As I’ve mentioned previously, the Aussie fauna are big, bad, and deadly. And prevalent. That being said, the jellyfish was far from my mind the first time I visited the sandy white tourist haven in Sydney’s backyard, Bondi Beach. Bondi is a beautiful place, worthy of its international reputation as the quintessential Australian beach, made of beautiful turquoise waves, sexy surfers, and overpriced ice cream. Yes, the jellyfish had taken the backseat in my mind due to the seemingly greater danger lurking in Aussie beaches…the shark.
Australia, like South Africa, is known for these brutes, especially the great white. These misunderstood creatures mean us no harm, and we as humans do more danger to them then vice versa. (More on the shark debate here.) But, if that’s so, why does Bondi have a shark net, which runs the length of the bay to literally stop them from entering? Personally, I think if a great white could cut a man in half in one bite, then he would have no problem eating his way through a net, but that’s just me. And the helicopters, which fly back and forth all the eastern beaches, keeping an eye out for ominous fins; are they just for show? (And if they do see one, what do they do? Shout down at him through a megaphone to kindly retreat?) Or what about the navy diver who was attacked a by a bull shark on a practice dive in Sydney harbor a few years back? Growing up on the East Coast of the US, we certainly didn’t have to trouble our minds with great whites causing trouble in Ocean City, MD. No, the stakes are higher here.
Anyway, to skip forward, the day passes, shark free, (Yes!), and it was about time to stop for lunch. A quick diversion on the subject of lunch. I am of the opinion that you are never to old for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Maybe it’s an American thing. Or maybe because it tasted good when I was eight. I still eat them, despite the mocking I receive often from my foreign friends and coworkers. My English friends seemed to find this combination of condiments on bread particularly vile.
After a tasty sandwich or two, we had made our way down the Coastal Walkway to Tamarama, the next beach down from Bondi. This is another stunning spot, with waves crashing in from all directions and blue waters of the type Gauguin could only dream of. Naively I splashed around in the waves, soaked up the sun, and considered my fortuitousness of being in such a stunning spot on a sunny day.
Out of nowhere, I feel what can only be described as barbed wire wrapping around my legs. I lean down into the water, and try to feel around for whatever rubbish has found me. Instantly, the pain increased more and more, which can only be described as hot, burning barbed wire being wrapped around your body, and now my fingertips as well. Yep, I had been stung by a blue-bottle, or, as we call them at home, a portuguese-man-o-war jellyfish. The pain was crazy, and, judging from the number of people running awkwardly out of the sea with pained looks on their faces, I wasn’t the only one. Turns out these guys float aimlessly through the seas, at the mercy of the wind. Well, today the wind decided to bring them to Tamarama. There’s nothing you can do but wait it out, really, and the stinging lasted on and off for about a day, as did the red welts up and down my legs.
Now, the blue bottles are hardly worth a mention to the Aussies, considering there’s so many jellyfish with much more lethal prowess here (check out the box jellyfish), but in the states, the man-o-war have a reputation. Fathers probably sit around campfires, enthralling wide-eyed boy scouts with tales of the dangers of these guys. I feel as if I have earned a badge of honor.
But I’ve learned my lesson. Scan the surf about every millisecond. Or better yet, swim on a day with no wind. But then again, between a run in with another one of these guys or a hungry great white, I think I know which one I’d chose.
(Note: to get technical, blue-bottle are actually creatures called “zooids”, and not jellyfish. Google it if you like. But, if it walks like a duck, and stings like a duck…)