Friday, February 27, 2009


Although Paulo has been in Maputo for nearly two weeks and as a result I have been trying to coordinate dropping and picking up the boys at two different schools at two different times, all household and staff issues, shopping, car maintenance, carpenter supervision, thatch ordering, and DIY veterinary treatment for one of the dogs who has been fighting and has a huge hole in his neck, as well as putting in the occasional appearance at work, I shouldn’t really complain.

At the week-end, taking advantage of a bank holiday, the boys and I hitched a ride in a stylish fishing boat (no sarcasm, this is a serious game fishing boat not a local dhow) to Sito, a simple yet lovely beach lodge about 30km up the coast, where we were spoiled rotten by our hosts Craig and Tessa. Alongside the swimming and snorkeling, delicious food and generous sun-downer cocktails, we were treated to not one but three dolphin sightings, much to the boys’ (and my) delight. The last of these was on an otherwise unsuccessful fishing trip, when a large pod of spinner dolphins (small and fast) came to the boat and swam with us for about 5 minutes, weaving in and out of the bow-wave, hopping over wavelets, passing bits of sea-weed from flipper to tail to flipper, seeming to check us out as intently as we – hanging over the bow about one metre above them – were them.

It was magical, and the three days away from Pemba were a life-saver for me, as my fuse was burning dangerously low.

“I think we should stay for years and years,” said Joaquim. I have to say, it was very tempting.

That was written two weeks ago, since when our interment connection has been so bad I haven’t been able to post anything at all. Paulo is back from Maputo, and we’ve been back to Sito, where at about 7.30 on Saturday morning we were doing this:

If it’s not immediately obvious to you what this is, look carefully under Paulo’s elbow: you will see the liquid eye of an enormous green turtle.

It had been caught in a fishing net; on purpose or by accident is unclear, but what is quite clear is that it was heading for the pot had we not arrived on the scene.
I won’t go through it blow by blow, but it was an utterly thrilling experience, both for Paulo and me who were actually disentangling the poor creature, and for the boys (including Joauqim's best friend Milan), who were astonished at the sheer size of it, and must have imagined that sea turtles were something like land tortoises: “it’s giant! It’s huge!” And it was: the shell alone was at least a metre long, the head almost the size of a rugby ball. An informed diver friend who saw the photos estimated it to be about 200 years old.

Sadly, many turtles are still being hunted and consumed in the waters around Pemba and inside the Park. All the fishermen are aware that it is illegal, but enforcement is weak (especially outside the park). Of course it’s difficult for people who have hunted these animals for generations to understand that – through no fault of their own – turtle populations have reached such a critically low mass that every individual counts. It is unfair that while long-liners and drift netters account for thousands of turtle deaths each year and are not penalized for it, local fishermen who are principally aiming to feed their (hungry) families are bearing the brunt of conservation initiatives. But looking into that animal’s dark eye, feeling the tug as it freed its last flipper from the net and armed with the knowledge that for every 1000 turtle hatchlings only one reaches adulthood, I can only hope that our efforts to protect these amazing animals to the best of our abilities are as successful as they could possibly be.

PS: Our dog is much better, thanks.

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