Saturday, April 16, 2016

How I Saved Louie: Crabs in Bondage

     Zavora Beach Lodge is perched on a dune 17 sandy kilometers off the main road in Mozambique. It sits on what I consider the best piece of coastline in the country. The beach is clean and the waves are consistent. At low tide a perfectly round, crystal clear snorkeling pool appears just steps from the beach. A constant but soft onshore breeze keeps the mozzies at bay and the guests cool. The people are lovely. Sounds perfect, right? But it’s empty.

     Perhaps it’s the steep, sandy, traction-resistant road which leads to the bluff campsite that keeps people away, or that the lodge is mainly known for its scuba center, which caters to groups too tired to stroll the beach after two boat dives a day, but the beach here is practically (beautifully) deserted. I was often the only person walking the beach a kilometer in either direction.

One late afternoon Scott and I made our way down the beach farther than we had gone before. We rounded a bend in the coastline until we came to twenty or more small fishing boats perched higher than high tide on the slope of a dune. Soon we began seeing heavy clumps of fishing net bound up with sand and seaweed. Then we saw a tangled mess that contained not only seaweed and sand, but crabs trapped hopelessly in the web.
     “Oh how sad!” I said bending at a mound with three dead crabs. Up to that point on our walk we had been in blissful, life is perfect moods but now we turned away from the scene with empty sails. We walked only a little further before deciding to turn back to camp. As we passed the lump of sand and net with the three crabs I stopped to lift it to see how much it weighed. Just as I bent down to get a good hold, an eye on one of the crabs went sproing! and locked eyes, rather eye, with mine. I looked closer to see that his other eye was ensnared tightly under a line of netting.
     “Oh Scott, one of these guys is alive! Oh, poor thing. We’ve got to help him.” I carefully took hold of a strand of netting and tried to pull it over his head but the net was too tightly wrapped around the crab’s body, head, and ten legs.
     “This is awful. We can’t just leave him here to die like this. Do you have anything sharp in your pocket?” I asked.
     We tried using the teeth of our car keys to no effect. I looked frantically for something sharper in the sand.
     “Oh Scott," I moaned. "Would you please walk to camp and bring my Swiss Army Knife back with you? It has a little scissor attachment. That will be the perfect tool.”
     After some protest (did I mention we were at least a kilometer from camp?) Scott set off down the beach in a grudgey trudge towards the lodge.
(Photo taken during sunset trudge the previous night)
     I searched the area near the boats for something sharp. I tried a piece of hard black plastic to no avail.
     “Hang on Buddy,” I said aloud. Then “Oh brother. I’m talking to a crab.”  Then, because his eye popped up again when I spoke, I imagined that the crab could understand I was trying to help. I knelt next to his good eye and, channeling Band of Brothers, urged, “Stay with me little guy. Help is coming!” He peered up at me with the trust of the innocent and pure.
     I continued searching for anything sharp enough to cut through sturdy plastic net. I peered into each of the boats looking for a left behind tool or utensil. A few of the boats had small outboards attached so I looked for something I could borrow, uh, detach, okay, yes, break off and use to free the crab, who I had named Louie during my frantic and audible search.
     Finally, I found a broken bottle. Perfect! When I picked up a piece of glass the size of a toddler’s palm a small but dangerously sharp shard miraculously broke off and fell at my feet. Even better!
     “Sorry Louie, but this may be a little uncomfortable,” I said returning to the crab with the piece of glass that was as sharp as a surgical knife, or at least a steak knife. His eye sprang up again. He looked at me as if to say, I’m terrified right now, and you are a little manic, but your salty tears are somewhat refreshing, and it seems that this is hurting you more than it’s hurting me so, go for it!
I started cutting with a sawing motion on the strand that trapped his other eye down in the prone position. Sproing! Now both eyes gazed into mine begging for parole.
     “Okay, now lets free a leg Louie.”
     By the time Scott returned with the Swiss Army Knife I had managed to slice away only two more strands. There were dozens to go.
     “Here,” Scott said somewhat impatiently handing me the tool. But when Louie looked at him with both eyes he softened. “Hey! He doesn’t look like a Cyclops anymore!”
     “Didn’t you bring a camera? I wanted to have a photo of him.”
     “No Tris, I did not bring a camera so you could take a picture of your crab. Sheesh,” he added, impatient once more. “Get a move on. It’s going to be dark soon.
     I used the tiny scissors and painstakingly cut strand after strand from Louie’s body, his legs, his head. I had freed most of Louie from his wet, heavy bondage but he still had two legs entwined in a small piece of net. Suddenly he took off running. Not far though. He stopped, turned, and looked at us as if to say, If you don’t mind, I’ll stick around until you finish the job. I picked him up and turned him over to cut the last few strands from his back legs then returned him to the sand. Now it got weird. He just sat there looking at us.
     “What’s the matter Louie?” I looked up and down the beach around us and noticed many holes where crabs had dug in for the night.
     “Oh! He needs a home! He’s probably so exhausted he can’t even dig.” So, I dug a hole for him. Louie watched while I dug sideways into the sand above the high tide line to create a haven from the crows, dogs and whatever else preys on crabs. It was so weird. He watched and waited and then, when I was done, he scampered over to the hole and moved in to the deepest corner, comfy-cozy.
     “Good night Crab Louie. Be well. And stay away from nets!” We walked back to camp feeling good that something in the world, finally, was a little better for us in.
     Three nights later and many kilometers away, at Bahia Mar Resort where we were splashing out for my birthday, while Scott shook his head in disbelief, I ordered crab ravioli for dinner. 

1 comment:

  1. Very touching story. Thank you so much for sharing.