Here’s how it went down.
We were snorkeling near the iconic El Arco limestone formation at the tip of Cabo San Lucas a couple years back, when suddenly she began screaming in pain. “It hurts! My leg! My leg!”
Wailing and sobbing, she clutched at me as my partner and I swam her to shore. “Something STUNG me!” she choked out.
I looked around. We were at a boat-access beach. A water taxi had dropped us off and although he was due back soon, there was no way we could get back to the marina in the meantime.
I checked her leg. It was clear she’d been stung by a jellyfish.
“Um, this is going to sound weird, but my friend says you should try urine to neutralize the sting,” said an American teen, her Mexican friend nodding solemnly alongside her.
Of course, I had also heard the pee-on-a-jellyfish-sting wives’ tale before. It always sounded more like a practical joke to me, but what the hell else was I going to do?!
There was no privacy on the beach, so my daughter sat on a rock while I… OMG, just typing this makes me cringe… crouched down and peed into my cupped hand. I then wiped this onto her now-red welts. Around us, sunbathers helpfully looked the other way.
What struck me, as I splashed my urine onto my child, was how amazingly beautiful San Jose Del Cabo is. We were on a tiny spit of beach, closed in on either side by towering limestone cliffs whose uncanny formations were carved over millennia by wind and waves. The sky above was that peerless, Baja ozone blue.
We were in paradise: me, a non-traveler until my early 30s, my partner, a long-time wannabe scuba diver (we’d just gotten certified one year earlier), and my kid, a sporty little jetsetter who earlier that morning had been gleefully tabulating her wildlife sightings and souvenir purchases, and was probably now ruing the fact that her parents had nixed Disneyland.
“In a couple days we’re going to look back and laugh about this,” I said.
If she were a few years older, this would have been when she told me to shut the hell up. Instead, she just muttered: “I wish this had happened to someone else.”
“I wish it had happened to me, or Daddy, not you. I’m so sorry, but the boat is going to pick us up any minute,” I reassured her.
Her breathing, which had been jagged from sobbing, had normalized. At this point she was distracted by the novelty of the situation. She wiped her hand on her leg, sniffed and made a face. “I don’t think this pee is working. It still hurts.”
Later on, the resort doctor gave her a clean bill of health after padding her down with acetic-acid-drenched gauze and bandages. (Note: He had not heard the old wives’ tale and appeared horrified by the golden showers jellyfish remedy.)
The very next day, the first words out of Dr. Chong’s mouth when he walked into our suite (again) were: “Girl, what happened to you this time?!” (She’d caught a urinary tract infection from not drinking or peeing enough while at the resort’s kids’ club – she’d decided she was done with snorkeling at that point.)
We decided to play it safe the last day of our trip. We cancelled horseback riding through the desert. We went shopping. We planned to eat dinner on the surfers’ beach at Los Cerritos. But then she insisted we rent a couple boards and try our luck in the warm, foamy waves, before joining some other kids bouncing on a rickety looking trampoline.
We never did end up laughing about the peeing-on-the-beach episode.
Usually any reminescences end with her pretending to strangle me, and declaring: “Los Cabos has too many jellyfish!”
And also: “When can we go back?!”
I’m of the mind things can go wrong anywhere. But here’s what we’ve learned over numerous family trips to places like Honduras, Belize, Montserrat, Thailand and Mexico.
1. Always carry white vinegar in a carry-on and beach-bag-friendly spritzer bottle. It’s the best thing to calm a jellyfish sting, and essential for any seaside frolicking.
2. Load up on Gatorade and carry it with you everywhere. We don’t drink it at home, but when you’re sweating buckets outdoors, you need to replace electrolytes. Likewise essential when you have traveler’s diarrhea.
3. Wear a rash guard. To reduce sun exposure as well as stings from jellyfish and sea nettles.
4. Pack a PFD. Not all boats will be stocked with kid-size life vests.
5. Be up to date on your family vaccinations. God knows what you could catch!
6. Have cash/credit to spare. Don’t travel on maxed out credit. You need room in case of emergency medical treatment or evacuation.
7. Spend money! Pay more for a dive shop, adventure outfitter or resort that doesn’t compromise on customer service or safety, and has staff who speak your language well.
8. Trip prep starts from preschooler-hood on. Be aware of safety, but don’t hover at the playground – an independent child who’s confident in her physical abilities will fare best during adventures abroad. A couple playground falls can’t hurt, either: it builds resilience and helps kids gauge their abilities.
9. Listen to your gut. If an activity doesn’t feel right, scrap it. You won’t get your money back, but better to cancel that second dive if your kid doesn’t want to be left alone with the crew on the dive boat because they “aren’t friendly,” or your kid has changed her mind about rappelling after all. There’s always next year.