Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Crabbing and crab dinner


While in Banggi a while ago I had the chance to go crab hunting. It all started when Jai, one of the supervisors of the seaweed farms said,

“Eh, semalam kami semua makan ketam, dapat lebih daripada 50”
(Eh, the previous night we were dining on crabs, we caught more than 50)

I replied,

“Wah banyak tu, di mana kau dapat, ada jual dekat sini ke?”
(Wah that’s a lot, where did you get them, are they sold nearby?)

He said,

“Tiadalah, tangkap sahaja di sini, mahu cuba?”
(No lah, we just caught them nearby here, want a try?)

So that was how I got involved in a two hour long trek in the mudflats near shore, hunting for flower crabs. We set out near dinner time around 7 p.m. as the sun was just setting on the horizon and the crabs prepare to come out of their holes to feed and mate. Another student, Liew from UMS was tagging along and we took two small wooden sampans to hold the little critters in as we waded the shallows from our platform hut in the middle of the sea and slowly swept the surrounding waters for the hard shelled crustaceans. Jai said they were easily visible as they are most often lying in the open and only when startled would they bolt and try to conceal themselves in the sandy substrate. Armed with a flashlight we went ahead.

The first half an hour was quite disappointing as we did not spot any of the elusive creatures and all the slogging with water reaching our ankles was tiring. We joked that they had already cleaned out the nearby area with their feasting the previous night. But our luck soon changed as we spotted a greenish shape scuttling in the water. Jai showed us the proper technique to catch them, often the crabs have the ostrich complex, thinking their camouflage so perfect that they won’t even move an inch even if you put your hand ever closer. Jai slowly encircled the target, with hands wide open he slowly went behind it and clasped with his fingers on the top and bottom of the crab thus rendering it immobile as he scooped the agitated creature up, hands safe from the menacing claws flaying in frustrations of not finding juicy fingers to pinch. Small crabs are easy while the larger ones were trickier, forcing the need to use an object, usually a parang to hold them down before proceeding with the capture.

Soon we were seeing signs of more, we hit the jackpot as we chanced upon a nest of mating crabs, they were on each other thus we had the bounty of capturing two in a go. The first time I tried the critter was quite a large specimen and as I pinched it’s shell somehow it managed to extend it’s claw back and pinched hard onto my finger. Man was it painful, it was not relenting in letting go and efforts to pry it off met with only a harder grip to my agony. In the end we had to break the claw and yet it was still clamped on. Suffering a minor puncture with some blood oozing out, I learnt my lesson and soon the rest was not too hard to capture. Our boat was quickly filling with flower crabs as we progressed.

It was serene, wading with the water cooling our legs, the stillness of the mangroves broken by the hum of insects and night creatures, the tide slowly receeding out to sea. Looking around all was dark, it was a waning moon and soon the comforting illumination from the hut was getting farther and farther as we went on. In the middle of the darkness, looking up caused us to gasp as the whole sky was blanketed by what seems like an impossible amount of stars, a sight that the city’s light pollution would diminish but not here. Another surprise I saw was when I looked down, as we moved and our slippers disturbed the muddy soil, our footsteps were highlighted with the faint blue fluorescent glow which lasted but a few seconds as darkness soon envelops them. I figured out later that they might be bioluminescence bacteria that reacted as we disturbed the soil and exposed them to air. We walked like ethereal beings, an ever fading blue trail behind us marking our path in the dark.


Thus we went, spotting the scuttlers, pining down the crabs, tossing them into the boat and moving on. When we headed back our sampan was filled to the brim with scuttling shells. On the way we encountered various denizens of the swamp. A moment scare was when we saw a sea snake heading our way, the fact was we had nowhere to run, we were in the middle of the sea without much dry land in sight and here was one of the most poisonous creatures of the ocean making a beeline for us. I never really thought of any danger when I first embarked but going back my nerves was on edged when I recalled how many stinging, biting, toxic and generally dangerous critters there could be out there. We managed to avoid the snake, we gave it as much way as we can and soon it headed out back to sea to our relief, if we were bitten we were miles away from any hospital and the venom needs only a relatively short stint to render one dead. My friend wasn’t too lucky though as along the way he had a brush with several miniature jellyfish that stung him, he said they were like flaming ant bites which left red welts on his leg. We did see several of the larger varieties but we could avoid those, thankfully.


When we got back it was already near 9. We haven’t had dinner and were starving from the exertion we had. It was fun and a few minutes before reaching the hut we saw a huge crab, Jai managed to grab it, joking that this was the one the boss is going to have but when we got back it managed to get away and all we had left was one of its claw, so much for a feast. When we sorted the crabs we found we had nearly 10 kgs of it of which market value would be a lot. Half Jai prepared by steaming in salt water while the rest he fried in oil. We had a feast tucking in the sweet meat, though they were small, the quantity made up for individual lack and it was good. We ate till past midnight and even then there were leftovers which the other workers tucked away in the morning. We were so sated and belly filled that we just popped asleep on the open air platform with a cool westerly breeze blowing, better than any air conditioning out there. It was a nice experience, I caught crabs and one caught me, we got a few stings and bruises but we had our revenge as they ended up as dinner, I believe that not many people would have this experience and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


Applegal said...

Wow, now that's one cool experience, though I think I can do without the crab pinch ^_^

Kervin said...

Hehe you should try it, getting pinched makes the revenge in eating the bugger all the more sweeter XD Slurp :p