Everywhere you go, people have different remedies for bluebottle stings.
In Brighton Beach in Durban when I was growing up we used to rub on the milk from a succulent plant that grew next to the tarmac in the parking lot.
On Nai Harn beach in Phuket there’s a young lady who makes a paste by mixing crushed Morning Glory leaves with a cheap local whiskey called Sang Som. If you’re in too much pain, she’ll apply the paste to your stings herself with her soft and sympathetic fingertips, which is why there are so many chaps bobbing in the water at Nai Harn, looking around hopefully for bluebottles.
But not all remedies are equally pleasant. Last week I was hiking the Whale Trail with my friend Mark. The Whale Trail is a five-day hike through the De Hoop Nature Reserve, and there were supposed to be twelve people in our group but everyone dropped out so it was just the two of us.
On the fourth day there’s a brutal session of hiking along the soft-sand beach. After an hour I couldn’t walk any further so I took a swim. The good thing about hiking alone with your pal in the middle of nowhere is you don’t need swimming trunks to take a dip in the ocean, so I was happily floating on my back, legs spread, arms outstretched, thinking how fine and free this was and wondering why we don’t all swim naked more often. Then I felt a peculiar sensation and raised my head to look down and I realised why we don’t all swim naked more often.
READ: Peace and Calm in De Hoop
Under normal circumstances, if a pair of bluebottles had come drifting up into the mighty V formed by my powerful, manly, tree-trunk thighs, they would have wrapped their stinging tentacles harmlessly across the fabric of my trunks. This was not the case.
With a terrible howl I thrashed my way out of the water and rolled around on the beach, trying to unwrap the long filaments of fiery pain from my more tender and secluded parts.
Mark stood there watching, not even trying not to laugh. For some reason, men find it very funny when things go wrong with other men’s crotches.
“Are you just going to stand there?!” I bellowed.
“What? Do you want me to lend a hand?” he said.
He had a point. I winced and suffered and painstakingly unwound and prised away the last of the tentacles. Bluebottle tentacles can grow to 10 metres long. I’m not being unduly modest when I say that there was more bluebottle than me down there.
“Hm,” said Mark helpfully. “That looks sore.”
It was sore. It was very sore. When the tentacles were removed, that’s when the real pain began.
“Ahoooooooooo!” I yelled. And also: “Ngaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
“You should pour hot water on it,” said Mark. “That breaks down the proteins in the sting. We need a kettle or something.” He looked thoughtfully up and down the beach, as though he’d forgotten for a moment that we were at least two hour’s walk from a kettle or any form of electricity.
“Thanks a lot!” I yelled, making a mental note once the agony stopped to murder him and bury his body in a shallow sandy grave for the crabs to find.
READ: The worst tour guide in the world
And then he suggested the cure that everyone suggests. “You’ll have to pee on it,” he said.
“I can’t pee on it!” I yelled. “It’s on the mechanism that does the peeing.”
“I’ll do it,” he said, stepping closer. “I’ll do that for a buddy.”
“Get away from me! You are not peeing on me!”
“Suit yourself,” he shrugged, and unzipped his backpack. “You want a cheese sandwich?”
The pain wasn’t going away. It was getting worse. It felt as though I had tried to make love to a pot of cheese fondue without waiting for it to cool down.
I tried to lie on my back and lift my hips and pee into the air, hoping for a kind of trickle-down effect, like an American economist, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any pee. Damn it! I knew I wasn’t keeping myself sufficiently hydrated.
“Are you doing yoga now?” asked Mark, munching on his cheese sandwich.
The burning was unmerciful. I couldn’t bare it any more.
“All right,” I said. “All right.”
“All right what?”
“You can do it.”
“Don’t make me say it!”
“I think you should say it. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings and recriminations later.”
“I want you to pee on me!” I yelled. “Okay? Are you happy now? Please pee on me!”
He sauntered over, unzipping his trousers. “I’ll bet you’ve been wanting to ask me that for a long time.”
I don’t want to describe what happened next. It was a bad ten seconds in my life. The worst part was his little sigh of satisfaction afterwards.
I lay there in my degradation, waiting for the pain to stop. The pain didn’t stop.
“Why isn’t it stopping?!” I sobbed.
“Oh, you know what?” said Mark. “I just remembered. You don’t pee on a bluebottle sting. That’s an urban legend.”
“Toothpaste, that’s what it is. You’re supposed to put on toothpaste.”
We didn’t have any toothpaste either.
Follow Darrel Bristow-Bovey on Twitter