Where have those millions of man o wars gone? Why do we not see them drifting aimlessly and gracefully over the reef, and bouncing up and down to the rhythm of the waves? Why do we not see these “aguamalas” lying on the beach, suddenly looking powerless and beginning to wilt and deflate and die?
“Aguamalas” are some dreaded and ferocious little creatures. Their sting hurt, I am told, like childbirth. I know the sting of a man o war, so I guess I know the pain of childbirth. The aguamalas are also very beautiful creatures. They are shaped like a fry jack or half a circle- puffed up and inflated above the surface and with long three to five feet long tentacles under the surface. They are a bright blue, almost purple, and you could see them from afar. They bounce up and down to the rhythm of the waves like balloons would in the middle of the sea.
There was a season of the man o wars. They are most abundant during the months of May and June when it is the season of the turtles. They are the turtles’ favorite meals. These were the summer months and when we most desired swimming in the sea. Yet these were the dreadful months when we had to be very careful of them. Suddenly we would be surrounded by dozens of man o wars and we would dash to the beach. Suddenly we would hear the scream of child in excruciating pain and we knew some friend had fallen victim of the “aguamala”.
I will tell you of an anecdote of the ferocious man o war. It was Easter and there were many folks visiting from Belize City and enjoying the warm Caribbean Sea. The children from Belize City did not know of these creatures. Suddenly there was this huge ten-inch man o war floating in the direction of this boy and noticing its beauty, he swam towards the beast. Before we could yell to him to be careful, he reached the man o war and embraced it in his arms unto his chest. Immediately we heard his mournful cry of pain. We were very sorry for him, but could only stand and watch him on the shore as he twisted and cried and almost went in coma due to the pain. Only time heals the pain.
Twenty five years ago, when we were stung by a man o war, we would urinate over the affected area. The warm urine did ease the pain, though it did not completely heal it. If a boy was stung, we would pee directly over the area. If it was a girl, we would pee into a bottle and pour it over. There were other remedies tried at home like warm water, condensed milk, or creams. There were no doctors, so we knew of no medications. All we knew is that one had to take the pain with bravery for only time, it seemed, would eventually take away the pain.
In the evenings of our childhood days, we would walk along the beach in the evenings and would see the helpless man o wars up on the beach. We picked up sticks and hit them causing them to burst like balloons. It was like telling them, that on land we were kings and in control. We made sure we killed them before they could do any more damage. And even then, if we stepped on them, we would get a sting on our feet. I only wonder where the man o wars have gone. We do not see them anymore in abundance for our kids to have some fun with them in the sea. Oh, how we miss them. Perhaps we should try to breed a few of them and place them in the swimming pools to re-live those memorable experiences of twenty five years ago.