Monday, March 30, 2009

A Three-Shower Day

Showering at the end of the day is one of the great pleasures of adventure travel. You rinse off the grime and sweat of the day's activities and emerge clean again.

On particularly good days, you do this twice, once to recover from the morning's activities and then again to recover from the afternoon's.

But the best days require three showers. Such was our second day at Aldabra.

Hitting the Beach

The day began with a pre-dawn beach landing. The tide was so low that the Zodiacs couldn't make it to the beach, so we had to offload on a sandbar covered with reef rubble and walk (in the dark) to a second Zodiac to get to shore.

On landing, we found something we've always wanted to see: a female green sea turtle digging her nest. But it was bittersweet to see her; she was clearly having problems. Dawn was breaking, and she hadn't even begun laying her eggs. As the sun rose higher, she gave up and headed back into the sea, to try again another night. Apparently it's not uncommon for them to try several times before succeeding.

About a hundred meters down the beach, we found further evidence of the challenges of turtle reproduction. Crabs were feasting on eggs from a recent turtle nest.

The tortoises were a bit harder to spot this early in the morning. It's not that they moved; as best we could tell, they just lay down wherever they happened to be when sleep hit them. But moving tortoises are much easier to see than immobile lumps.

Lots of birds as well, with particularly good looks at the Blue Pigeon and another Coucal. The sun was already very hot by 7:30 (this is deep in the tropics), so we headed back to the boat for a pre-breakfast shower.

Drift Snorkeling

Activity number two was a drift snorkel. Aldabra, the second largest atoll in the world, houses an enormous lagoon whose waters rise and fall with the tides. As the tide rose in late morning, the Zodiac would drop us on the ocean side of the channel, and the incoming tide would carry us into the lagoon. Once it got too shallow, the Zodiac would pick us up and we'd do it again.

This is a great snorkeling strategy for at least three reasons. First, it's easy to cover a lot of territory. Second, the incoming tide brings clear water into the lagoon; visibility is much better than you would find doing a drift snorkel on the outgoing tide. Third, and most important, we weren't the only ones coming in with the tide. Predators came in as well, as the rising tide allowed them to reach the smaller fish, crabs, etc. that live in the lagoon. We saw large sweetlips, snappers, groupers, eagle rays, sting rays, a pair of sharks, a sea turtle, and legions of colorful fish.

Touring the Lagoon

After lunch (and a second shower), we emerged for the final activity of the day: a lagoon tour by Zodiac. The lagoon contains fascinating coral formations called champignons (that's French for mushrooms). You can see why.

The mangroves in the lagoon played host to many roosting Red-footed Boobies and their nemesis, the Great Frigatebirds (who make their living stealing fish from boobies). There were lots of other birds as well -- tropicbirds, terns, herons, egrets, etc. And a great view of lagoon fish, many of which we had snorkeled with earlier.

After baking in the 100 degree heat for several hours, we certainly need one last shower.

P.S. Our Aldabra adventure ended with a slightly gross image, but one that illustrates well the richness of the environment here. As the tide fell, our Zodiacs had to leave the lagoon, lest we be stranded by the falling water. As we zipped through the channel, we could see floating mats of material that the tide had brought out from the lagoon: rafts of tortoise dung.

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