Flying Mantas

(Written May 2)

I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to some of the more bizarre aspects of life here.  Like accidentally punting large toads on my way to the bathroom at night.  Or seeing lizards run across water literally every day.  I forget what it’s like to see things like this for the first time, and when visitors act surprised at a simple frog or crab, I shrug and move along.  I have become what I hate most:  someone spoiled for rich biodiversity.

But every now and then I see something new, something ordinary to the locals here, and it blows me away.  For example: today we saw manta rays jumping.

IMG_0744

 

This.

It’s not easy to express just how weird this was.  For one, these things were big, and were launching themselves over a meter out of the water in twos and threes, waving their fins like birds flapping before coming down with a loud smack.  But mostly, it was weird because my mind has no frame of reference for a manta ray.  Science tells us that they are fish.  OK, I can buy that.  But they don’t look like fish.  Look at a fish, and you can tell it’s an animal.  It’s got a face, and limbs.  But a manta ray?  It looks like an animated kite.  Like a rubber mat with a tail.  It had no discernible features.  It’s body is all curves and sharp angles.  It’s smooth, glossy black and white.

That’s what made the experience so otherworldly.  Not only were we seeing a strange animal doing something cool, we couldn’t even believe that they were animals.  We just couldn’t comprehend it.

At least, I couldn’t.  The locals just shrugged and moved along.  They’d seen all this before.

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