It happened to me
Some Don't Like It Hot
A circuitous route back after a devilish dive left Simon Rogerson feeling a little hot under the collar
Unusually for this page, my story begins after a well-executed dive. I was visiting Djibouti to join a group of whale shark researchers, and we had taken time out to visit an inland sea known as The Devil’s Cauldron. My buddy was Dr Mark Meeken, an eminent biologist who had travelled from Western Australia to lend his expertise. We had just braved fast currents and near-zero visibility to dive a 50m fissure in the sea bed, but there had been no problems. Parched after the dive, I was looking forward to getting back to the liveaboard for a cool drink.
For some reason, the scientists decided they wanted a tour of the coastline, so we set off across the Cauldron, our tin skiff skittering across the chop. Looking at rocks while bouncing around inside a tin tub is not my idea of fun, so I was relieved when we pulled into a little bay after an hour or so. Our host, Bruno Pardigon of Dolphin Diving, was saying something as we moored up, but I couldn’t hear him over the sputtering engine.
We hopped out of the boat and took in the barren scene: sandblasted remnants of a desert camp, and more grim volcanic scenery to enthral the scientists. Not exactly homely, I thought, as I turned around to see our skiff speeding off towards the horizon. The conversation I had failed to listen to a few minutes previously was Bruno’s plan to hike across those Gillette-sharp rocks to the next bay, where the liveaboard was moored.
Resigned to the indignity of scrambling over the rocks in my 5mm wetsuit, I set off after the others, wincing as the ridges on the rock cut through the soles of my neoprene boots like so much cheese. After hundreds of dives my boots were close to falling apart. I hobbled across the rocks, muttering obscenities as my boots were gradually torn to shreds.
I caught up with the scientists a few minutes later on the brow of the hill. They were gazing silently at the expanse of the bay, where no liveaboard was waiting for us. Someone had miscalculated – the liveaboard was evidently moored further along the coast… and as our radio had packed up, we had no means of contact with the vessel. It was midday in Africa’s hottest country and the only shade was our wetsuits. Burn in the sun, or be poached in neoprene – the choice was ours.
We had to keep moving until we could find a place to establish contact with the liveaboard. So we set out across a desert road, five idiots with a litre of water between us. After the first hour I could feel the blisters bubbling up on my feet, in a manner not dissimilar to the origins of the volcanic scenery around us.
Now, I’m aware that in situations such as this, I might just have a slight tendency to moan, and after a while I noticed that three of our party had pushed ahead, leaving me to walk with another pariah, who had taken to commenting cheerily on the heat every few minutes. ‘Hot, isn’t it?’
An opportunity for salvation arose when a truckload of Foreign Legionnaires drove past. I was hoping that someone’s pride would falter sufficiently to ask for help, but instead we smiled wanly as they drove past, pointing and laughing.
We continued our hike for another hour, joined by a stray dog that seemed happy for the company. My newfound pet led me to an inexplicable pile of rotting fish, where he urinated copiously before trotting back to my side. Somehow, it seemed a fitting comment on recent events.
By the time we finally established contact with the boat, we were all exhausted. Later, we calculated that we had walked seven miles in our wetsuits. Not a huge distance, but over rugged terrain and in the searing African heat, it had been a sobering experience for a couch potato such as myself. ‘Quite a hike,’ I commented to Mark Meekan, who gave me a weary look. ‘Good luck you’re tough, eh?’ he replied. Sarcastic swine.
That evening, we talked over the day’s events. Bruno had learned that volcanic rock can block his handheld radio’s signal, while thanks to me, Mark had been assured that the Aussie image of the whinging Pom was fundamentally true.
What had I learned? Well, I had made heavy weather of a little hike (albeit with bleeding feet), so I resolved to hit the gym on my return to the UK. Then again, if I had followed my first instinct and just asked to be taken straight back to the liveaboard, I would have been spared the whole ghastly route march. Physical exercise is all very well, but after a dive the best course of action is inaction; if anyone offers you a post-dive desert trek, make your excuses and take the easy option.