Oman - Scoop and fling. The Omani turtle ranger twists his right hand and tosses the sand behind him. He's crouching low, his nose almost touching the ground. With solemn dignity he reaches out and burrows with his left hand to enlarge the hollow.
Scoop and fling. Behind us the sun has long since set, replaced in the sky by a pale crescent moon. The sound of ocean waves lazily falling against the shore permeates the chilly desert night air. The circle of spectators presses closer to watch the ranger continue his turtle hole digging demonstration. Scoop and fling.
My companion and I have driven 300 kilometres south of Muscat, through parched desert and dusty villages. We've passed lofty date palms, waved at ruffled school children and honked at camels. We've even managed to get the compact-class front- wheel-drive rental car stuck in a sand dune at least 5 centimetres high if measured at its crest.
At last, we've arrived at that protected stretch of golden sand where we're greeted by the turtle ranger in his bleached white dishdasha robes.
We haven't seen a single turtle yet, but we've witnessed the best darn reptile impersonator on this side of the Indian Ocean. Scoop and fling.
The ranger stands and, after cautioning us sternly about loud noises and bright lights, leads us toward the shoreline. His flashlight barely gives off a dull glow, so his flowing gown becomes our guide. Suddenly, he stops. He stands silent for a minute. Then he makes us all sit in the sand while he bounds off into the night.
He appears again without a word and motions us to follow. We creep forward. The beach is covered with large craters that can be dangerous traps for those without flashlights. Again the ranger stops. This time he takes us forward in small groups. Our turn comes, and we follow his swirl of white cloth.
We approach one of the craters. Strange tracks like a giant tractor tire lead from the lapping waves up to the rim of the hole. Something is moving in it, something very large. We peer over the edge and catch sight of our first turtle. It's magnificent.
The turtle looks up at us with baleful eyes. Massive, meaty and leathery, it looks out of place on the beach. The ranger lifts its hind flipper and we catch a glimpse of a pit filled with soft, round, glistening eggs.
The turtle rests a moment after laying its last one. Then, with a momentous effort, it lifts itself forward. There it stops. The turtle stretches its right flipper forward, scoops the sand and flings it backwards to cover the precious eggs.
Scoop and fling, scoop and fling.