We were warned about the jellyfish of Langkawi. Not before we went of course; the tourist industry keeps very quiet about them.
It wasn’t until we were picked up at the airport by our host, that the subject was mentioned. Another guest had been stung once and had a bad reaction, he told us, so we should be careful.
“But of course it’s not the season yet,” he said. “From January to June you probably shouldn’t go out swimming without a proper stinger suit on.”
This came as something of a shock to us. We love to swim, and had planned to go in the sea pretty much every day. But we had never even seen a “stinger suit”, let alone brought one with us.
We decided to do the sensible thing, and act like nobody had ever told us. We went swimming every day, just a little more warily, imagining gelatinous tentacles all around.
But jellyfish don’t have calendars, and they weren’t waiting for January 1.
By chance I wasn’t there when it happened, having picked up a sore throat which left me with no voice that day and no enthusiasm for swimming. So the first I knew of it was when I heard Noah’s feet pounding up the path.
“Dad!” he yelled before he’d even got through the door. “Mom and Joseph have been stung by a jellyfish!”
The owner of the hotel we were staying at kindly loaned me his car, and we went whizzing off in search of the casualties.
“They shouldn’t be walking!” I croaked, remembering the fragments of jellyfish lore I had picked up. “It pumps the venom round the body!”
We found them down the road. The hotel owner had also provided us with a bottle of vinegar, and I proceeded to pour it over their arms, encouraged by a bystander. This appeared to make Joseph’s sting immediately better, but Karen’s if anything worse.
Then we set off for the clinic, desperately trying to remember the directions which had been shouted to me as I ran to the car. I found the clinic, deposited them there, then had to go back for our passports. I come from a country where, if there’s something wrong with you, you go to the hospital and they fix it, no questions asked. This has rendered me a useless child when it comes to international travel.
When I got back to the clinic, all was much calmer. They were quickly seen, given ointment and pills, and I was presented with a bill well within the excess for our travel insurance: only RMB 300 for both of them. When I saw that they had only been prescribed calamine lotion and antihistamines, I was even more relieved. Clearly this was not a deadly sting.
Later, over dinner, I told my colleagues via WeChat what had happened.
“Pee on it!” I was urged. “Pee on it right now!”
“I don’t think that would go down well with the other people in the restaurant,” I answered.
For the record, the current advice is that you don’t pee on the sting, though vinegar is indeed recommended. I would urge you too not to let our experience put you off visiting Langkawi, which is a beautiful place. It’s easy to stay safe with a little care, and no lasting harm was done. In my next post I’ll write about some of the more enjoyable things there are to do on the island.
Photos: bnanative via Flickr, Andrew Killeen