At first glance it may not seem that big but you can check it to scale with a standard Marlboro Light cigarette next to it. I am totally fascinated by shells. It is just one of those small things in life that remind me how intricate and unique our planet is. A shell is the simplest example of how old this planet is and how time and nature effortlessly shape the world we live in, patiently and without judgment, reservation, or expectation. It may seem silly but it is little things like this that help me regain my centre.
Upon closer inspection I saw that this was not a snail, but in fact a very large hermit crab. I remember when I was growing up in Ghana, the family would head out every once in a while to a secluded beach on Cape Coast called Birwa. This is before the coast was developed into a tourist hub and littered with hotels, restaurants, and bars. In a group of about 20 or more people, traveling in convoy, parents and kids, we spent the nights camped out by a bonfire and the days barbecuing and swimming in the ocean. Those were some of the fondest memories of my childhood, spending time with my brothers and sisters, growing up, learning and discovering new things together.
The claw of the crab is clearly visible and you can see how big the bastard really is. If I pissed him off I am sure he could nip my finger hard enough to draw some blood. How many shells did this guy move through as he grew, moving from home to home before settling in this one? And he was pretty far up from the beach so he must be quite an explorer, carrying his shelter on his back. Was it just the instinctive need tom procreate that helped to survive thing and travel this far away from the ocean he was so used to, or was there some other deeper search?
On Birwa we discovered a calm pool some 200 yards down the beach from where we camped. It was an area about 30 feet in diameter surrounded by rocks that prevented the waves from stirring up the sand. This area was filled with little hermit crabs. There must have been more than a hundred of them, all in unique shells. I had never seen of a hermit crab before then and they fascinated me from the get go. We called this place ‘Hermit Crab Island’ and it was our little secret. We played with the crabs, named some of them, and even had races. Until I came across this bugger by chance in Mombassa I had not realized how big hermit crabs can get. And as they get older I can imagine it gets harder to find shells large enough to fit their growing bodies. But this guy managed. As did we.