Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Somewhere beyond the sea...

As we drove away from Sur, I heard Saleem's last question to me still ringing in my head. "When someone asks 'how are you?' is it correct to reply 'I am great!'?" he queried.

Sure, I said, that's a perfectly good answer.

"No." he said, almost fiercely, "it is not. People cannot be great. Only God is great."

I of course rolled over and showed my belly and made placating noises that of course he was right, but such a comment was not meant to imply that a person was anything more than feeling very well, thank you. He said that an Australian woman had said that to him and he'd been bothered by it ever since.

Who knew that even the most innocent remark could go astray like that? I vowed to watch my words even more closely.

Now heading down the coast with an evening rather than an afternoon start, I called the Turtle Beach Resort to make sure they knew we were coming. Though Mike had brought his mobile and I'd bought one for Colleen and Pat to use, mine was the only one that would work , and then only sporadically. However, it was only the third or fourth try that actually went through. Not bad. They assured us dinner started late and that we would not head out to the turtles before 8:30.

Driving along the Arabian Sea, the road following the coast, tiny villages and their mosques appearing then disappearing as we made our way. We saw soccer goal nets whose former occupation had been that of fish net, rocks and sand, scrub brush. Fewer and fewer evidences of people. The road to the resort was winding and tricky in the dark. Turning off the pavement, we bounced along one of the now-familiar sorts of pebble and sand roads for several kilometers until lights shown ahead and we were there.

It was enchanting...Thomas went crazy for the palm shelters on the beach decorated with lights. "Is a Christmas TREE! Is Christmas TREES!!!" There was a large Dhow in the sand that made for an open air eating area, complete with pool tables and cushions to lounge upon. Checking in, we went to our Barasti huts to put down our bags.

The huts were wooden structures lined up along the beach in groups, with, as the name promised, palm thatching for roofs. Ours was a duplex, wooden floors (good for sand), basic beds and closet in two rooms. Colleen and Pat got the luxury edition which included a tiny TV and refrigerator. Electricity! Bonus! The washroom sported the most inexpensive toilet seat I have ever seen in my life. It was made, I am pretty sure, of the same plastic they use to manufacture sporks. Of course it was cracked and anyone who was so foolish as to sit upon it would have gotten their bum pinched in the break. Outside the waves murmured upon the shore.

Very Camp. Very cool.

I was the designated driver, so I sat back and watched the other adults make a beeline for bar services, the first since back in Dubai that we'd been around. It had been a good, but long day, and we still had hours to go. Dinner was simple; we served ourselves in the reddish glow of the Dhow lights; fish, chicken, rice, and ooh, french fries. Heaven help me, those tasted so darned good in the sea air. Then a new favorite for us, fruit salad flavor ice cream, and coffee. The coffee bit was important for the late night turtleing plans.

Bethy and Mike availed themselves of the pool table, and Thomas fell asleep in my arms. I cuddled him up in the cushions and carpets on deck and had some more coffee.

Time rolled by, as it does, and we were back out on the road, now hurrying in the dark, trying to follow the map. Our odometer didn't agree with the distances prescribed, but we eventually found our way to the Turtle Reserve at Ra’s Al Hadd. Again, the costs were minimal, yet we waited for our warden to come get our group in a modern and attractive museum-like building.

You have to have a permit (which we'd secured online ahead of time), and a guide, to go see the turtles. These amazing creatures return to the place of their birth, having traveled perhaps thousands and thousands of miles in the ocean, as far away as Australia even, to lay their eggs on the easternmost point of Oman. Unfortunately, in the past, tourists had engaged in such activities as chasing them with their cell phones to get a lousy photo, riding the turtles,(yes, they're huge, but come on!) moving flippers out of the way to get a better view of the egg-laying other words, total chaos. And it was scaring the turtles away.

At the reserve, the Omanis decided enough was enough, and told us that if we took flash photographs they'd pitch our cameras into the sea. Reasonable. It was obvious that if anyone tried to molest the turtles in any fashion they'd also end up in the sea...or at least escorted back to the parking lot in an unfriendly manner. Thank goodness there would be no turtle riding for the evening.

Our group was called, and we were fortunate to get the guide recommended to us by the French fellows back at the sinkhole. He instructed us all to be very quiet, and not use lights, and so instructed our group of perhaps 20 followed him out into the dark.

It was a good walk to the beach, between two cliff heads of rock. From where we started we couldn't even hear the waves, and we shuffled along the hard sands of the pathway, Thomas peeking shyly from beneath his blanket out into the darkness. About 15 minutes of walking, the sands softened, and we could hear the sea in the velvety darkness. There was a good moon, and our eyes adjusted well to the low light. Our cameras, however, were useless on any setting. We were instructed to hunker down on the sand and wait. While we waited our guide told us all about the Sea Turtles there, the rare Green and Leatherbacks. These species are so ancient, they watched the dinosaurs evolve and then become extinct.

I felt pretty good about the kids and I always gathering up all the plastic bags we can find on the beach to throw them away properly. The Sea Turtles mistake the bags for jellyfish, eat them and die, a real shame for an endangered animal with a lifespan comparable to that of a human.

We waited, and waited...

Occasionally a figure would emerge from the darkness, one of the wardens in their long robes. Then the word came in, a turtle was just finishing laying her eggs, and as soon as she was done they would take our group to go see her burying them. We stood up and started sliding, lurching steps in the sand, trying to keep out of the huge depressions in the sand from the turtle nests that made it a sort of cratered moonscape.

Thomas had had enough, and started screaming. And screaming. Not conducive to turtle comfort, or that of the other guests, for that matter. I tried everything, but he'd had it. I ended up leaving the group, with one of the guides trailing anxiously, and going back to our waiting spot on the sands beyond the nesting area.

Our flustered escort guide tried to ask on his mobile what to do, then was trying to pass it to me as I was trying to get away from him so he could hear what the fellow on the other end was saying over Thomas' bawling. Finally we established that I didn't need to leave, but that I didn't want Thomas scaring the turtles either.

Earlier I'd been lying on a blanket we'd brought, on the sands, Thomas lying on top of my chest with the tail of the blanket wrapped around us while we were waiting and listening to our guide. Thomas wailed at the top of his lungs "Lie down cuddle-a MOMMY!!!" until I did so. His wails subsided to hiccoughs and eventual quiet, as long as I didn't make any moves that might indicate anything less than subservience to his will.

It was uncomfortable for the young guide with us, I am sure, to be squatting in the sands with a prone woman next to him. I felt ridiculous. We both made an effort to keep things casual with light conversation. The sand and night air were getting colder, and I was really glad we'd brought our flannel blanket.

The rest of the group got to see a huge mother turtle laboriously covering about a hundred or so of her eggs. When they returned to us, the two comments I heard most were "huge!" and "wow!" Bethy was even more excited that they'd gotten to see baby turtles on the beach, making their way to the ocean, their way guided and lit by the warden's special red lights.

The guides came over and told us that since we had the children (Bethy was exhausted, Thomas was completely out and getting heavier by the minute) they would send a ride for us. Sure enough, down the track came a vehicle, dousing its lights well before the beach. We boarded gratefully, leaving the others to walk back in the darkness.

Mike felt awful that I hadn't gotten to see a turtle. But don't worry. I made it back to that beach...

To be continued...


Will & Cheyenne said...

So incredible! I am so glad you are keeping such a detailed journal.....for all of us to read!

seaferns said...

lovely and inspiring. extremely useful for other visitors who want to see more than just aircon and steel and glass and asphalt in the Middle East.