During my lifetime I have developed a taste for a variety of foods. I have enjoyed culinary delights of all types and different cultures. Seafood of various kinds have titillated my palate, and made love across a bed of my taste buds, Oysters have seductively danced around the maypole of my tonsils, and crayfish have found haven in the depths of my appreciative stomach. Now with those words, I set the scene for my forays into the larders of the oceans deep.
Somewhere back in 1988, I found myself as a deckhand on board the shark fishing boat The Rhonda Lee trawling out of the port of Bicheno Tasmania, this boat was a long line fishing boat; long line fishing is where a fishing line is run out for a many kilometres with smaller branches running off at intervals with baited hooks, these lines can run out up to a hundred kilometres in length, the lines were left out over a few hours, or a night, and reeled in to unload the catch, apart from the tedious task of baiting the hooks in laying the line, the crews task was also unhooking the catch. The catch was mainly shark of varying sizes, some extraordinary sizes included, we would find monster squid that were also kept, these squid would attach their tentacles and suction caps to our plastic wet weather gear, and take a lot to remove, leaving an inky black liquid stain. It was on one occasion I had my first taste of fresh shark, it was a fish lover’s dream, freshly caught, filleted and tantalisingly toasted in a frypan in butter, it was a taste that awoke all the senses, and will be long remembered in my diary of Unforgettable Tastes. I also learnt on that trip, that all shark must be checked for Mercury content before being sold, Mercury or not, that fish went down a treat.
My first introduction to tasting Turtle, was a survival course during my Army days in north Queensland back in the mid to late 70s, it was an SAS course to introduce us to survival, when all other means had been exhausted. Apart from Snake, Goanna, Lizards and birds, the sea Turtle was added to our survival larder. I won’t describe the ways of catching or preparing Turtle, or even its taste, suffice to say it was my once only taste of Turtle, never to be repeated but apparently a delicacy among the Indigenous people. Now I need to explain that certain sea creatures are banned from exploitation here in Australia, apart from the Turtle, the Dugong is also banned; the only exemptions are given to the Indigenous people as it is deemed part of their cultural foods. I again came across Turtle in late 1980s when I was attached to a Signal Squadron at Bamaga, CapeYorke peninsula Queensland, right up at that pointy tip of Australia. I can relate this time now, as the limit of secrecy has expired, the task was a base for a Signal Squadron to eavesdrop on what was going on in the Indonesian waters at that time, the members worked in shifts from air-conditioned converted shipping containers. I found I had plenty of free time on my hands, so one afternoon I took one of the land rovers and started exploring the dense bush tracks outside the small Indigenous town ship of Bamaga, on one such bush track the tropical rain-forest closed in and created a canopy, a wild Boar and her young raced across the track in front, their tusks demonstrating a formidable weapon, a lonely beautiful Cassowary was disturbed and took flight, her talons as long and sharp as a knife. After some time I came across what I was looking for, the remains of many deep sea Turtles, after they had been killed and prepared for consumption, the only parts remaining were the skulls and the shells, about a dozen in all lay strewn among the tropical shrubbery. It was no surprise to me as I fully appreciated the rights of the Indigenous to hunt these creatures, as they had for centuries, for food. I held one of the skulls in my hand and found it to be as large as a mans, it was bleached from years of exposure to the elements, and cleaned by the tropical ants, the shells were of varying sizes, some a few feet long and some well over a metre in length, I had seen similar in craft shops on display with varnished shells, these shells however were blackened all over from fire. I did take one skull from the site and donated it to my son’s primary school as an education talking point. I did end up seeing one of these great creatures in the wild, on another expedition up Far North Queensland, between Mission Beach and Dunk island, we had been testing out one of our sea craft when we saw the Turtles great fin rising from the water and slapping the water as she moved, we were so close that we could see the massive size of this lovely creature, her head fully extended, her huge eyes alert and her shell a beautiful dark brown, it was magical to see her move with such speed, a speed she cannot reach on land. So ends my Turtle adventures.
I want to introduce you to Picorocos, one of the most strangest and weirdest sea creatures I have ever come across, so weird that on first sight, I nicknamed him The Alien, that is the first thought that came to my mind, it was one afternoon when we were shopping in Santiago and were visiting a fresh fish market, now as an aside, Chile is a long narrow country, not very wide and has the Great Andes on one side and the Ocean on the other, seafood plays a large part in the diet of the Chileans, and the seafood is always fresh being from the cold waters from the Antarctic, and moved along by the Humboldt current, back to my story, I was browsing the array of stalls when a large collection of Coral attracted my attention, the clumps of Coral were barnacle encrusted and had a pipe type of extension protruding out, I saw nothing that indicated it was seafood, and then The Alien emerged, from the pipe opening this creature came forth, two large tusks were extended and inside the tusks were two feelers or tentacles, I was amazed, it moved its head around and then withdrew back down the pipe, a slight touch on the Coral around the pipe and it emerged again, it was fascinating to watch, at one stage all the pipes opened at the same time, weird and wonderful. We purchased a number as it was intended that I must try the various culinary recipes of my host country, I won’t go into the preparation details, nor can I describe the taste of these Aliens, I can’t equate its taste to anything similar. So ends my First Encounter with Picorocos, The Alien from the depths of Chile’s deepest darkest waters.
I leave you with some photographs of my Alien. and a video clip that will allow you to see him up close.