Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy we'll be beyond the sea...

Our tired little family staggered back to the Barasti huts at about 12:30 AM and collapsed into bed. Though I had purchased permits for all of us to return to the beach to watch the babies hatch and the sun rise, only Colleen and I were willing to try to get back up at 3 AM, to be at the reserve at 3:45. We both set our cell phone alarms and went to bed fully clothed so as to roll out the door as quickly (and quietly!) as possible.

Neither of our alarms went off...

But, somehow, amazingly, Colleen woke up anyway. Late, we booked it out of the Barasti hut, disheveled and still half asleep. I was saying something along the lines of "Dark...we shouldn't be running..." when I saw and blurted, too late, "rocks!"

The pathway was not straight, and lined with medium-sized jagged rocks. Colleen ran right into the rocks at a spot where the path turned out, tripped, flew like supergirl and landed wham, flat out, right on top of more rocks. I thought something unprintable. Great, now I'd killed my Mother-in-law.

Good luck finding medical care out here.

Assessing the damage, we decided it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Though she was hobbling and would have some impressive bruises, she insisted she we press on. I was thinking about the long walk to the sands at the reserve, and resolved to go back if she was hurt too badly. We drove through the darkness as fast as we dared, and managed to get to the reserve on time after all.

There we were greeted by 2 other couples and some hot coffee. The coffee was an unbelievably good idea. The guide who made it for us had met me the night before and he beamed and nodded, "this is my friend, hello my friend."

He was shy about perhaps not making good coffee but it was quite good for 4 AM coffee, and we told him so. Our little group followed him out again to the beach. The moon had set and it was quite dark. But the stars, oh, the stars.

Colleen described it best later: It wasn't a night sky with stars. It was stars with bits of night sky. We sat in the dunes as before, and looking up you could get quite dizzy. I have never seen such a sky before, not even in my imagination. You actually had a sense of the curvature of the earth. The stars were so brilliant, so near...they were almost reachable.

Colleen was being her usual friendly self, chatting away with the other guests, and was immediately pegged as a teacher. Sympathy was expressed for her header, rocky encounter and the aftermath. I was somewhere in that realm between dreaming and drooling as I gazed skyward; stars upon stars, satellites, and shooting stars for wishes. Our guide kept addressing me as "my friend" and I kept managing not to hear him the first, sometimes second time.

What can I say, I was drowning in stars.

We saw a police cruiser boat zooming along the coast, lights blinking as it chased some unknown prey.

Then we got lucky. The second guide had found a mother turtle laying her eggs, and without the wailing Thomas, short of a Tsunami, I knew I would see this one. In due time we were allowed to approach her as she laboured with covering her eggs. Lit in the reddish light the stewards used, we crouched down behind her, so as to not alarm her too much.

First thumping one gigantic flipper, than the next, flipping and pushing the sands behind her, she would occasionally exhale a tired whoof, blowing and then continuing her exhaustive work. She'd already had to dig the body pit, a crater in the sand to accommodate her large size, then shoveled out an egg cavity using her real flippers as shovels, and laid 100 or more eggs.

By the time she got to this point I was feeling thoroughly sorry for her, out of her buoyant watery home and up on this beach, so heavy. She flipped plenty of sand over us as well as her eggs, as we sputtered and grinned. "This very good turtle," the guide explained "she hide these eggs from the fox, the fox think the eggs here so she pretend to bury them here." He pointed to one section of the nest, then another. Ah! All the work we were seeing was not even to truly bury her eggs. They were already buried...she was making false signs in the sand to try and fool the foxes who come down from the rocky cliff sides to dig and eat the eggs.

A lot of work for a sea creature.

Only 1 out of 1000 sea turtle eggs survives to adulthood. so it was a little sad, even while it was wonderful, to watch her.

The sky was lightening slowly, the turning stars disappearing. Seabirds began to wheel overhead, so we knew the baby turtles, 60 days after their eggs had been buried, were about to hatch and emerge. A few baby turtles dug their way out of the sand, little flippers going frantically as they tried so, so hard to make it over the shapes of the sand into the sea. The guides shone their lights into the babies' faces so they would follow them the correct direction down the beach, and made pathways in the sand so the babies would have an easier time of it.

The seabirds had their breakfast, but there were few babies that morning, so the skies soon emptied again. The mother turtle was still thumping her flippers as she shifted sands.

The sun was slowly making its liquid orange way up over the sea, and we could now see where other turtles had lumbered their way back to the water, the marks of their flippers not unlike tractor tracks. We could see our turtle more clearly as well, when we could tear our eyes away from the glamorous sunrise. She was patterned all over, subtly but attractively. I could see why anyone would want her enormous shell for decoration. Her eyes were fathomless black, and I wondered what she might have seen in her travels of the ocean.

A noise or movement in the cliffs alerted us to another sort of creature; a fox was about to join us. Bounding down onto the beach, the fox was both playful and very bold. Plume of a red tail waving joyfully behind, the fox scampered and searched on the beach, paying us little mind.

The sea turtle finally began to heave herself out of the nest, having concealed it to her satisfaction. Obeying the instincts that had commanded her to return to her birthplace, now she heaved her way, inch by laborious inch, back to the sea.

The fox ran to where she had been and dug and dug until finding some eggs, hers or another turtle's, I do not know, and had its breakfast as well. Clever fox. The turtle and the fox didn't even acknowledge one another's presence, as far as I could tell. I suppose nothing is personal in nature.

The fox also found a lone baby turtle, alive or dead we don't know, but the fox toyed with it like a cat does a mouse, throwing it up into the air and jumping; playing with its food. When a bird got too close the fox pursued it down nearly the entire length of the beach. When the fox returned darned if it wasn't looking looking entirely pleased with itself.

At last for the turtle, the final push to the sea, then into the waves. Still, the turtle didn't hurry, and pushed herself at the exact same cadence until the waves lifted her, she raised her head for a deep breath, and disappeared beneath the waves. Patient soul.
We had been on the beach for nearly 4 hours. Our guide had decided that my curly hair was beautiful and that I was quite the woman, what with jumping into sinkholes and eating crabs. He'd said that crabs were bad (they pinch and kill the baby turtles) and I had said, oh no, crabs are very good...for eating. This garnered me a laugh and more admiration.
Fishermen drove past in their boat, standing proudly in the prows, "Like you", our guide said to me, "No sit, stand, brave." On a par with Chuck Norris now, we crazy American women walked back to the car, fending off persistent invitations to Omani coffee and some hand holding. (Very risqué behavior! Had to put the kibosh on that one.) We were due for breakfast in the Dhow, and a very long drive home to Dubai.


dorothy said...

I love this life you are leading! Hugs to you my turtle chasing, rug sitting cousin!

gentiana said...

Beautifully written post! It must have been quite an experince to see the turtles at their most vulnerable moment.