A long time ago, in a continent far far away, I was travelling around Australia with two friends when I decided to go my own way and take a sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands. It wasn’t that we’d fallen out, but one had to work in Sydney and the other had a flight to catch, and I was determined not to let their plans stop me from seeing everything the Gold Coast had to offer.
And so I signed up to the first catamaran cruise I could find and rocked up on the morning of the tour with only a crate of beers for company. I figured this would be the best way to make friends.
Everyone on the boat, except me, was with a group of buddies, and – not wanting to foist myself on anyone – I started the trip casually taking photos of the gorgeous turquoise seascapes, rather than risk being labelled the weird hanger-on guy.
Any external stimuli was a great excuse to occupy myself, and seeing a lush island crop up behind us I walked to the back of the boat to get my shot. If only there was something to lean on I thought… and hey presto I spied a metal box with a lovely slanting lid perfect for steadying my forearms on. Only the metal box was not a container: it was a lit barbecue that had been heating up all morning, ready to cook lunch.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a round of tasty kangaroo burgers that got burned, but the flesh on my arms.
Screaming in pain I (obviously) removed my arms immediately.
The worst thing though was that, to begin with at least, no marks appeared on my skin and no one took me seriously when I said I was in a huge pain. The captain of the ship was reluctant to use the limited water supply to allay the damage, and I didn’t have any friends even just to sympathise with me.
“In short I sat on deck, suffering in silence, trying not to cry.”
Eventually my arms started to turn purple and people started to take my injuries seriously at last.
One girl, learning of my wounds, offered me a special cream she had for burns. It turned out she was from Beckenham… a small town in South London that just happens to be where I was born!
What a co-incidence, to meet here, on a boat, pretty much in the exact opposite corner of the world from where we both grew up. I’m not sure what I was pleased with – the medical treatment she offered me, or just the fact that I now had a new friend and a shoulder to cry on!
In the end, after a bit of treatment – and a few beers – the pain dulled enough that I was able to enjoy the astonishing beauty of the Whitsundays and have fun with all the cool people I did eventually get talking to on the boat. Although the burns actually got infected when I went swimming in the tropical sea, I did at least get some professional medical attention a few day’s later, and some awesome Ninja-style bandages.
It’s not the conventional way to meet people, and I don’t really recommend it.
But it just goes to show that even burning your arms on a barbecue can become part of your travel adventure, part of your story, and can turn out ok in the end.