Painful interruption to an African adventure.
The surf camp owner mentions a trip north to a rarely surfed beach break. We have been surfing the reef breaks around the island for the last few days, and a few of us are up for something different. It’s an early start, and we are soon negotiating morning traffic. Our driver stops at a bakery to pick up some breakfast. There is a group of scruffy looking African street kids standing outside begging for food. An elderly man emerges with a few extra breadsticks. The kids surround him and with searching hands quickly strip him of his load.
As we drive further north, the roads become increasingly potholed and degraded. Horses and carts replace cars. After an hour, we arrive at a fishing village that sits next to the surf break. The local people seem happy enough, but it is hard not to notice the poverty. We drive onto the beach and are greeted by clean overhead peaks.
The beach obviously doubles as the town rubbish tip; there’s plastic and other mixed refuse just about everywhere you look. There are goats, cats and dogs roaming in both large and small groups. Rangy looking vultures circle overhead and squabble over drying carcasses. I paddle out and am surprised by the size and quality of the waves, but there is a heavy shoreline rip running, which makes it hard to stay in position for the best sets.
I end up catching a wave back to shore then running a few hundred metres back up the beach before paddling out again. Children from the town gather to watch. Soon they are approaching to inspect our boards and wetsuits as we walk back along the sand. They seem a little shy at first, but before long I have a smiling and laughing group escort to keep me company.
Someone decides to set some tyres on fire further to the north. As I walk back up the beach, I can see some locals throwing rubbish into the flames. I paddle back out, and one of the best sets of the day approaches on the horizon. As I drop into a perfect wedging peak, the acrid stink of burning plastic and rubber completely fills my senses. I'm feeling light-headed as I wander back to the car.
As we get changed and start packing up, the children from the town converge, and they’re soon using the 4WD as a playground and grabbing hold of anything that isn't tied down. It's all a little annoying, but the group has such a joyous innocent nature that we find it hard to tell them off. I decide to hand out the leftovers from our breakfast without really thinking it through. It almost starts a small riot, and I end up desperately throwing the remaining few oranges out behind the mob so they retreat a little.
We make it back to the surf camp some hours later after driving along the beach and taking back streets to avoid the heavy Dakar traffic. As I'm washing out my wetsuit and putting my gear away, I can feel an uncomfortable throb in my groin. I try to tell myself that it is nothing... but I’m becoming less convinced.
The pain in my groin wakes me the following morning, and it really hurts when I go to the toilet. I curse my own stupidity and shake my head slowly in resignation. It looks like I have again contracted a sexually transmitted disease. I have been very careful in this department during the course of the trip. Unfortunately, one mistake during a searing moment of passion is all it takes. Considering I have now been through this process more than once, I feel I can outline the full experience with some perspective...
Stage 1 - Denial
The early symptoms start to present. There is immediate concern, but as human beings are fairly optimistic and like to avoid considering difficult outcomes, deliberate ignorance or plain denial takes place first. You tell yourself breezily that said symptoms are most likely caused by local environmental factors and will soon clear up. While refusing to accept that your recent booze-fuelled liaisons with various women may have actually caused the problem.
Stage 2 - Panic
Symptoms persist, and in many cases worsen causing discomfort and even pain. Inspecting the infected area, or even glancing in its general direction results in high levels of emotional distress. The reality of the situation hits you like a tonne of bricks, causing panic and often overreaction. You slowly place your head in your hands as you come to the horrible realisation that you may never have sex again... or at least not for the next few weeks.
Stage 3 - Pointing the finger
Your pleasant memories of the evening or weekend in question are quickly discarded. Any semblance of shared responsibility is also put aside. It's all her fault! How in God's name could she do this? And why would you decide to be accountable? It's just so much easier to blame someone else.
Stage 4 - Embarrassment
By far the most difficult stage. It's now time to front up at the doctors and explain the dire situation. You try to maintain some semblance of dignity during the consultation but inevitably wilt under the searching and judgmental gaze of your usually friendly medical practitioner. You break into a heavy sweat at even a passing mention of the term ‘Physical Examination’. When the doctor eventually gets around to performing one. You bare your tender nether regions and close your eyes while doing your best to find a much happier place. When your wandering mind places you in an unmade bed with a sultry eyed vixen, you sigh in defeat. It is exactly these kinds of thoughts that landed you in this mess.
Stage 5 - Determination
As you stagger bow-legged out of the chemist; clutching desperately at the precious antibiotics; you make earnest lifelong promises to avoid this situation in the future. Unfortunately, the only way to ensure something like this never reoccurs would be to remove the true source of compromised decision making from your life - alcohol. Yeah like that's going to happen.
Stage 6 - Sharing the good news
Without a doubt the most complex stage. You will be contacting past partners to either inform them that you may have infected them. Or that they have infected you. The frailty of human nature will be all too obvious in both cases. There will likely be a combination of vehement denial, anger, tears, and threats of reprisal. On one occasion, I had to tell a girl I really cared about that she needed to get tested. The tone of her response was only of sad disappointment. It was a low point in my young life.
One really positive outcome from getting tested regularly and using protection is that it makes it much easier to pinpoint the source of the outbreak. On this occasion, all I had to do was track down my Latina lover from Barcelona on Facebook. Her response was perhaps more candid than what I was expecting... “Hi Ben, yes it was probably me who gave it to you. Sorry about that”.
The writing above is an excerpt from a recently published book…
Eyes To The Horizon
One man’s psychedelic journey into dating apps and perfect waves on foreign shores
Written by Ben Simon Smith
Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and with other good eBook retailers