Oh, how the adventure stings

28 01 2009

I was attacked by a swarm of Africanized “killer” bees and subsequently lost the majority of my gear: Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, cookset, clothes, shoes, tools, replacement parts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ONiOVOgiAc

So I’m between a rock and a hard place; I don’t want to be a snob and think I only need the best gear to continue my trip, but I definitely don’t want to be naïve and put myself in a dangerous situation.

Aron Ralston is the climber who cut his own arm off with a pocket knife after a boulder trapped it against a canyon wall during a solo hike in Utah. In his book he says, after years of adventures perhaps this was the challenge he had been looking for subconsciously. In an interview with Summit Magazine he said “I’d led myself down there, I’d set it all in motion, and well, it did turn out to be an adventure.” I couldn’t help but relate.

No, I am not in nearly as dire a situation as Aron Ralston; I didn’t have to cut my arm off, for example. But I have led myself to down here, I have set this tour in motion, and now, after the bee attack I find myself in Corrientes, Argentina with essentially no gear and, still, an undying desire to bicycle back to the United States.

Stories like Aron Ralston’s are inspiring. So is Che Guevara’s story from “The Motorcycle Diaries.” He lost his motorcycle on a motorcycle trip and continued on foot through the Andes.

You probably want to know about the attack.

It was the most unlucky string of events in my life. My first mistake was stopping above a bridge to take a break. My second mistake was taking my bag off of the trailer to look for the lightweight backpacker’s hammock inside. Finding the hammock may have been my third mistake but I can’t be sure; it was bright red, and the bees attacked right after I opened it in the wind. My plan was to use the hammock as a sail. I had been waiting for a day like this for some time. I was so content, it was a beautiful cloudy day and I had a strong tailwind, now I’ll just use my hammock as a sail andBAM!BAM!BAM!BAM!

Needles in my neck. Bees were stinging me now. I don’t think I had ever been stung by more than one bee before. The first thing that entered my mind was my father’s voice from when I was about 10 years old: “If you ever get attacked by bees run as far and as fast as you can. At some point they will stop following you.” I ran as fast as I could in cycling shoes. Of course, it’s natural to run away when you are being attacked by something, but more than that it was comforting to know they would stop following me at some point. And, oh yes, they were following me. I was now swarmed by about 25 or 50 bees if I had to guess. The majority of the bees were in my hair, but there were a few behind my ears, on my neck and back, and on my hands. I ran for a minute or two and they seemed to stop following me. So I was standing on the side of the road a few hundred meters from my bike when I started to hear buzzing again. So I decided I had to leave the area altogether. I would ride away, but I had to get to my bike first. I ran toward my bike and, in the process, lost the bees again. Or so I thought.

My camera was around my neck. I had been making joke videos all day about how flat and easy the cycling in northern Argentina is, and now I had just gotten attacked by a swarm of bees! So I turned it on and started to make a video as I arrived at my bike. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ONiOVOgiAc Between breaths I say, “I just got attacked by a swarm of bees. Shit, they’re still stinging me! I gotta go…. AHHH, FUCK!!!!” And suddenly there were hundreds of bees. In my jersey, on my mouth, all over my hands, and in my hair, of course in my hair, wow feel that? How they really get into your hair! I picked up my bag and threw it in in the back of my trailer, I think. I might have just left it in the grass. Nothing mattered except getting away from the beesOW! JEEEEZUS! it makes sense that they would go into the hairAH!, they’re protected thereOUCH!!WATER!! I considered jumping in the stream under the bridge, but the numbers of dead crocodiles and live snakes I had seen on the side of the road the past few days worried me more than the bees. So this is how bees attack youAHAHAAAAAAAAA!!! I rode away as fast as I could, much faster than I could run in cycling shoes. Beyond the stings, I think I could almost feel the wind in my hair. And feel how many bees are stinging you on your back, you can’t kill them there eitherOH!they have evolved to sting in this wayAH!amazing…

Then, like a predictable happy-ending movie, the first car I saw while I was getting stung, swerving, waving my arms, and zig-zagging through the street was an ambulance. I rode right toward it, as if to play chicken. It swerved around me and kept going. Then it stopped, YES!, turned around and drove past me again. What?! I couldn’t believe it. What a nightmare. You can hear it pass me toward the end of the video when I scream at it desperately. A few other cars passed me. I had no idea nobody would stop for 20 minutes. After about 5 minutes of riding, slapping at bees, and trying to wave down passing cars, I realized the bag with the majority of my gear was no longer in the trailer behind the bike. Just then I arrived at a building. Police!!! And there was a truck! I pulled up at the police station with my bleeding fingers and stingers in my face. I tried to explain the situation to the officer. He ignored me, walked into his office and sat down as though he had never seen me. I followed him into his office and asked for help. I said I was having an emergency. My bag was along the side of the road somewhere but I couldn’t return because of the bees. Could he give me a ride? He said the truck didn’t work. I thought he was lying. Could he call somebody? He said there was nothing he could do. I told him I would pay him if he could just drive me down the road 5 minutes to get my bag. Somebody will steal it any second if they haven’t already. He told me to go get my own bag. I took two Benedryls and then went to the street to hitch hike. He yelled at me, told me to get out of the road, I couldn’t hitch hike there. I didn’t leave the street. He called somebody to complain about me. I said, “SI, SI, LLAMÁLE POR FAVOR, LLAMÁLE A ALGUIEN! HAHAHAHAAAA!!!!” A car would pass every 1 or 2 minutes. Desperate now, I stood in the middle of the street. Each time a car passed I would crawl on my hands and knees, fall down on the side of the road. Nobody stopped. Then I made another video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfR5OEHkOEU After a few failed attempts to get a ride I remembered something I had learned on a previous hitch hiking/cycling tour through California: Remove your front wheel and hold it in your hand as you wave your arms for help. I finally got a ride. My bag was gone.

To make matters worse, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the police station, alternating between the bathroom and the shade under a tree. My body was defending itself against the bee poison in every way possible: vomiting, diarrhea, sleep. The cop told me not to drink anything. I drank as much as I could, and returned to the bathroom many times. “See?” he said. “The water is making you sicker.” Before I hitch hiked into the nearest city, Corrientes, where I am now, my amigo left in his truck. Oh, how the engine roared.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the history of Africanized “killer” bees.
“The Africanized bee in the western hemisphere descended from 26 Tanzanian queen bees accidentally released by a replacement bee-keeper in 1957… in the southeast of Brazil from hives operated by biologist Warwick E. Kerr, who had interbred honey bees from Europe and southern Africa. Hives containing these particular queens were noted to be especially defensive… As of 2002, Africanized honey bees had spread from Brazil south to NORTHERN ARGENTINA and north to South and Central America, Trinidad (West Indies), Mexico, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and southern California.”

Yet another example of humans manipulating nature… gone awry. Thanks, Warwick and your nameless replacement. A sarcastic thanks, also, on behalf of the native bees that are being driven out of their tropical habitats by your creations, and the inevitable chain reaction disrupting the balance of nature.

Carnaval starts tonight. So I’m going out. I’m going to party until 4 a.m. like a Kurepi and then sleep in late like a Yanki. And then, at 4 p.m. tomorrow when the shops re-open after the siesta I will tour the city with one goal: to put together the bare necessities for a two-week bicycle trip through the Argentinian Chaco. From there, Bolivia. One step at a time…




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