Saturday, January 19, 2008

The nine times I've nearly died, Pt. 2

The ocean obviously had it in for me. I should have known this. Maybe I did. After nearly drowning as a toddler, I never showered. I took baths in very shallow water. It wasn't until I was almost 9 that I really learned to swim.

Anyway, this story has nothing to do with my former fears. This was much later. I was just finished with my junior year in college. One of my professors (who will remain nameless, because he knows who he is) invited me to be a part of a pilot program to do field work in the Yucatan. And, me being me, I jumped at the chance.

I planned to fly down a week early, to get a feel for the country and just have a chance to acclimate. And as it turned out, my girlfriend at the time came with me for that week. I have some very fond memories of her in a hammock on the most perfect white sand beach in the world, except for the mosquitoes, which were only a problem at sunset.

Anyway, after I put her safely back on a plane and the rest of the crew got in, we all met up in the city of Merida, had a day or two there, then headed back for that same white sand beach, the island of Holbox.

So, we're there for several days, trying to sort out details. We were working with this NGO that was studying sea turtle nesting, whale sharks, and habitat. Finally we arrange get over to the turtle nesting beach that the group we were working with was monitoring. We leave at midnight, because of the tides and the way female sea turtles lay eggs, it's the optimal time to go. So, it's dark and late ad I've been sleeping on the floor of this one room apartment with three other college students. We're tired, but careful to pack all of our gear in plastic bags for the boat ride to the actual nesting beach. Then, everything comes out, we all put on 100% DEET bug repellent, and get started moving down the beach on these two ATVs.

The night went really well; I think we saw and photographed 6 turtles nesting, which the volunteers said was a lot; it seemed like a lot. We got to the end of the nesting beach, and turned around to head back. There were no stops on the way back, and the two drivers, Collee students like us, macho to the core, started racing each other. Now, there are three people on each ATV, and they're supposed to carry 2, max. Ind I glance over our driver's shoulder and see the speedometer: 50 MPH.

We were out in front by probably 100 yards. A minute or so after I saw our speed, out of nowhere, there was this little tidal pool, maybe 6 inches deep, but with a steep drop into it. As I saw it, I thought 'oh shit I'm fucked,' and then it was happening. I had been hanging off the side of the ATV, sitting on the rear luggage rack. The machine went over onto me, sliding as we went. It landed on my left hip, and my right hip landed on my cameras, in the water. In the salt water.

The second ATV caught up with us within a few seconds; luckily they'd seen us go over and had slowed in time to stop. They lifted the machine off of me; I got up, wrung my shirt out, dumped the water out of my camera bag, and bummed a cigarette. My first in a while. I was pretty shaken up, you understand. Cameras were ruined, but I was fine, apart from a bruise where I landed on my cameras and the ATV landed on me.

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