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Published: January 11th 2010
Ocean survival 101
The whole house (my parents'house) was up at 5am, busily getting all their siebensachen (German for this and that) together to hit Mejia, our favourite beach. My parents had rented a beach house for two days to stay at in the night and for my Dad to hide from the unforgiving conditions of the beach during the day.
We were lucky enough that when we arrived at the beach house the district of Mejia had decided to cut running water for the day. So we had to rely on the water stored in the rooftop tank of the neighbouring house which was rented out by a couple my parents know.
Then our descent to the beach.
It was all fun and games: sand sculpting by Bex and Melissa, sleeping under the shade to avoid the crazy noon sun, body surfing by Melissa and Nate (who had never seen such huge, powerful waves in their life), me tempting fate by going back near the largest waves, Nate taking pictures, and so on.
Another fun part of Mejia is the yearly pilgrimage to the Rocks. I say this
because every year I´ve gone to this beach I have gone to visit the Rocks. I am posting some pictures so that you can see what rocks I am talking about. They extend out into the sea so that you can get a little closer to the impressive ¨tumbos¨ (which are the largest waves) while being removed from the violence of the sea. As well, the wildlife on the Rocks is a little different from that of the sand. Some small fish live in the pools of the Rocks, a selection of dark crabs use the Rocks as their racetrack (these things are superfast), and a variety of mollusks grace the parts of the Rocks which are frequently bathed in the salty water of the sea.
Naturally, the patterns in which the waves hit the Rocks are very chaotic because of the irregularity of the surface of the Rocks and the strength with which the waves impact them. On our first visit to the Rocks, I pointed out to Melissa that you only hear stories of people falling in and not surviving. A dip in the ocean near the Rocks, statistically, means death. Well....
Second trip to the
Rocks. Melissa was going to go alone but she gave Nate and I a non-wholehearted invitation to accompany her. So we went. She was a little angry at me, so she said nothing - only walked a good 10 feet away from me. When we got to the rocks, she picked out a place to think in solace and meanwhile ignore me as much as she could. This place happened to be a spot on the Rocks which was hit only occasionally by the waves. Since no waves hit this spot while she scouted the area, Melissa thought that she'd be fine there. Ya, right.
I happened to be watching her when suddenly... a wave leapt up from the sea, embraced Melissa and dragged her back to the angry ocean. One moment she was sitting on a rock, watching the ocean peacefully, and the next she was battling the ocean for her life. A sudden rush of adrenaline gripped me and within a split second I was running as fast as I could to the spot on the Rocks nearest to where she was. I had to be careful not to slip and injure myself on the way. As
soon as I was close enough, I lay down and stretched out my arm to grab her hand. I tried to anchor myself as well as I could because two bodies in the ocean are worse than one. But as much I stretched, Melissa kept on being taken out by the undercurrent. At that moment, another wave came. It washed over the rock I was on and pulled me in. &@%$!!!!
We spent a few minutes in that pool of death, fearing being pulled out into the open sea and at the same time we feared being smashed against the rocks. As well, Melissa lost her eyeglasses in the struggle, leaving her with poor eyesight (she lost a very special hat as well. Sorry, KC). We worked our way to safety for a minute or two (so it seemed) and finally got to the part of the Rocks which was furthest from the ocean and climbed up with the help of two young locals who saw the situation. The seemingly impossible happened - we were alive. Yes, we were scraped and bleeding on many areas of our bodies but we were alive. Thank God.
*** SCIENCE BREAK:
Otherwise known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a hormone known for the fight or flight response in the event of danger. It works to reduce blood flow to unnecessary systems such as the reproductive system and digestive system to concentrate on the more immediately important functions such as mental activity and muscle use.
The effects of the adrenaline were insanely cool. Neither of us remember feeling the cold of the water. I had such a great clarity of thought that I almost felt removed from the situation. I seemed so intent on pulling Melissa out that I had absolutely no fear for my own life. Had I any fear, we probably would not have made it. At one point a wave had thrown me on top of Melissa, pinning her underwater against the rocks. Panic would have been fatal.
Until then, I have never heard anyone say with such urgency ¨help me, Derek, please help me¨ (as I stretched my arm out to pull her out) or ¨please don't let go of me, please don't let go of me¨ (as we clung to the rocks which would be our safety) . I will never forget these
On the Rocks after the ordeal, Nate met us with a terrified look in his eyes. He hadn't seen Melissa go in but had watched as we struggled to safety. I can't imagine how he must have felt as he watched us being swallowed by an ocean he had not yet seen the likes of. I don't think he will ever tell.
I was only a few days into my trip and already I may have had the craziest experience of my Southamerica tour.
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