emilio support me as I stumbled through the shallows. He took one look at the Frisbee-size white and red welts on my legs and said, “jellyfish.”
Oh Jesus, they’re going to pee on me, I thought…the infamous jellyfish cure. But in that moment, I could care less. Anything to take the pain away.
But, travel karma was on my side again. Since the boys were from Miami, they had their share of jellyfish experiences. And a few cure-all tricks, too. One hustled to buy two oversized cans of beer. The other packed wet sand around my legs. After several rounds of drizzling beer on my welts and compressing wet sand around my legs, the throbbing subdued. A few hours later my legs were okay–albeit red.
I still have scars around my right knee that turn purple when I get cold. Travel isn’t always glamorous and I learned solo travel is much easier when you make friends along the way. But it could’ve been worse, and that night we danced for hours at the disco.