Every now and again, I won’t have a recipe to share – just a story to tell. This is one such posting.
Recently, while checking out my “reader” on WordPress, I saw a beautiful photo of a crab as part of a post on My Dining Table. The photo did two things – inspired me to want to make Crab Thermido in the very near future, and reminded me of a story.
I’ve made mention of our past-life before; a life that involved travel. While we no longer live that globe-trotting existence of the past; some of the tales from those distant days are none the less fun to tell.
If you ever have the opportunity to do so; I strongly urge you to visit the South Pacific islands of French Polynesia. While the largest island of Tahiti, her sister island, Mo’ore’a and to some extend Bora-Bora several hops to the west have become more commercialized with big name hotels and motorized water sports; once upon a time (in our prior life) venturing off the main island of Tahiti was like stepping into another way of existence. Life slowed in ways I cannot express – it is something one must experience to truly appreciate. The beauty of these South Pacific islands are difficult to describe in words.
Many of the “high” islands are surrounded by natural reef barriers, creating crystal clear lagoons perfect for “viewing” the wildlife below. Visibility to the bottom can be as much as 30 feet! Sting rays gently glide below, as colorful Picasso, odd-looking long-nosed yellow fish and an assortment of others dart about. Beyond the reef, a deep blue sea rises and falls with gently waves, blending with the sky until it’s almost impossible to tell where the sky ends and the sea begins. Only the scattering of distant billowing white clouds puts the horizon into proper perspective.
The sparkling clear lagoons, deep greens of the tropical vegetation and the warmth of native people is what paradise truly means. My only word of advise is whenever traveling, get to know the locals whenever possible. Be open and respectful of their ways. You will be amazed at what you will learn. (All “tales” for another time).
It is in this far-away paradise that my crab of tale begins . . .
Hubby, Kiddo and I were spending a few days on the island of Mo’ore’a (meaning yellow lizard). It is one of the few islands that renting a car for more than a day made any sense. (Bora-Bora is worth a rental for a few hours of unaccompanied exploration, especially if you are staying on an outer motu. While there, be sure to dine at Bloody Mary’s).
During this particular visit, an unusual series of storms had hit the island and our stay there hadn’t gone as planned. Unlike visits to the island before (and after) this trip, each passing storm seemed to grow in intensity and linger longer than usual. Tropical storms are an everyday part of – well – the tropics, moving swiftly with a warm rain. During an early morning circle island boat tour, an unusually powerful storm hit, and even our experienced boat captain sought shelter within a narrow cove to ride things out. (These tour boats, for the most part, are open boats, with little or no cover, no “below deck” shelter and no life jackets to speak of. They are simple flat bottom boats – probably former fishing boats – with a few narrow rows of backless benches toward the bow and stern, and two longer benches running along the port and starboard sides. Not big on “comfort” but perfect for exploring). I was glad that the captain elected to seek shelter, having spent what seemed an eternity watching the turbulent sea just beyond the island’s natural seawall, and judging our distance to the safety of the shore. All the while I was calculating my ability to swim with Kiddo in tow and fearing the possibility of crashing against the razor-sharp coral below. When Hubby and I were alone later that day while Kiddo combed the beach for shells, he admitted making the same calculations with the same fears.
Unlike storms before, this storm did not simply move through. The rain and wind continued to hammer the island. Venturing out proved to be an adventure. The winds blew so hard that the ocean crashed over the natural coral seawall, causing the lagoon to swell. As the lagoon rose up streams of water washed across the road. Rainwater from the rugged island interior gave birth to a multitude of waterfalls in a mad rush to greet the rising lagoon. While the wind and rain were an inconvenience, the dark night was invitingly warm.
Hubby and I talked things over; and decided we weren’t about to let the rain put a damper on our plans for the evening. We had reservations to dine aboard the locally owned Linareva Floating Restaurant, “Le Bateau“. It was considered to be one of the most intriguing dining experiences on the island, serving exotic seafood entrees aboard a restored ferry once used to take passengers between Papeete and Mo’ore’a. We knew we had only two challenges ahead of us. The first was the drive from our bungalow to the opposite side of the island in the pouring rain. Hubby had driven in bad weather before, and we felt if we took things slow, it would be fine. The second was to take the long stroll down the slick wood plank dock in a storm to reach the restaurant, without being swept away. All part of the “adventure” – the wind and the rain.
We strapped Kiddo into the back seat of our rented Fiat and pulled out of a flooded, muddy parking lot onto the narrow, wet road to make the half-circle drive from our bungalow to Le Bateau. Coconut trees swag in the winds and the road seemed littered with coconut shells. The little car’s wipers were barely able kept up with the large drops of rain that obscured our vision. As we cautiously made our way down the dark, two lane road, every now and again something “odd” seemed to scurry across the road from the lagoon to the dense jungle. Whatever these scurrying creatures were, they were low to the ground and moved quickly, so quickly that you had to wonder if anything had been there at all or if your imagination and the storm were playing tricks on you.
“Did you see that?” Hubby asked, unsure as to what ‘that’ was.
“I think so.” I answered, straining to see out the front window.
As we took yet another twist in the road, something moved from the lagoon. This time Hubby stopped the car, high beams cutting through the blackness of the night. Caught in the bright light, the little “creature” came to a halt.
It was a crab. And not just any crab. This was the biggest, baddest crab I have ever seen, resting back on his hind legs, huge claws raised in a threatening demeanor, actually challenging our car for the right-of-way on the road. Without a second thought, I leaped from the car and ran toward the fearless crab, shouting and waiving my favorite straw hat. All I could think was that this crazy crab was going to get himself run over if someone didn’t do something. (I have also been known to stop for desert tortoises on open highways, scooping them up to carry them to safety. When I do, Hubby usually asks “Are you sure that’s the side of the road he wants to be on?”)
So there I was, in the pouring rain, waiving my hat about like a crazy person. Suddenly he lunged at me, grabbing my hat in the process. He clutched the hat over his body with his claw, actually “wearing” it if you will, and ran off. I watched for a moment in disbelief as he scurried sideways down into a shallow ditch and up the other side, disappearing from view into the dense overgrowth, still wearing my favorite straw hat. I flashed Hubby a look. Hubby gestured for me to stop playing with the crab and to get back into the car. That wasn’t an option. After all, the crab was wearing my favorite straw hat! So I did the only practical thing there was to do – I raced after him head-long into the dense overgrowth. Five minutes later, I emerged, a little tattered and scraped, very wet, with my hat pulled down over my head, the side torn from the tussle with the crab who had momentarily claimed my hat as his own.
“What were you doing?” Hubby asked as I slipped back into the car.
“I thought I would scare him off the road so he wouldn’t get run over.” I explained, shaking the water off me.
“He wasn’t afraid of the car, what on earth made you think your hat would scare him?” Hubby asked as we continued down the road, both of us laughing. I didn’t have an answer, but I had my hat.
I still have the hat. It’s my favorite “gardening” hat. And dinner was incredible! We bobbed about on the cozy floating restaurant and dined on some of the best French seafood I have ever tasted.
Look for my Crab Thermidor recipe in the near future. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little crab of a tale.