I am writing this post from my bed in Trinidad, where I lie with my left leg in a surgical stocking, hoisted up on a pile of pillows. I have had a serious accident on my travels, dear reader, first a broken toe (thrown from wind surfer in rough sea) in el Yacque, Margarita - and now the Bunk Bed Injury.
Having left Cartagena on 11th February on a rather rusty but nevertheless stable yacht, the Ildiki, we met high seas. Waves like blue mountains, black tip sharks leaping from them. We sailed all night — and then all day — and then all night again through rough waters. There were seven passengers on board, all allocated bunks with edges to ensure safe sleeping. I was allocated a smaller bunk, no safety net or ledge. It was by the engine, right in front of the hatch. The fist night I was flung out in high seas. Bruises but nothing else. But I was maybe a little heavy of heart, maybe not quite myself on this trip — and so did not pay enough attention to this lethal bunk bed.
Night Two I was thrown heavily out of the same bunk, landing on a mysterious pointed object, gouging my flesh to the bone. It happened at 3am. Konny, the skipper, hearing my yelps, came flying down form the cockpit; another grown man fainted at the sight of the gash. Despite this débâcle, the skipper managed to dress and bandage the wound and the next day I was sailed to the nearest clinic. Fortunately, we were approaching the San Blas islands, a tiny archipelago of islands off the coast of Panama.
The clinic was a ramshackle affair, but nevertheless I was expertly stitched up by two women, both of the Kuna tribe. I was weeping as they stitched me — and the male nurse held my hand. I was touched — even when his mobile phone rang during the small procedure and I found myself weeping while he spoke loudly in Spanish to his son.
The wound is ghastly, like a massive chicken has stamped its foot on my leg. It was ghastly, but looked healthy once stitched. I got back on the Ildiki and sailed onwards to Panama. We ate a barbecue on the beach, met with Kuna Indians who cooked us a huge fish, sailed on to Puerto Lindo, a tiny port on the Panama Coast. I made a friend, Theo. We ate on the seafront that night with a young Australian couple on the boat....everyone was affected by what had happened. Accidents have a psychic impact on others, they spread bad karma.
With Theo, I travelled on two buses to Panama City, regatone booming, the countryside flashing past. I checked into the famous Hotel Parador, ate at Manolo’s, sank into a deep sleep. I knew by then that my wound was looking a lot worse, not better. The skin was dying not healing.
It was only the next day, when I went to see a plastic surgeon at a private clinic in the city, that I realised that my leg was now serious. Infection had set in, the surgeon wanted to operate immediately, cut the wound, graft skin from my arse onto it. I panicked and said ‘not here, I am a stranger to this city. I am only two hours away from home. I don’t speak Spanish’......and got on the next plane and flew home, where I saw the good Victor Blackburn, who has said I may still be able to avoid surgery. The skin is not entirely dead — yet.
So I am here, dear reder, leg up, stockings on, reading Lord of the Flies and editing the pages of my new novel, Archipelago. On Monday I will take off the stocking and see if the skin has declared itself fully dead — and if so — then the skin draft and surgery and a nasty hole in my once pretty leg.
Accidents happen when you travel. I have been angry with the non– existent health and safety precautions on the Ildiki. I have been angry with a certain careless email I received before I left on my travels. If you leave for foreign lands with a heavy heart, you are not centred or stable in yourself — maybe if I had been stronger I would have been more alert, more on the ball re the bunk bed.
BUT at the end of the day, accidents happen. And when they do, they are present and now and whatever the factors are that contributed to the accident, it has happened. This has happened. I am in bed, leg up. In future, my legs will look different.
Here are a couple of pics of the San Blas islands: they are very small, topped with a crush of coconut palms. They are inhabited by the Kuna tribe of indians who live today as they did 300 years ago. I will leave for the Panama Canal and the Galapagos islands when I can walk again.