The diving vessel UMKA was finally kicked off the job in September 1998.
The conditions on board had been appalling even after the upgrade, and finally the main contractor got fed up and brought in a new barge called Europa.
Of course all the project equipment, trencher, diving, survey and ROV had to be demobilised and then re-mobilised on the new vessel.
Again, we were brought into the port of Dos Bocos, this time for the demobilisation and re-mobilisation. Dos Bocos was a couple of kilometres away from the town of Paraiso, where we were put up in hotels while the work was ongoing.
September October and November in tropical Mexico marks the Hurricane, the Rainy and the Mosquito Seasons, and that year we got two of them in abundance.
Shortly before we came into port I contracted a condition called Piyyriasas Versicolor, a disease caused by a yeast called Melassezia which is found on the skin of 95% of all adults where it causes no problems. Issues can occur in conditions of high humidity and a lot of sunshine. The yeast population increases out of control and begins to feed on the melanin in the skin, causing patches of scaly whiteness to occur. For me that meant that my tan was eaten up particularly on my arms and my body making me look like a zebra, my hands my legs and my face were ignored. As a consequence when I went bronzing (as I often did) the white areas would burn. The doctor on board diagnosed the condition and had some pills sent out for me which cleared it up very quickly.
The rains arrived shortly after we arrived in port, with a ferocity and duration which would give tropical Africa a run for its money.
I had wondered before why the Parque (the square) in Paraiso, and all the towns in that area of tropical Mexico, were raised about a metre higher than the footpath surrounding. Well, during the rainy season I found out why.
Much of the town was underwater, although having been inundated innumerable times before, flood defences were robust keeping the water out of the church shops and bars, and the great evening walk could still take place on the Parque when the rain stopped, and those intent on a walk didn’t mind wading through knee deep water.
After the rains came the mosquitoes. I had experienced mosquitoes in Africa and the odd one on a continental holiday, but I can say without fear of contradiction that the mosquitoes in tropical Mexico were Demon; big black, angry as hell in their billions and loaded with nasty diseases such as Yellow fever, Black Nile fever and Dengue. While there were malarial mosquitoes in the area, malaria did not seem to be common.
When the mosquito season started, clouds of them rose up from every puddle and piece of standing water, where the eggs had hatched and the larvae grown. The clouds of them were so dense that they kept people indoors for days. The hotel had air-conditioning which kept them outside, but to go anywhere else was to except being literally covered in a blood sucking coat, with the risk of contracting one of the diseases that they carried.
The local people, those without air-conditioning, burned palm fronds in their yards, the resultant choking smoke clouds billowing around the town kept the mosquitoes away.
The whole episode lasted about two weeks and then suddenly they were gone. Nobody avoided being bitten, a Canadian fitter came on board to disconnect some of the trencher pipe work and his head was literally misshapen with bites.
I was bitten a few times, it was unavoidable but I did keep them to a minimum, however about 20 days after the plague was gone I came down very heavily with Dengue fever.
The Russian doctor was still on board UMKA so I was taken to see him by my boss, when it was obvious that I was very ill.
My elbow my wrist and ankle joints felt like they were being crushed and pulled apart at the same time, I was very dehydrated because I couldn’t keep any liquid or solid food down and I was losing a kilo a day in weight. I had a very high fever and to be honest recollection of the time is sketchy, I am dependent on the diary which I wrote after I had recovered for this account.
I was hospitalised on the boat and put on a saline drip, intravenous antibiotics for the infection and painkillers for the acute pain in my bones.
I do remember reasonably clearly being so ill and miserable, lying in the bunk in the hospital and fervently wanting to die, my whole body ached and I was literally skin and bone.
I was kept in the infirmary for a week, and then in a very shaky condition, a bit of a walking skeleton, but clear headed and free of pain I was driven back to the hotel to recuperate.