It’s the beginning of the rainy season and I’m relaxing in a hammock at my favorite little beachside haunt on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. A couple of friends are sitting nearby. We’re just hanging out and talking when someone mentions something about crabs.
Crabs being one of my favorite seafood delights, I perk up. “Crabs, where? What kind of crabs?” I ask. They explain that it’s crabbing season in the mangroves. Curious, I start probing for more information. For example, how does one get to the mangroves? How big are the crabs? How do you catch them?
I can tell they are catching on to my plan—this gringa wants to learn how to go crabbing. Now, this activity in Guatemala isn’t something that most women do — it is mostly a “man’s job.” It involves mud, tides and mosquitoes, not to mention feisty crabs that pinch! As we discussed plans for the next day’s crabbing excursion, the guys were still trying to talk me out of it. “You’re sure you want to do this? … You know, there is a lot of mud. … It’s really hot and there are mosquitoes. …” Well, yes, I know, and I can deal, I replied with a smile.
And there we were the next morning, rounding up gloves, hats, long-sleeve T-shirts and rubber boots. We loaded into the tiny wooden canoes, which are used to navigate the mangroves, and proceeded to learn the in’s and out’s of crabbing as Carlos paddled us to our destination.
“Now, you have to grab them here so that they don’t get pinched,” he explained to me, showing how to put their big front claw down and grab them correctly. I was getting a little nervous.
We arrived at the secret crabbing hot spot and hopped out of the boat onto a muddy trail, which luckily still existed due to low tide. Then we grabbed our bags and headed out. Just walking was difficult as my rubber boats were about two sizes too big and I was sliding around in them and getting sucked into the mud, trying to watch out for mangrove roots along the way.
Suddenly, Carlos was off and running and I saw it: a big purple crab on the muddy surface. Before that crab knew what hit him, Carlos grabbed it (using proper technique, I might add) and had it in the bag. Wow—that’s it?
My only challenge in this whole affair was the running. Since my boots were huge, picking up speed through the mud and muck was difficult. Suddenly, it was my turn. Carlos started yelling and pointing for me to go for one that he had spotted close by. As I ran over to it, the crab started waving its claws at me, threatening a mighty pinch should I make a mistake grabbing it.
Luckily, I was wearing gloves but oh how such a little creature can inspire fear. I think I let out a little yelp as I quickly made the grab, heart pounding with excitement. Yes, I did it! I had him! Into the bag he went. Now, where do I find more? Adrenaline was coursing through my veins and I was ready to fill my bag with these tasty little crustaceans.
After two hours we each proceeded to make a nice haul, Carlos, of course, catching far more than me because of speed and experience, but I didn’t do too poorly. Soon I noticed that what had once been mud where we were standing now looked a river thick with mangroves. The tide was coming in and I couldn’t see the ground—time to get out.
Thankfully I was with a local like Carlos because those mangroves are a maze and it would have been easy to get lost. However, we made it out and rinsed the mud off our crabs, got them in the boat and were heading back home to boil up some lunch. And there is nothing more satisfying than tucking into a meal that you were actively involved in obtaining—delish!