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Ready, aim, urinate: How I survived the sea urchins’ sting

The author is careful not to get too close to sea urchins while snorkelling.

Courtesy of Anthony Davis

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

I was in Negril with friends at a bar known for its rope swing hung 10 metres above a crystalline cove. My friends were launching themselves from the rope into the water below. Looks like fun, I thought. Wish I could swim better. A few drinks convinced me I could swim well enough to make it to a rusting metal ladder bolted into the cliffside. I jumped. I splashed. I did it again.

On my third jump I'd just grabbed the ladder when a rogue wave lifted me up and dropped me feet first onto an outcrop of sea urchins. My screech echoed around the cove. Frantically, I pulled myself up the ladder, dragging my feet, and rolled onto the bar's patio. My soles were spiked with spines.

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This wasn't the first time I'd gotten too close to sea urchins.

Years ago, during my first attempt at snorkelling in the Dominican Republic, I was in shallow water when a swell dropped me onto a thick swath of echinoderms like a swami face down on a bed of nails. I torpedoed to shore, screaming invectives as I plucked whole urchins from my chest and thighs.

Three locals saw me emerge bleeding from the water. "Senor! Senor! Someone must pee on you," one offered in passable English.

"What? Hey, I'm no dumb gringo, buddy. You're not peeing on me!" I shouted, stumbling off the beach. But, during the weeks it took the wounds to heal I heard that urine is an effective treatment for urchin piercings.

Now, in Jamaica, I was about to learn how effective.

"Ya, mon!" said a gravely voice behind me. "I gotta give ya da cure." I turned to see a shirtless, very muscular Jamaican wearing a Rastacap as big as salad-mixing bowl.

"You got dem bad in your feet," he said. "Hold on, mon." I knew what was next. Sighing, I put a hand on a stone wall to brace myself. Above me, at their table, my friends looked down agog at the unravelling scene. Everyone did.

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My pee-amedic, as I've come to think of him, was well prepared for this emergency. He'd obviously stoked his bladder with plenty of Red Stripe beer. He hoisted my foot up behind me. "Heyyy," I hollered, as he whizzed away, "that's hot!" He then grabbed my other foot and steamily doused it, too.

Finally, with a few final squirts, he was done. "Ya mon, you should be irie now."

I made my way up to my table of friends and collapsed in a chair. They slid back. But already I could see the Rasta's medicine working it's aromatic magic.

Unlike my last urchin encounter, when I had painfully pulled out the spines with pliers, the ones in my feet popped out virtually on their own. In a few minutes I could stand up. The wounds would heal in days.

"Did you thank him?" my friend asked.

I made my way, red-faced, to the Jamaican, now lazing on a lounge chair. "I, uh. I want to say thanks. Your cure seems to be working." I lifted a sole to show him. "Can I buy you a few beers? You know... to prepare you for the next emergency?"

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