Monday, March 29, 2010

Zombies, man sized fishes and surfing- all in the same breath


I finally managed to get myself away from the beach, but it wasn't easy. This makes, I think the fifth time I've been on the beach since I got to Africa (Kenya, Tanzania twice, Malawi, Mozambique), and it's hard to beat. I just find myself here over and over. The interior of the continent is much more interesting and exciting, but it's hard to argue with the beach. It's not hard to see why the interior of the continent remained relatively untouched for so long while the colonists flooded the coastline; the beach is just easy. Where ever you are whether it's Africa or Florida, the beach is  the beach and predictable and manageable.

When people ask about the beaches in Oregon, I generally respond that we don't have beach so much as coast. Yes there are miles upon miles of pristine stretches of sand and ocean and the Dungeoness crab is as fresh and cheap as I imagine you'll find anywhere (hollaback Moe's), but the thing is it's just so windy and the water is so damn cold that "beach" just doesn't conjure up accurate images. The beach is for swimming and sunburns, in Oregon we wear heavy sweatshirts and watch rain hitting waves. So, needless to say this whole tropical beach thing is kind of alluring for me. 


Every time I come back from the beach I realize that I didn't really take any pictures or amass any interesting stories. It's like I get to the beach and the world just slows down to slow motion. Wake up, swim in the ocean, lunch, swim in the ocean, dinner, beers, sleep, start over again. Two weeks (or has it been three?) has slipped by and I've  hardly noticed the time pass, but at the same time any other time and place seemed like another planet. It's a hard life I'm sure.

I've been sending gloating emails all week, so I imagine I've made it to the top of a few enemies lists of people working in offices right now. In case anyone out there is planning any witchcraft vengeance spells, I suggest you think twice. I have it under authority from a source here that all I need is some certain special herbs and a dash of chicken guts and I can counterspell that ish right back in your face.  

Seriously though, on the subject of witchcraft: I hear whispers that if one asks the right person in the Mozambique street markets one can find the so-called Zombie Cucumber. The story goes that if you feed a person a drug potion made from some local herbs, they go into a coma whereby the give the appearance of death, while maintaining full consciousness. After witnessing their own funeral and burial, you go dig them back up and feed them a different potion made from this cucumber. It wakes them up and tweaks their brain all out so they become a Zombie-like, living dead slave doing all your bidding for the rest of their days. No joke. I saw something about this happening in Haiti on the discovery channel once: it was saying that people zombie-fie tourists, take them to the ATM to drain their account, then sell them into sex slavery. I am waay to scared to to further investigations to validate this. There's a book I can't find here called Kalashnikovs and Zombie Cucumbers, about Mozambique in the mid-90s. I've heard strong praise about it and it's at the top of my list for when I get home (some other time I'll share my reading list).

Back to the subject at hand, this time around I dedicated myself to doing more than just laying on the beach. I went scuba diving, got certified for deep water diving (100 feet down in the drink) and took it upon myself to learn to surf. Generally speaking, the results were not encouraging.

The Norwegians were serious about their water-sports. There is Alf the kiteboarder, Anders the windsurfer, and for the last few days Lars the surfer showed up. I think all three had been instructors in their respective sport in the last few years, so I was in good hands. Unfortunately there was never enough wind for either of the first two, so it was wave surfing the whole way.

Two weeks of nothing but surfing and I figured I'd have it down. I guess I assumed that any sport invented in Southern California couldn't be that hard. I mean I know plenty of southern Cali folks, and let's just say I've never exactly been blown away (full disclosure: my family on both sides is from Southern California, so I guess I should keep my big trap shut). I figured with my critical thinking skills and solid grasp of English grammar I couldn't help but revolutionize the sport. But man I was wrong. Surfing is HAAARD. I swallowed half the ocean and after a week could barely barely manage to stand up occasionally.

The stereotype is that Surfers are kind of lazy and not necessarily that bright. I'm not going to argue with that, but I will say this: If you spent all day futilely paddling into the mouth of the mighty ocean, you'd probably want to sleep all day too. As far as the latter generalization, I can't really speak to that one; maybe it's all the sun or spending their lives swimming in California Raisin pesticide runoff.



Diving was a different story, though not much more successful than the surfing. I did my deep diving, technically it went off without a hitch. The issue was in what I saw. I was promised megafauna. Whale Sharks, the biggest fish on the planet, frequent these waters as do 10 foot Giant Manta Rays. The day before, people saw the sharks. The day after,  sharks and mantas. But for me: nothing, nada, hakuna samaki. I know there's no guarantees with wild animals, but throw some catfood or something out there for god's sake.

Aside from the letdown, the diving was amazing. It was like Finding Nemo meets Godzilla. There were tons and tons of amazing colorful and crazy little fishies, as well as some huge cool stuff. I swam with a sea turtle for a good long while, at one point he was following me around in circles. That is probably more rare than seeing the damn manta rays, so I guess that's a feather in my proverbial swimming cap. I saw many smaller rays, and lots of eels. The highlight, other than the turtle, would be seeing a serious Godzilla eel. I poked my head into a cave and was face to face with an eel that was -no exaggeration- bigger than me. I'd put him at two feet in diameter and God only knows how long, with a head the size of mine. Needless the say I did the only manly thing, and swam away as fast as my little flippers could carry me.

So there we are, That's my latest beach vacation. I can now officially claim to be a surfer, although not within 100 miles of any beach where I could be forced to prove it. I'm sort of closer to being a semi-legitimate diver and my tan is a shade or two more melanomic. Wicked brah!



1 comment:

  1. Although I was a teenager in Southern California, I was born and raised in Northern Californa, thank you very much. That's why I can spell and punctuate correctly. Another reason why the coast was so much more populated was the incredible parasite loads inland. Want me to send a copy of Kalashnikovs and Zombie Cucumbers to await your arrival at Pat's?

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