Panama 2019: Day 16: Swept Off My Feet

On Thursday late afternoon I was swept off my feet, not by a handsome and sexy single older Panamanian man, but by an unusually strong undertow from a wave that had crashed upon the beach. Sally, Michael and I have been in the ocean every day, but we have to pick and choose our times. The lifeguards put up the red flag — no swimming — when the tide is very low because small manta rayas burrow in the sand with their sharp pointed tails poking straight up. We wear beach shoes into the water but not everyone does, so the lifeguards put up a blanket ban. I suppose it’s a liability thing for the hotel.

Lifeguards also put up the red flag when that big manta ray or stingray swam past the beach the other day, very visible in the shallow water. Once the ray was out of sight, the flag changed to yellow again — although the lifeguard told me “At your own risk. There might be more.”  We did go in, and it was fine.

A purple flag means “dangerous sea creatures“, which happened one afternoon when we had an invasion of Portugese Man of War, called Medusa here. I was actually stung by one back in the Peace Corps days while walking along the beach in shallow water, and it’s not fun. The tentacles wrap around your leg and give a nasty, venomous jolt. We didn’t go in the water at all that afternoon, preferring to stick to the pool.

On Thursday the tide was high, and the water a bit turbulent. I grew up at the Jersey shore and know how to time my entry and exit between waves. Michael had gone in. Sally felt the tug and decided not to, retreating back up the rather steep incline that happens at high tide. I went about as far as mid-calf, when a bigger wave crashed and swirled around my legs and went much farther up the beach than previous waves. That part was fine — it was the wave being sucked back that took me down. The pull caught me by surprise and I hadn’t yet planted my feet and tightened my core, which is what you do. Down I went, humiliated but not injured. I knew what to do — I simply had to stay planted on my hands and knees with sandy water rapidly swirling past until the water was gone. Then I stood up quickly, covered with wet sand, and made my way out of range and toward the outdoor shower by the pool. Needless to say I decided to stick to the pool.

There were two lifeguards looking on about 30 feet away. As I walked toward the shower they asked me what happened and if I was OK. I think they have no idea how old we are, and of course they’ve seen us go in and out of the water with confidence. If I were they, I’d have sprinted as soon as I saw someone go down, to be closer if help was needed. It wasn’t, but it makes me cautious about relying on them should I have a less than obvious problem in the water.

I did suggest that they change the flag to red, to warn potential swimmers of the strong undertow, and they did.

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