Anyone who knows me well would know that nothing rarely excites me more than the prospect of spending time with some little four-legged creatures.
So on a day-trip to Prison Island, which is about an hour by boat (if you can call that pile of wood a boat) from Stone Town, I looked forward to visiting the tortoise sanctuary. A boat named “Desire” deposited us on Prison Island.
The beach was lovely – cool cobalt-blue water that gently lapped up to fine creamy sand. However, it was close to noon and the blazing sun was soon burning me to a crisp.
Prison Island is home to the endangered Aldabra Giant Tortoise. I entered the tortoise sanctuary and was immediately glad for the cool shade the numerous trees afforded me. I soon forgot about the heat. I was so taken in with the sheer number of these gentle and sociable creatures.
There were tortoises everywhere – grey lumps that moved lethargically sometimes but remained stationary for the most part. The smaller babies were quickly grabbed for pictures.
“Do not sit on the tortoise,” a sign announced at the entrance. I could see how people could sit on these great big mounds – either accidentally, mistaking them for a rock, or intentionally because of the novelty.
I sauntered around, curiously watching the tortoises. Some were eating, some were sleeping, some were contemplating moving and a few were copulating (it is breeding season). Their ages were painted on their shells. The old lady of the house is a 189 years old – which is only middle age for these fascinating shelled beings.
I sat down on a stone bench to rest. I suddenly noticed a 28-year-old tortoise taking a keen interest in me from about six or seven feet away. Did I look like spinach? Did he fancy Chanel's Chance? With a curiously intent expression in his eyes, he moved at an astonishingly rapid pace and made a beeline for me. He plodded up and sniffed my foot before looking up at me.
We had a moment. A long moment. I was entranced. I patted his head, stroked his neck and tickled his chin. He gazed up at me adoringly and I was mesmerized.
And then he yawned, his enjoyment evident on his amused crinkled face.
After a good five minutes or so,as more people gathered around, he slowly moved away, possibly to compare notes with another comrade. The two of them soon seemed engrossed in deep contemplation with their heads banded together.
As I left, I silently thanked that tortoise for according me such a remarkable moment. True, it was a simple moment. Nondescript even. With a grey and wrinkled tortoise.
Life gives you many special moments. But how many of those come ensconced in a tortoise shell?