Sunday, January 30, 2011

KENYA Part 4: Land crabs of the Indian Ocean

After our amazing safari we decided to visit Malindi/Watamu on the coast of Kenya. I feel a sense of closeness to India because Kenya's coastline is bathed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. I just imagine getting on one of these ocean vessels making the same crossing Vasco De Gama did back in 1498. I would obviously have a more comfortable ride especially if I let the summer monsoon winds inflate my sails, pushing me East towards the Malabar Coast on India's Southwestern tip. What a glorious voyage that would be ! I could touch land at Cochin and walk down the spice market with its strong scent of pepper and ginger, both originating in South India. 

Kenya's highlands
Our journey from Nairobi to Malindi airstrip was accomplished by a short 55mn ride inside a small Dash aircraft. The view from the air is varied and devoid of major roadways. Bright hues of green and beige create a tapestry of sort only disturbed by the occasion settlement and unpaved road. We see Kilimanjaro in the distance which seems to hide in the haze of the morning. Landing at Malindi, we disembark by walking down on the tarmac to the "toy terminal" building virtually free of any security apparatus since the scanners are clearly unplugged. I read a sign inside that states (and I am paraphrasing) "Drugs are not welcome. Do not purchase drugs on the beach from anyone or you will meet our law enforcement team who will be sure to make your trip a memorable one". Interesting first impression. Did we end up in Goa ? 

Air 540 at Malindi
The taxi minivan from the hotel awaits outside and we are quickly on our way. We are now in an Equatorial weather environment in sharp contract with the highland cool climate of Nairobi. It is 11am and the temperature reaches a balmy 89F. The road to the hotel passes by villages, market places, restaurants, coconut groves, cows and hotels. Large tropical trees and vegetation are everywhere and shades the road from the intense sun. Auto rickshaws are the local favorite as a transportation mode. They are all Bajaj, the leading brand of scooters of India all inspired and modeled after the Italian vespas.

Beach side restaurant at Turtle Bay Resort, Watamu
The hotel is finally here and we get settled in before jumping into our bathing suits and heading for the white sandy beach. The hotel grounds are beautifully planted with tropical flowering trees and shrubs providing much needed shade and having the added plus of producing a sweet smell which gives a distinctive fragrance to the atmosphere. A small footpath leads to the pool area followed by a view of the beach and ocean through the coconut trees. Some lounge chairs are all setup for whoever might fancy a lazy nap under the palms or maybe read a story about Africa. Expecting my exploration instincts to kick in anytime now, I proceed to the white sand beach and reach the wet sand, gently kissed by the ocean a few moments before.

Low tide at Watamu
Touching the Indian Ocean for the second time ! Once across the sea in Kerala (India) and this time on the African Continent. What an awesome feeling, breathing in the moment and feeling like a milestone has been reached.

Looking for crabs at Watamu

As far as the eye can see, the beach stretches in the distance lined with coconut trees, its protective sand hosting a number of critters running around. The sand is not hot to walk on thank god but the sun is signaling to make sure to cover my shoulders and face at the risk of regretting it the following few days. Of course I ignore mister sun since I love to be warm. I m already wearing the whole protective baseball cap, sunglasses ,a T shirt saying "Brasil" and I live in Sunny Florida so how can I possibly get sun burnt ? what can I do when my neck wanted to get that zebra marking for good measure. OK so I am roaming the beach under 94F weather, the Equatorial laughing at me for being so white.

He was looking back at me kid

Noticing that the further I move away from the hotel the more critters seem to appear, I realize I am surrounded by crabs running around to their hiding holes in the sand as soon as I approach too close. I observe a young British girl having a whole collection of them and proceed to see how she catches them. How difficult can it be ? I just need to get around the claws and I ll be fine. Of course those little beasts run very fast, sideways and have eyes that pop up above their bodies to see what's coming. I observe the dance each of them does to avoid me. I soon figure out once submerged in a wave, their eyes retract into their sockets and stop looking temporarily until the water subsides. I feel I found the Achilles tendon. After a few tries I decide to enlist the help of a bamboo stick to help me reach their body, at a safe distance of the claws. It works ! I am officially a crab hunter in Kenya. I should have rounded a few dozens and made some crab soup but I decided to catch and release instead. What great fun it was. I got to explore the sights and have close encounters with locals.

A Moray Eel in a tidepool

Just a 100 feet from shore lays a coral reef with tropical sea creatures. Fearless, I put my mask on (without the tube I hate those) and start swimming towards the reef. Once above it, as I look down, I see a large grouper gazing inquisitively at my silhouette. A coral reef houses a large variety of fishes, mollusks, live coral, sea turtles, sharks, Moray eels and octopus. I saw many fishes, some unknown to me. The ones I readily recognized were Angelfish, Clownfish, Anthias, Blue dot bass, batfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, dragonets, jawfish, lionfish and parrotfish. I also saw 2 octopuses running from view and burrowing themselves inside a rocky cave. This underwater safari adventure was worth the redneck burn I got from it.

The beach at Watamu

1 comment:

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