Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wild women do...

Huge sensitive viewer alert! All my veggie, PETA friends, I love you, but please consider not reading on.

OK, I warned you.


"I don't believe in Valentine's Day."

Ooh, these be fightin' words. Mike said this February 12th, 48 hours before the day and I knew I had him.

Immediately I had a plan. Now, my form of vengence is...well, a little different. No, I did not lock him out, refuse to do his laundry for two weeks (yikes -there'd be no tidy whitey underwear for sure!) or any of those other crude sorts of revenge.

Oh, no, no, no: no fun in those; the plan was to get him something really good for Valentines day and watch him squirm.

It worked like a charm.

My evil plan was this: I called the wife of John, one of Mike's favorite cronies and our resident Tall Texan and asked her if she'd gotten anything for him. (They have a new baby and I figured she was probably pretty busy). Nope. Great!

So, I asked, how about if we send our men on a crabbing hunt out along the Mangrove islands of Umm al Quwain? They can drink and be manly men and we can look cool for thinking it up.

She went for it. After all, what Texan doesn't like to drink and kill things?

It was a go. Mike was both happy and felt like a schmuck for not getting me anything. Ha. Perfect. I'm thinking solitare diamond earrings for our tenth wedding anniversary.

It could happen.

Of course my plan also led directly to the joke that we gave our husbands crabs for Valentine's Day. Personally, I thought that was kind of funny, but then, I'm kind of funny.

We ended up recruiting a third coworker for the trip, Nathan from Oregon, a young guy always ready for an adventure. Why not?

There was supposed to be a driver for the would-be crabbers, but, this being Dubai, things fell through on that point. Now the boys needed a designated driver.

Someone who wouldn't mind going up to Umm al Quwain, someone who was game for jumping into dark waters with a trident and at the same time someone who could be sober while putting up with these guys while they drank.

That someone...was me.

I would be the short one on the left there, then Mike, Nathan, and John. For perspective, Mike is 6 feet tall.

Happy to do it. The guys had a particularly hard week at work, it was time to let them relax.

They did some necessary prepwork before setting out, involving fermented forms of hydration and the Wii Mario Cart driving game. As soon as our babysitter showed up we set out, driving about an hour and a half to the emirate of Umm al Quwain to the north.

I like Umm al Quwain. It's sparely populated, has pristine beaches, extreme sports, and always, always camels alongside the road. There isn't a lot there, but what's there is quiet and real.

the crab boats

We settled beneath beachside huts to wait for dark, after getting our lifejackets and canvas, rubber-soled shoes, relaxing with a view of the beautiful salt waters and islands, these all the work of Mother Nature. No artificial, man-made islands here. There was a breeze, and lights strung prettily above the tables.

The boys continued their great and noble quest to uphold the American Tradition of combining drinking with hunting, which annoyed the hotel staff somewhat. The guys weren't being overtly obnoxious, but they weren't exactly being discrete either. Close to obnoxious. At one point a staffperson came over and informed John that outside alcohol wasn't permitted on the hotel grounds. John grandly replied that he would just finish the one beer he had.

John (in the Cowboys sweatshirt the other two disdained from wearing), drinking that "same" one beer that lasted hours. Amazing, a miracle beer.

Also amazing how the empties in the backpack multiplied. Three men worked hard on this program, and made much progress. I did my best to continue in the role of driver. I figure that includes turning a blind eye and trying not to cluck too much like a mother hen.

I was wrapped up in my own thoughts, wondering if I'd be able to do it. Stab a crab, I mean.

I've never hunted anything in my life, with the exception of fishing (OK, and thrift stores, my guilty and much-missed pleasure, but nothing dies in that scenario), and for the fish I prefer catch and release. I've yet to be able to bang a fish against a rock myself to end what seems to me to be an awfully idyllic life. I catch spiders, sure, and then carefully put them intact and alive, outside to continue their small lives.

The sun went down and we were herded with quite a few other people to the boats. We had envisioned having our own boat and guide, but instead found ourselves with 15 others in a watercraft, chugging out towards the Mangrove islands beneath the stars. There was a large Pakistani family and a Speedo-wearing componant of Russians of both genders. (Some looked better than others in their chosen garb, I can tell you.) The American riff-raff (that would be us) were placed in the front of the boat and got the majority of the spray over the bow.

It felt like a subtle revenge. Probably was. Personally, I was loving it like a Golden Retriever with her head out the car window, fur and tongue flapping in the breeze.

That's a metaphor, by the way.

We were out in the middle of the waters when the guide (who was supposedly going to give us instructions) stopped the boat and told us, "OK."

Nowhere near the shore of any of the dark forms of the islands, I thought perhaps this was his version of humor. But no, after some hesitation one of the Russian girls jumped off the boat with a shriek into what turned out to be knee-high waters. She was handed a light on a long rubber cord for peering through the water and a long stick with three prongs at one end. This business end of the stick was obviously for stabbing a crab...or anything else so foolish as to hang around long enough.

Well, alrighty then. We heaved ourselves over the side into the cool salty waters, leaving the Pakistani family onboard to try their luck over the side of the boat. Not us, we were out for some serious real crab huntin'. None of this wussy staying on the boat stuff for us.

I saw a sly shadow of something creeping sideways near my feet that looked crab-like, and gave it a tentative nudge with the trident to see what it would do. It skittered, and without even thinking about it I stabbed it right through with a crunch and lifted my prize out of the water with a primal yell of triumph and shouts of disbelief from the others.

I waited for guilt, regret, anything, as I grinned like a moron and trooped my catch over to the box on the boat where we wrestled it off the end, wary of the still-waving pinchers.

Nope. No guilt at all. I couldn't wait to find another one and try again.

So much for the gentle gender. Bring on the crabs! This was so Hemingway I could barely handle it, and was completely surprised by the amount of pure glee I felt.

I liked it.

We waded, half pulling , half being dragged by the boat. Sometimes the water was barely to our ankles, sometimes chest deep. There was coral to watch out for, and rocks that did their darndest to look like crabs, and holes that would catch you (which probably scared the hell out of whatever was living in them) and fish, so many small fish that would skitter over the surface in silver blips and dapples.

Larger fish shot away from us in a whoosh, leaving behind only a sandy trail clouding the waters to show where they had gone. There were barracudas and ribbonfish, hammour and what we thought were eels. The lights moved through the water as we strained our eyes looking for dinner on the claw.

Then, HA! I got another one. More shouts of disbelief. That brought the boat's total to three. John in particular began quizzing me as to exactly what does a crab underwater look like? Aw heck, it looks like a crab! A gray, clawed creature going sideways as fast as it can from the wackos with sticks.

The Russians were annoying the boys with their bossiness, (of course the guys responded less than diplomatically with construction site attitude, language and volume) and also continually crowded us, even though they had the entire area around the boat, which was being pulled far too fast for us to see much of anything.

I sacrificed being close to the lights for being able to walk away from the group a little bit, where I could hear the nighttime sounds from the Mangrove islands, the peepings and churrings of unknown insects and creatures, and also to keep from churning the sands where the guys were trying to find their own crustacian prey.

Then Nathan stabbed something in the water that exploded in a confusing mass of ink , spraying everywhere and blackening the water all around. Flopping mightily on the end of his trident was a cuttlefish, relative of the octopus. The cuttlefish, too, was added to the box, all of us being careful not to touch the hot battery right next to it.

Next Mike let out a shout and stabbed frantically and repeatedly into the water, John and Nathan pouncing a moment later. John's trident hit its mark, with Nathan's a second later, both of them then engaging in a shouting linebacker-esque match of "Gerroff!" "It's MINE" "Back off, you ___!" "I'm making sure you don't lose it you ____!" (insert your favorite expletives here) with Mike plaintively protesting in the background that he should get (expletive) spotting credit.

I was laughing so hard I could barely stand upright. The crab was literally falling apart by the time I snapped a photo of John holding it aloft (he having won the tussle by dint of being an enormous guy,) and it went into the box less than intact.

Mike thought he caught one later but upon examination it turned out to not only be a baby crab but also to have been dead for some time. We quietly put that one back in the water.

Somewhere along the line we all got back into the boat and moved to another location, again wading through the dark waters, looking for movement. The boys were throwing their tridents like spears, trying to harpoon fish as they swam speedily and wisely away. I got one more crab, for a grand total of three, and resigned myself (happily) to the admiration and teasing by the other folks when I think the entire boat only came up with five or six total. And a cuttlefish. Which never made it to the table but was an impressive catch nevertheless.

The ride back was dark and wet and, bliss, cold, which I was totally into, but the other passengers were not, so I sat with my back to the wind near the front of the boat blocking some of the wind, and enjoyed it. We passed the jackets we'd brought to the two mothers cradling their young children, demonstrating that we weren't all bad. The Pakistanis made conversation with us but the Russians were busy, sulking I think.

One of the Pakistani women assured us that there were lots more crabs in the summertime, and that with the warmer weather if we came back we would really love it.

I loved it just as it was. Being outside, being a little chilly. Fantastic.

The boat dropped us off at the beach where the incredible fragrances of curries and cooking meats tantalised us, mixing with the tang of salt air and the scent of night jasmine.

We dried off and loaded up our plates, food tasting it's best, as it always does outdoors after exercise and excitement. Mutton, aloo, eggplant, hummus, flatbread, rice, cucumber salad, and so forth. The stars of the evening, the crabs, also made their way to our table, and the boys dutifully dug in.

Here I broke what I have always held to be one of my firmest beliefs: I think that if you hunt and kill something you should eat it.

But the resort hadn't cleaned the crabs. There was no sauce, no butter, just...the crabs. Full of crab poop.

I couldn't do it. I even offered some of the crab to the numerous stray cats circling the tables but they turned up their noses in disgust and fled.

I could hardly blame them. I felt the same way.

After much thought and mentally trying out several rationalisations I decided that it was OK to not eat the crab since they would undoubtedly make it into the crab soup the next day.

We decided that we must come back and try crab stabbin' again, this time chartering our own boat and on our own terms, so we can go the speed we want and stay out as long as we like.

I bought the guys shots of whisky, partially to appease anyone for their bringing and drinking their own alcohol, and partially as a thank you for a fabulous evening.

The clock was inching toward midnight. John and Nathan slept the entire way home, while Mike and I rocked out in the front to Nickelback and laughed together over the events of the evening.

It was nice to learn this about myself: that I could, ostensibly, provide some sort of meat beyond the styrofoam plastic wrapped stuff I pick up in the supermarket for the family. Is it wrong to feel...satisfied by this knowledge?

There is also a certain strange comfort to knowing that I went out and did well on my first hunting trip.

And it was, without question, the best to be the one to bring in the most crabs.

Even though I didn't eat them.


*Paula* said...

LOL - crab girl! Another amazing story Natalie! Love it - you should be proud!

Anonymous said...

i love that u stabbed crabs with a trident. lol i don't blame u about not eating crab poop. we had crab the other day (speared straight out of hmart tank) and my family all eat everything in the crab, i only eat the legs and lusi was throwing a fit saying i was wasting the food! i'm glad u guys are having so much fun


Anonymous said...

Hey mate.You call that crabbing? Now those guys risking their lives in the Bering sea to haul in the meters long King Crabs (unless their boat capsizes from the ice and kills them all) now that's crabbing. Just kidding. Sounds like a fun outing. Why do Russians always were speedos?

Natalie said...

Paula: I am totally proud. I mean, look at my photos, grin from ear to ear on that goofy gal.

Annie: how are you, girl?! Did your daughter go for the crabs? I can just see Lusi going to town on crabs. These little dudes didn't really have any leg meat, and being a spoilt white girl I was looking all around for a nice little pronged fork or maybe some crab crackers to help extract the meat...dream on!

Anonymous: The crabbers in Alaska, well, aren't they happy if they come home with all their fingers? That's a whole 'nother level, to which I do not aspire. (I like my fingers! I've had them all my life!)

As for the Russians and the Speedos, You have to admire them though, even if you cringe a little. I think it's a level of practicality and lack of self-consciousness they possess that the rest of us flat out don't have. And thank goodness for that, eh?