Sunday 20 Jul
The rain and wind woke us up early, but the passing storm cooled the air and cleaned the sand of footprints. After a breakfast that included the most delicious mango we'd ever eaten, the hotel manager brought us our snorkel fins and masks to try on. (All of the local establishments had misspelled snorkel on their information boards, as snokel. We think that the establishments must have copied the mistake from one another.) After we were outfitted in swimsuits and sunblock we were introduced to the "Captain" of our boat -- a local teenager that spoke a little English. It was low-tide, so we followed our Captain out through the tide-pools to where the boat (and his first mate) were anchored, in about mid-thigh deep water.
The vessel was a traditional handmade outrigger canoe, called a dhow, complete with a hand-sewn sail made of out of plastic-woven rice sacks that looked like a colorful patchwork quilt. The body of the boat was carved out of a large mangrove log, and was very long, narrow and cut down two feet or so under the surface of the water. The canoe was balanced by outrigger logs, and the reversible-direction sail hung from a rough log mast. We stood in the belly of the canoe, each of us resting on opposite sides of the hull. The first mate pulled up the anchor and then the captain helped him raise the sail. They pointed us out to sea, and we set sail for the reef just off shore.
After about twenty minutes of remarkably smooth sailing, we joined a cluster of other boats anchored at the reef. Moments later we had on our fins and snorkels and jumped in. The water was the temperature for swimming -- like a heated pool. Almost instantly after putting our faces under water, we began seeing fish, and after swimming just a few feet away from the boat we were in a tropical coral reef extravaganza. It was as if we'd been dropped into a well stocked tropical fish tank. Fish of every color, shape and size darted in and out of the coral reef around us. Gigantic and brightly colored sea stars, sea urchins and clams littered the sea floor. We saw whole schools of nearly translucent, sardine sized fish, fish that camouflaged themselves to match the coral, and fish that looked like ones we might want to eat.
Andrew never quite got the knack for keeping water out of his mask and snorkel, so retired to the boat after he'd seen the highlights. Shortly after he returned the boat, the first mate swam up with two small octopus that he'd just speared. He threw them into the bottom of the boat to presumably be sold at market upon return to shore. Allison continued to explore the reef for some time until she got wrinkled enough to call it a day. When we were both safely back in the boat, our crew hauled in the anchor, raised the sail and pointed us back toward the shore. The strong north wind meant that we had to first sail inland down the coast, then double back to get to our stretch of beach, and took about twice as long as sailing out.
Back on shore, we thanked our captain and headed back to our bungalow. After seeing so many fish, we decided to ordered grilled fish for lunch and then spent much of the afternoon reading our novels on the beach. On a walk down the beach in the late afternoon, we noticed hundreds of small crabs darting in and out of holes in the beach to gather and eat seaweed washed up by the incoming tide. We learned quickly that the crabs could feel the vibration of our walking and would disappear if we came too close. So, we chose a nice shady spot and sat down quietly -- soon the crabs thought we'd left the scene and came back out of their burrows and went about their crab business. It was great to watch the dozens of little crabs around us scamper about, fight with each other and then dart, lightening-fast, back into their holes at the slightest hint of danger. Andrew thought they were just like base-stealers in baseball, slowly leading off away from their holes, then running back quickly to avoid being picked off.
When the water reached high tide we decided to go for a swim, and we ordered hot water ahead of time so that we could have hot showers when we got out. We tossed a frisbee for a short while on the beach before our swim, and we were joined by a energetic young local boy -- maybe around 8 years old -- who had some good throws and thought the game was a riot. When we were ready for our swim, we sent the boy off and gave him the disc as a gift. He was quite excited about it, and ran off down the beach to show his friends. The ocean water had warmed up during the afternoon, and it was like swimming in a warm bath. Andrew body-surfed as he could in the small waves.
After our hot shower we had another delicious fish dinner, as well as a not half-bad pizza. The compound had a short power outage after dinner, which provided a nice star-gazing opportunity. Tired from our days swimming, we retired to our sans-electricity bungalow for the night.