I was slightly stunned at this sight but called over the guide, and at the same time tried to stem the flow of blood by clamping up the hand. However, because it was on the side of the hand that naturally stretches with any movement, anything I did opened the wound further and blood came out faster. The guide arrived and sized up the situation quickly. He looked up nervously at me from his golden curly hair as if to say ”I knew you English bastards were going to be trouble.” He then guided me back to the shore, holding my right arm up in the air above my body. I had attracted the attention of most of the other members of the group, and one large lady, who happened to be a nurse in Cali, came across and sucked through her teeth with the best of them at my wound. At this stage I was pinching the side of my right hand to stem the blood flow with thumb and forefinger of my left hand, but I realised this was an impractical solution for the rest of the holiday.
The guide took his snorkelling mask and ripped off the rubber straps. He wrapped them around my hand, using the thumb as an anchor and tightened them over the wound. The bleeding seemed to stop and I was now free with my other hand.
Much chagrined, I sat on the grassy bank while the almost fruitless snorkelling went on. I felt a little faint, and particularly foolish, strapped up in a snorkelling mask and with my hand in the air. The rest of the team dressed and we tromped back through the forest to the camp. Once there, Graeme and I tailed off with the guide to the infirmary. The nurse followed me in and several camp workers came in for a bit of sport.
This was only my second time in the third world, and there are several nightmares I had had about travelling abroad. One was being mugged, the second was getting the shits, the third was insect life and the fourth was having to be hospitalised. The last was by far the worst, as the shadows of dirty needles, shoddy practices, AIDS and hepatitis rained heavy. I asked Graeme to get my medical kit from my pack, at least I knew where those needles and bandages had been. The decided that they could bandage me up and I should be all right to continue on, but they were going to clean out the wound, as coral could harbinger dangerous diseases. I saw a large bottle of something with iodine in it. It fizzed as they poured it into a white enamel dish. It fizzed again as it touched my flesh once the guide had removed the straps and wiped the worst of the encrusted and still free flowing blood from my wound. The heat from the liquid was intense, and Graeme and I agreed that nothing could survive under that concoction. I was a little uncertain as to whether I was included in that blanket destruction, but decided to keep my thoughts to myself.
The sun was drawing long shadows across the camp as we headed back to the communal room. I had to show my hand to everyone, who showed such concern in their best English (usually consisting of a few “Tsschh tshh”, or a “Pheww” or a “oh no no no”). I was however, firmly an insider, like every Colombian here, I had suffered. It wasn’t the sort of icebreaker that I had hoped for.
We slept remarkably well that night, partly for all the activity of the day (partly due to my shattered nerves following the accident) and mainly because we hadn’t slept much the night before on the boat. When we awoke the next morning, the mugginess of the day before had somewhat lifted, but it was still showery. We ate a hearty breakfast. The food at the camp was fairly basic, but nourishing and the setting for breakfast was magnificent. We headed off on a three mile trek across the island to the western beaches and Isla Gorgonilla – the smaller of the two islands here.
The walk was fascinating, as it went behind the concentration camp, then rose steeply into the rainforest. The rain of several days still lay heavy on the ground, and our boots squelched over bright red soil in our tracks. We saw several snakes scurry out of our way as we tromped through the forest. Tiny pencil thin beasts that didn’t wait to stick out their tongues. Several frogs, some brightly marked, and insects weird and wonderful every step of the way. But what was overpowering was the stuffiness of the forest floor. Above us was the canopy and in between all manner of plants and animals trapped in the space. The claustrophobia was almost unbearable, and the fact that even though we were on a very short walk, the forest felt unending. I got the feeling that I never wanted to see the Amazon if this was what it was like. I had passed by Mauro a wish to travel to Leticia on the SE corner of Colombia, actually on the Amazon River, but this thought went out of my head forever as I tromped through the tiny forest on Gorgona.
Then, all at once, we started to descend and the fresh air of the beach once more wafted across our faces. The canopy broke and we tumbled down through the palms and on to the true Pacific Coast of Gorgona. This beach was probably the most remote place I had been to at that point. The grey volcanic sand was untouched by human feet before we descended on it, at least it had been since the last tide had cleared it. The view off into the Pacific was still grey and dismal, the humidity was intense, but the edge was taken off by a fresh wind that blew across our faces. Thousands of fiddler crabs ran off in all directions to their lairs, waved their outsize hands at us and disappeared down their holes. The crabs were one of the first things I had noticed about Gorgona when I arrived. It reminded me of DuckIsland in Arthur Ransome’s Peter Duck. In that book there had been little crabs everywhere during the day and at night large crabs came out. Graeme and I had paced around the beach in front of the camp and we’d seen the thousands of small holes for the Fiddler’s, then as we came back into camp, I joked when I saw the large holes under an evergreen hedge on the way back into the camp. I said to Graeme “That’s probably where the large crabs live.” I had to eat my words that evening when I was going around with a flashlight and came across a massive blue and red crab, toying calmly with a coconut shell. It must have been eight inches across its body with huge, amazing looking claws that I decided to keep well clear of. I really must stop making stupid statements like that.
We spent most of that morning on the beach and I came across crabs everywhere. We swam, and despite the murky nature of the sky, the water was beautifully warm and soothing, and I felt good enough to swim despite my bandage. Graeme was looking distinctly healthier as well. At the south end of the beach a spit of sand linked Gorgona with its near neighbour, Gorgonilla. At high tide the link was severed, but at the time, a set of rock pools and jagged stonework could be explored, and I went off for a walk on my own around these areas. More crabs could be seen, flat green ones that clung to the vertical rocks and scuttled menacingly as soon as you approached. Hundreds of small fish, dull coloured but of infinite variety played in the small pools until they were released from their more humane solitary confinements by the new high tide.
Eventually, we headed back to the camp. Some took a boat which had come around the point but I decided to walk. As we descended into the camp, the cloud eventually broke and for the first time since we had arrived on the island, I got the true sense of being on a paradise island. The blue sky and sea joined to each other; in the distant mist to the east we could see great mountains of the western Cordillera rise into the clouds. The palm trees swayed gently and everything, our clothes and ourselves included, steamed in the sun.