Day 280: Stabbed by a Sea Urchin

I signed up for scuba diving, but because my hotel was too far from the city center, I had to meet at the dive shop in the early morning and then get on the bus from there. Grab (like Uber) isn’t on the island, so I asked the front desk to call me a taxi. Unfortunately, one would not arrive in time because we were too far out. The hotel offered motorbike rentals, so I asked for one. Because it was so early in the morning and I hadn’t reserved one the night before, the guy at the front desk had to call someone. 

I was getting nervous because I didn’t want to miss the bus. I frantically told the guy that I’ve driven a motorbike before in Vietnam and I needed to leave right away. He gave me the keys and gave me a quick 20-second demonstration. Then I drove off. I put my phone in a cup holder on the motorbike and from time to time I could grab it and check the directions. Thankfully, it was mostly one main road to get to the shop. I drove as fast as I could on the mostly empty road. 

When I arrived at Rainbow Divers, the woman at the shop told me that I just missed the bus. She told me to hop on the back of her motorbike and she’d take me to them since they were at a nearby hotel picking up people. Once they left town, it would be an hour drive, so I had to catch them before they left. Thankfully, we caught up and I joined the bus. 

The lead man was from Leeds, England and appeared to be in his late 40s to early 50s. He asked me where I was from and I said Los Angeles. The man said he spent the last 30 years on and off going to Orange County (county next to Los Angeles) and probably spent a total of three to four years there. He’s been to 50 countries, but the weather in Orange Country is the best in the world. He’s been living in Vietnam for a few years and opened up the dive shop. 

The girl next to me on the bus was Manuela. She was from Germany, appeared to be in her early 20s, had blonde hair, and light blue eyes that almost appeared green. She was beautiful and fit. Manuela told me that she’s dived more than 35 times. She was traveling in Vietnam with her friend for three weeks, but her friend doesn’t dive. Back at home, she works at a law firm. 

Manuela told me that she and her friend were lounging on a beach when all of a sudden, a man kicked them very hard on their legs. He told them that they were not allowed to lay on that section of the beach without paying. They got up and moved, and were frustrated because the man could have just tapped them on their shoulders. Manuela noticed that people seemed to get frustrated at them when they found out they didn’t speak any Vietnamese. She’s been to Thailand before and said they were much friendlier. I experienced some of this in Vietnam too. I think Vietnam is still getting used to tourism. 

Manuela told me that her first eight days in Vietnam was crammed with things to do. They were traveling north to south and taking overnight busses and trains, which was exhausting. While in Ho Chi Minh City, they visited the underground tunnels and shot machine-like guns on a tour. She showed me a video and it looked very strange to see her shoot that giant gun. She said she just wanted to see what it was like. 

Manuela has been to Australia and she warned me about the animals and bugs that can kill you. She told me how she did a tour to Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and they all slept outside under the stars. She could hear all of the animals roaming around and wished for a tent. She said the trip was worth it, however, and was an amazing thing to experience. 

When Manuela was in Bali a few years prior, she was bitten by a mosquito and got Dengue fever. A few days later she was flying to Australia. She didn’t want to go to the hospital in Bali, so she waited until she arrived in Australia. She was so sick that she spent two to three weeks in the hospital and lying in a hostel bed. She described the pain and misery of her entire body aching and she lost seven kilos (15 lbs) in a week because she couldn’t eat. 

Manuela was really sweet and enjoyable to talk with. Unfortunately, she was assigned to a different diving group, so we had to split up when we arrived at the boat to meet our guides. The boat ride took us past islands that were connected by a huge gondola system. I’ve only seen gondolas on mountains, so seeing them stretched over distances above the ocean was incredible! The posts were on the tallest peak of the island, but there were several sections that had no support over the ocean. 

My dive instructor was Tom. He is from Ho Chi Minh City and had only been diving for seven months. I explained to Tom that I was a new diver and only received my certification three weeks prior in Thailand, which was also my first time diving. I told him I’m afraid of ascending by accident because I’m very buoyant. Tom helped to get me the appropriate amount of weights for my belt around my waist. 

The first two dives were with Tom and two other girls. Similar to Thailand, they don’t allow more than four people per guide for safety reasons. We wore shorty wetsuits (shorts and short sleeves) because the water was only slightly cool. The conditions weren’t very clear and there weren’t many fish. I did ok, but one time Tom had to help guide me down when I felt like I was starting to ascend. 

Climbing up the ladder to the boat was very difficult with so much weight from the equipment. The ladder had round metal rungs, which really hurt my feet. My knees were also really hurting, which was frustrating me. After our second dive we ate lunch that was cooked on the dirty boat. I was concerned about the unsanitary conditions. 

For the third dive, it would be just me and Tom in my group because the other two girls didn’t want to do a third dive. The conditions weren’t clear, but I decided to do it so that I could gain experience. Tom and I started our descent and he was facing me to help me calm my breathing so I could sink (always my struggle). Tom didn’t tell me how shallow the area was and I was looking at him as we sank lower, following his instructions. My breathing was better controlled, so we sank faster. I had my knees bent so that I wouldn’t accidentally kick myself up. 

All of a sudden, I felt a crash above my knees. I looked down and realized we were already on the bottom because it was so shallow. The shorty wetsuit only covered half of my upper legs, so I cut my leg above my left knee as it scraped against the coral. I quickly put some air in my vest because I was overweighted by the weights. Tom used a hand signal to ask if I was okay and I signed back that I was, so we continued the dive. I followed behind him, but my leg above my right knee was in excruciating pain. It felt like something was stinging me. I brushed my right hand over it and felt a small piece of something stuck in my leg so I pulled it out. After five minutes, it got better, but it was still hurting. 

Once the dive was complete and we were back on the boat, I noticed four small black marks on my right thigh. Tom told me that it’s from a sea urchin. When I hit the bottom, the left leg hit coral and the right leg was stabbed by a very large sea urchin. I saw the sea urchin once I felt the pain, but didn’t realize that I hit it. The black marks had goose bumps around them and were buried in my skin. Tom said, “It’s not poisonous.” When we boarded the bus, I showed my legs to the owner from England and he said, “Oh, they are poisonous, but just a little bit. Not like in other parts of the world.” 

Concerned, I said, “But I have four of them stuck in my leg. What do I do?” The man said, “You can’t pull them out. Even if you tried, they would disintegrate into your blood. It falls apart like charcoal. It will absorb into your bloodstream and then it will take a few months for your blood to get rid of it. I’m more concerned about your other leg because that coral really scratched it up.”

Great. On the bus ride back, I Googled the sea urchin and found that the man was right and they’re only mildly poisonous. The problem is if someone has an allergic reaction to the sting. I found one article that said if you’re allergic to bees, you should be concerned and go to a hospital if you’re starting to see a reaction. Two of the stings were getting small white circles around them and I was worried it was reaction. I am also allergic to bees and carry an epi-pen because of it. I don’t have any luck when it comes to getting stung by things. 

I monitored the area all night and thankfully, the white circles went away. Within a few days, the black marks were starting to disappear into my bloodstream like the man said. He was also right about the coral scratches. Those took weeks to heal and left a white scar for a while. 

Once I got back to the dive shop, I drove my motorbike to a coffee shop and then drove back to the hotel. I picked up my laundry at the front desk and then laid by the pool. After ordering room service, I relaxed in the plush bed because I was exhausted. Most beds in Thailand and Vietnam were really hard, but this bed was amazing! I snuggled up and wrapped myself, and my injured legs, in the comforter. I felt proud of myself for doing that third dive as I fell asleep in the comfortable bed.

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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

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