I don’t like being the weak link.
I find it hard having to rely on people for help – particularly if they’re strangers.
So, naturally, I often find myself in situations where I’m at the mercy of others and I have no choice but to surrender, sometimes with mild unease. Sometimes with abject mortification.
Towards the end of our two weeks in Indonesia, we went on a two-day boat trip around the Komodo islands. The area is home to some of the richest marine biodiversity on Earth and we had read that it was largely unspoiled, so we were excited to snorkel and dive in its impossibly blue water.
Being prone to seasickness in the right conditions, I was a bit apprehensive about spending so long on a boat, but I’d managed similar trips before and I’m of the dogged “I’m sure it’ll be fine” school of thought.
Towards the afternoon of the first day, the calm, clear waters that were the theme of the morning started morphing into greyer, rolling waves.
After an exhausting dive in a current as strong as the Cape Town wind down a Vredehoek street, I hauled myself back onto the boat. It didn’t take long to realise that things might not end well.
The boat dipped and rose and dipped and rose, and I felt beads of sweat start to form on my forehead.
The closer we got to the island where we would spend the night, the more the boat rolled around in the waves, and the tighter I gripped the side of the boat, breathing shallow breaths and trying like hell to focus on a fixed point on the horizon which kept goddamn moving.
We’re nearly there. We’re nearly there. Oh God.
The waves, our tour guide told us with wide eyes, were too big. The boat couldn’t get to shore and, because luck was on my side, the small boat that they usually used to transport people and luggage from the large boat to the island was not working, very sorry about this.
Not to worry, though. They would make a plan. Wait here please. (Some quiet laughter from the French family who made up part of our group.)
As some of the crew swam to shore to concoct a plan B (kayaks!), I told Joe that it was most likely that I would, in fact, vomit.
“Stand up,” he suggested. “Bend your knees. Focus on a fixed point on the island.”
Good, this was good. This was helping. Wasn’t it? No. No it wasn’t. I was probably definitely going to be sick.
New idea: get in the water and snorkel. Hold onto the rope so you don’t drift away.
This seemed promising. For about seven seconds. But I was too far gone. I clutched the end of the rope, face down in the water, feeling myself rise and fall with the waves, rise and fall, trapped in this never-ending whirlpool of severe nausea, crying into my snorkel.
This went on for what felt like a good few hours but was probably about 30 minutes, before the crew returned with two kayaks. Backpacks were put into dustbin bags and lowered precariously onto them. It was all a bit of a mad scramble. Correctly predicting that, if we didn’t supervise things, our bags – and critical dry change of clothes – would not make it to the island, Joe told me to wait a second, he’d sort out the bags and then swim to the shore with me.
I did wait. But a second was all I could manage. It was very, very urgent that I get to solid ground, so I started swimming.
“That’s it, come along,” said the French dad. I wanted to assure him that I really was quite a capable swimmer, but I was just feeling so very dreadful, but all that came out of my mouth was a weird little bleat.
He swam closer to me, keeping a watchful eye.
All at once my mouth filled with saliva and I knew that it was over. I lifted my head and frantically pulled off my mask and snorkel. Taking this as a sign that he was needed, French dad swam right up to me.
In the middle of this most physical bodily function, I could almost feel the cogs of my rational mind turning, working out the logistics of the situation. My last thought was, “Huh. I’ve never thrown up while I’m in water before. I wonder what the best way is to go about this?” I swung my body around to make sure he wasn’t in the line in fire.
As the sheer horror of being in the remains of my lunch hit me like a wave, I tried to bat it all away like a madwoman, gulping air and water and, for all intents and purposes, looking like I was in the throes of a full-blown panic attack. In hindsight, I probably was.
I felt an arm around me and a hand holding my chin up away from the waves as a very dad-like voice with a gruff French accent said, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”
“This guy’s had training,” I thought, as he swam me backwards towards the shore.
When we could stand, he let me go and held my arm as we walked unsteadily onto the beach. I stuttered my thanks. And then again, as he told me to “just take a rest”, sweetly not making a fuss.
Sitting on solid ground, I took deep, shuddering breaths as I gathered myself, feeling embarrassed but so very relieved to be on land.
As I picked a piece of carrot out of my bikini top, I felt completely overwhelmed – not by the awfulness of what had just happened, but by the immense kindness of this stranger. People can be so bloody wonderful, I thought, as I tried not to cry.
Earlier in the day, looking at the island where we would spend the night
The next day, conquering sea sickness and sunburn and caring very little if I looked like an idiot with my wide stance and “cape”