After suffering through the mayhem that was Manila (I will never ever complain about Bali traffic again), your blog correspondent came home to a house infested with fine ulu-bulu caterpillar hairs. These are the aerial equivalent of sea lice. Thousands of hairy caterpillars had materialized under garden trees, their hairs wafting into the house. The only way to get rid of them is to spray them dead and then burn them, like you do vampires.
Anyway, smog-choked from Manila, scratchy from the house, I tried some relief by standup paddling in ankle-nippers on a east side reef. Bumpy and crappy but cool water, at least. A green sea-snake wriggled past, about three foot long, skinny as of my index finger, mottled green color. Cool, I thought. In a country where the national marine symbol is the Great White Plastic Bag, it was good to see some native fauna for a change.
Now, you may have heard that sea-snakes are harmless because their mouths can’t open wide enough to bite a human. Well, I hate to disillusion you of that comforting notion. About 15 years ago Mike McHugh and I sailed upon the Hati Murnih to Ashmore Reef, south of Rote Island. The Australian coast watch vessel on duty there intercepted us in a hurry, thinking we were illegal migrants, but we showed the head honcho our passports and our bottles of Jack Daniels, a gift for him. So he gladly let us stay — all this is another story — but another science ship was at anchor there, studying sea-snakes, of which Ashmore has an abundance. Chief Scientist informed us that myth to the contrary, they can bite you pretty much anywhere they please. Dead in seconds.
I paddled away from the sea-snake, blessing it in passing, good to see you and fare thee well, little fellow. A minute later, standing like a meerkat upon the board to scour the horizon for any incoming bump, I felt a little wriggle across my bare feet. I look down. The sea-snake had decided to join me on the board. I think it wanted to sun itself upon the black deck pad. It wasn’t trying to slither off, at any rate.
My good cheer evaporated in an instant, replaced by something a tad more panicky than mere alarm. I high-jumped backwards off the board. Mistake. The sea-snake got washed off the board, and joined me in the water, swimming around my arms. It was like one of those submarine klaxon HOOOO-ahhh HOOOO-ahhh HOOOO-ahhh moments — dive! dive! dive! I dove, but I was still attached to the board, so I towed it as far as my breath would allow while scanning the surface for my little buddy. All clear, I surfaced, scrabbled aboard, and paddled in and drove back to the house of itch.