Saturday, August 13, 2011

Crab Terror!! - Rolas and Matemo Islands

Here’s what we expected to see on Rolas Island: massive land crabs that climbed up palm trees, cut down coconuts with their powerful claws, then ripped them to shreds, devouring the hard white meat. It was supposed to be a real life version of Crab Terror, Unalaska’s A-list cult classic about giant crabs that eat people. What we saw after our calm, smooth sailing trip was much less impressive. Our original intent was to visit Rolas, the famous crab island, during the evening with our three new traveling companions. What happened was a group of eleven of us landed on the island at midday to see the nocturnal crabs. It turns out that boats can’t get to the island during evening hours during the windy season and that you can’t really see them then anyhow unless you camp there, which you need to arrange much in advance. Basically, our quest for the giant crustacean was a bust. But, everyone said that one old man who lived on the island could take you to see the crabs, even during the daytime so we went for it.
One of the boat captains

The sandy section of crab island. Note the lack of palm trees...

The old man was running a racket. He said for $10, the group of us could check them out, if he could find one. He wasn’t willing to bother any of them because they’re considered somewhat sacred and disturbing them could bring bad luck. I can understand that. We didn’t want to intrude on the crabs too much anyhow. However, finding one, even in the day time, wasn’t exactly a challenge. Apparently the coconut eating crabs don’t actually climb trees, and they live in holes in the roots of some shrubs. Specifically, one crab lived in the roots of a shrub about 10 feet from the old man’s house. He showed us. It stayed asleep, but we could see its giant claw. Anticlimactic, I know, but there you have it.
The infamous crab terror

The rest of the day we spent walking up and down the beach on Matemo Island. The shore line was stunning – white beaches, blue water, masses of small children flocking around you and blocking the view. Actually, the kids, who did love attention, were very friendly and just wanted to play. I accidentally picked up three of them when I stopped to chat with a man dragging a mass of octopus up the beach. He had caught about 20 small octopuses and strung them together with a rope through their heads. After beating them with a stick on the beach so they stayed pliable, he planned on drying them and sending them to the city for sale. The three kids followed me for about a kilometer up the beach, handing me shells the entire time and teaching me to count in Portuguese. When I finally rejoined Jeanette at the camp I met two small girls who decided to play beauty parlor with my strange white person hair. They actually braid better than I can….
My new look and hair stylists

The Quirimbas Archipelago is filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it’s populated with fishing villages that lack electricity and running water. Many of the kids don’t go to school because they start working early. On the other hand, it’s an up and coming tourist destination that primarily caters to the very, very rich. Down the beach from our community-run campsite was a massive lodge that charged $400 per person per night. We walked down to have a drink in their posh, elegantly decorated bar, and they wouldn’t even serve us because we weren’t their guests. 
Sunset at Matemo

Local fisherman

The next morning we woke up at 3:50 am in order to pack up our tent and be ready for the boat ride back to the mainland. We had to leave that early in order to catch the tide when it was high enough to get the boat off the rocky shore. The long walk from the camp to the boat allowed us to watch the red-colored, nearly full moon set over the ocean. But unfortunately the blood moon was a bad omen for things to come. The boat ride to the mainland was rather uneventful until the end. The tide had gone out so much that when approaching the mangroves, a group of local fishermen frantically shouted at our captains to use a different channel before they got stuck. In the end, we were left to walk through shallow water for about half a kilometer with our packs because the boat couldn’t go any further. By this point, Jeanette wasn’t feeling very well.  Another lift with the same friends back to Pemba led to a quick trip to the hospital. Jeanette, despite her consistent use of bug spray and mosquito nets, had contracted a case of malaria.

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