I landed here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last Saturday morning.
I’d left London twelve hours earlier, last Saturday morning.
You’d think I’d be jetlagged, but luckily I hadn’t really had time to go to bed on Friday night and managed to sleep on the plane, so when I landed I felt like it was actually the right time.
I stepped off the plane into the air-conditioned airport. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. Then the automatic doors opened and the heat enveloped me from all sides.
I spent the next eighteen hours curled up in my hotel room, feeling nauseous and clutching my head, waiting for my sinuses to adjust to the humidity.
By Sunday they’d pretty much got there and it was time to head to work.
Work this week was the Techno Security & Forensic Investigations Conference at the Marriott Grand Dunes.
Most of the time, my job is fairly pedestrian. Wading through databases, messing around in command lines, typing up pages upon pages of whatever I’ve been tasked with that week.
Sometimes I remember just how cool my job is though, and how much nine-year-old me would die with amazement if she knew what I’d been doing.
TSFIC provided one of those insights.
I walked into the exhibit hall and found Locutus of Borg in front of the Susteen stand, just to the left of the FBI stand, which was right opposite the US Secret Service stand.
I love my job.
Terrorism and Tequilas
The conference was interesting. These things normally are.
Topics covered included how to hunt down people who are sharing indecent images of children; more information about Tor and Tails and how to use them, both as a criminal and as an investigator; whether it’s possible to break encryption on various mobile devices…
And counter terror.
The counter terror session in particular made me think about how strange the juxtaposition was between what we were talking about in the sessions and outside of them.
The session focused on various Islamic terrorist groups. In between big red warning signs about graphic imagery, it gave us an insight into the kinds of things that go on and the sorts of videos people watch that end up indoctrinating them.
We weren’t allowed to take photos or recordings of the session because the guy running it is already on several watch lists you really wouldn’t want to be on.
It was really horrific. These images and videos aren’t widely available in the public domain for a reason.
Then it was lunchtime and we all filed out of the room, picked up food and went out onto the balcony, which had a beautiful vista overlooking the pools and the ocean in the distance.
Conversation quickly turned to the weather, which other conferences we’d be attending that year, the country music festival that’d be happening at the weekend.
It was a strange contrast to go from a darkened room, watching some of the most awful things people do to each other, to standing in the brilliant sunshine, overlooking an incredibly pretty view, theorising about whether we’d get thunderstorms later in the week or whether it’d stay sunny.
The rest of the conference was also interesting, and I stuck around for an extra few hours to attend the IEF User Summit on Wednesday afternoon.
The whole thing was rounded off by an evening of food, wine and cocktails, complete with musician playing Bob Marley songs.
By the end of Wednesday, my work at the conference was done.
The most popular tweets of TSFIC and the IEF User Summit respectively were:
I’m sensing a theme here…
Wifi in the motel was sparse, which made me simultaneously irritated that I couldn’t do all the work I had to do and secretly a bit pleased that I had an excuse to go explore and come back later to see if it’d improve (it didn’t).
My Secret Whale
On Thursday I took myself down to Springmaid Pier, which is about a 25-minute walk from the place I was staying.
It’s well worth the $1 entrance fee; a beautiful, peaceful place with lots of spots to sit and watch the ocean. They also rent out fishing equipment if that’s your thing.
It’s not mine, so I wandered to the end of the pier and plonked myself down on a bench.
The ocean stretched for miles.
After I’d been staring into the distance for about an hour, I noticed a patch of water that was a bit darker than all the other patches, about a mile out to sea.
I kept watching as it made its way oh so slowly from far right of where I was sitting to far left. Occasionally I’d see a little flurry of activity that looked like it might be fish.
I’d just about persuaded myself that I was imagining things, when the whale decided to break the surface of the water and do that thing they do where they spray water above the surface. He raised his body a bit too and I got a tiny, faraway look at him before he ducked back underwater.
No one else had noticed him.
I was pleased with my secret whale.
I went back to watching the jellyfish and the school of fish that kept jumping out of the water just to the right of the pier.
Honestly, so pretty. If you’re in Myrtle Beach, pay it a visit.
While I was down at the Springmaid area, I went to the Franklin Burroughs art gallery too, which is free admission but asks for a donation of $5.
It’s great. They have exhibitions that change every few weeks and apparently it’s a favourite with the locals.
In the gift shop I learned about Gullah culture from a lady who worked at the gallery. Gullah is a Creole language spoken by communities of people in the Carolinas who descended from slaves. Being an English Creole, it’s just about comprehensible if you concentrate hard enough. I discovered a New Testament that’d been translated into Gullah and bought it as a nod to my psychology of religion job, which had taken a backseat to the conference this week.
Then I went outside and added an item to the interactive Bucket List exhibition they have going on.
Earlier in the week I’d managed to get completely lost when trying to get a bus to the conference venue (note to fellow US visitors: public transport isn’t really a thing here), and had found a pretty inlet which led to a small lake surrounded by trees and wildlife.
On the way back from the gallery and pier, I found the inlet again and went to hang out with the birds there.
The sun was setting as I walked back to the motel.
I didn’t want the day to end, but then Thursday was pretty awesome too.
Waccamaw is the name of a tribe of Native Americans who hail from the Myrtle Beach area. Along with Socastee and a few other names you see cropping up in the area, they make up part of the Cherokee.
The Waccamaw river is a huge, beautiful, wide river with its own creeks, islands, beaches and hoards of wildlife.
On Friday I ventured out there and went on a river tour, led by two guides who obviously both knew the area and really cared about it.
Kim, the lady who did most of the commentary on the boat, knew most of the animals individually, telling us which ones had mated the previous year, how many chicks each family of ospreys had, which alligators liked hanging out on which logs, and which birds enjoyed bathing on the island beaches.
We also met a snake who apparently enjoys threading himself in and out of an overhanging log.
And an alligator who was chillin’ with some turtles.
I need a better camera.
I arrived back at the motel tired but happy, in time to watch the pastel sunset over the sea.
And then the ocean tried to kill me
Saturday’s forecast was 32 degree heat.
I’m from Scotland, we don’t get that kind of weather there.
I decided to postpone any walking around until Sunday and instead to spend the day at the beach.
I hired a beach chair and spent the morning working from it. At midday I dropped my work stuff off at the motel, changed into swimming trunks and a bikini top, and headed back to the beach.
It’s a very, very pretty beach.
The sun was strong and the water was clear. I ventured in and spent some time rediscovering the joys of paddle surfing without a paddle board, by which I mean riding a wave without any floatation devices to back you up.
I hadn’t done that since I was about thirteen, and I’d previously only done it in brown, cold seas off the coasts of Scotland and England.
It was excellent.
Basically, you wade out to about chest height, wait for a big wave, turn around and dive with it towards the shore. If you’re lucky, you might also manage to catch the follow-up wave and end up beached.
It feels a bit like what I think it’d feel like to be trapped inside a washing machine.
Kind of like allowing the ocean to use you as its personal punchbag.
I love it.
During a break from this I was floating around and enjoying the view when I met a friendly lady who started telling me about her life.
This happens to me a lot.
She’s a dental nurse who has a side business that involves melting down her clients’ old gold teeth making jewellery from them.
“My wedding ring’s some guy’s old tooth,” she told me. “S’all the same when it’s melted down anyway.”
I suppose she’s right. I don’t normally think of myself as squeamish, but I can’t imagine wearing someone’s old teeth as jewellery.
Still, each to their own.
We broke off conversation for a moment while I went to ride a wave.
It was a particularly good one and it battered me around a lot.
When I stood up and turned to face her again, my left boob decided to escape its bikini. I shoved it back in, smiling apologetically in her direction.
“Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us,” she said, but she looked a bit horrified, and when I turned around again she was walking quickly up the beach towards her boyfriend.
‘That’s a bit of an overreaction’, I thought to myself, feeling like Amanda Palmer in the Daily Mail song.
It’s only a boob, dude.
I carried on swimming and wave-surfing.
And looking at the beautiful beaches.
At around 4pm I noticed the beach chairs disappearing and decided to go grab my stuff before I lost it.
Walking up the beach, I noticed that my right inner thigh was hurting. I have a pretty high pain threshold, so for it to enter my consciousness at all meant it was pretty intense, but I decided I’d probably just got a blister or scraped it on some sand or something.
I grabbed my stuff and hobbled towards my motel.
Walking across a parking lot, I noticed two guys in a car stop, turn around and stare in my direction. I decided they were probably just looking for a new parking space.
I carried on, berating myself for limping. “Don’t be so pathetic, it’s just a blister,” went my internal monologue. “Walk normally!” So I did.
Two women yelled at me from behind. “Hey! HEY! Are you OK?!” I turned slightly, but decided they were probably either high or talking to someone else.
Why wouldn’t I be OK?
Back in my room, after a particularly painful trip up the stairs, I peeled off my board shorts and looked down.
There was blood everywhere.
Running down my legs, pooling at my feet.
Not gonna lie, I was a bit scared.
Here I was, in a foreign country famous for its obscenely expensive medical care, without travel insurance (I know, I know), standing in a puddle of my own blood.
I cleaned it off and discovered it was all coming from a long gash in my right inner thigh.
Legs and puddles cleared, I turned my attention to my swimming shorts.
Which were soaked in blood.
It looked like I’d been bitten by a shark. Or decided to go swimming during a really heavy period.
No wonder everyone had been looking at me strangely.
Now, I’m really hard to embarrass, but at this point I decided there was no way I was leaving my room any time soon. Besides, every time I moved too much the wound in my leg reopened and the bleeding started again.
Sorry. I hope you’re not eating dinner.
I spread some towels on the bed and resigned myself to a night lying on top of them, bleeding and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.
My life is odd.
By this morning it’d stopped enough for me to be able to hobble down to the front desk and pick up some bandages. I packed it all up and now it’s taking much longer to bleed through the bandages than it was earlier.
It did put paid to my plans to spend today walking around the state park and riding in a helicopter, though.
Oh well. I’ll just have to come back to next year’s conference.
So, that was my week.
How was yours?