Devil in disguise

This post is also available in: Dutch.

Instead of us offering them a bribe, these men offered us lunch.

Instead of us offering them a bribe, these men offered us lunch.

Three years ago, when on a six months cycling trip from Europe to China, a good friend and me rode into the small town of Murghab, located in the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. Travelers in the Pamirs mountains need a permit which is checked multiple times along the way. As a tourist in the area it is often pointed out that you might need to bribe one or two officials to get past those checkpoints. There are plenty of stories to go around about how permits are suddenly declared invalid, a problem that, in the middle of nowhere, is only to be solved with a bribe. As we cycled into Murghab, we passed one of those checkpoints, and thus we pulled out are passports and permits. A grumpy looking man took our papers and brought them into a crumbling little building that passed for an office. Five minutes later he returned, looking even grumpier and without our papers. He gestured us to come in and we didn’t think twice to conclude that soon we would have our very own corruption story. Upon entering the ‘office’ we found about five more men sitting around small table. We were gestured to sit down and nervously we did. Then we were suddenly handed back our passports with a large smile and a plate of food was brought to the table. It became clear to us what was happening; we weren’t about to be victims of corruption, we were being invited to lunch.

The moral of that little story; things aren’t always what they seem. We got lucky; we mistook something beautiful for something ugly and were pleasantly surprised in the end. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the other way around.

Lion fish

Lion fish at the Cas Abou reef.

Lion fish at the Cas Abou reef.

One of Curaçao’s water newest and most infamous inhabitants is the lion fish. The fish itself is a true beauty, looking like it is dressed in a permanent carnival’s costume. It is no wonder it is favorite on the pictures of tourists who dive on the reefs. At first sight, the lion fish is great. But things aren’t always what they seem, remember? It also happens to be one of the island’s most invasive species; a species that doesn’t naturally belong on Curaçao’s reefs and is now upsetting the fragile ecosystem. You see, the lion fish eats everything it can fit in its mouth, as pack hunters they are very successful killers, they reproduce alarmingly fast and because they don’t belong here, they don’t have any natural predators (although in certain Caribbean waters, snappers might be getting a taste for them, which is a wonderful development), meaning that they out-live all other species in the area. The invasion of the lion fish was basically a hostile takeover of the reef, entering the habitat on top of the food chain and massacring all those who cross its path. And these fish are clever too. Hunting lion fish is legal and encouraged on Curaçao, but now it appears that on islands, where lion fish hunting is even better organized than on our island, these fish they have adapted to being night time hunters within no time , making them much harder to hunt down. Yes the lion fish is a true beauty, and a devil in disguise. Or, to pull out one of the island’s clichés, a real pirate of the Caribbean.

Always think twice

When things aren’t what they seem, it can go two ways. We got lucky in Murghab, enjoying a lovely lunch instead of paying off someone in the middle of nowhere. Curaçao got unlucky, with a carnival party fish that turned out to be a merciless villain. Here’s another moral for you: always think twice.