The Crab Spider

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I wrote this nearly a year ago after a trip to the less-than-spectacular Mui Ne on Vietnam’s southern coast. I never published, perhaps because I was ashamed of my juvenile and little-white-girl-lost reaction to a completely harmless part of Mui Ne’s seafaring wildlife, or perhaps because I never brought myself to take a photo of the thing. Nevertheless, here is a strange but hopefully amusing retelling of the harrowing tale. 


We started on a bus at 7am, and I was only two days off of a 20 hour plane ride from the United States. We made the plan to go a day in advance – without a booked hotel – and woke up the next morning wondering why we decided the 7am bus was the best idea.

Mui Ne is a funny little place. The beach, like a lot of Vietnam, is littered with the weirdest trash collection of trash you’d find anywhere. Plastic bags and flip flops mingle with coconuts with holes in them and the straws that sucked them dry. The cleanest parts of the beach are owned by hotels and resorts, who hire wirey old men with small-man complexes as “security guards” to kick off anybody without a platinum Visa. It’s an amusing appearance they have, with pressed blue button-ups and official looking blue pants and thick belts – and they’re barefoot, with their matching blue and encrusted hats tipped precariously off to the side.

Regardless, the group I was with was 80% foreign, with the other 20% eager to pretend to be Cambodian. We ignored them, feigning an impenetrable language barrier, as they strut up to us, planted their feet an apparently intimidating shoulders’ width apart, and stared. They rattled off while wagging a crooked finger in our direction, throwing around English words of arbitrary things you’d find or do on a beach.

“Sand! No! Swim! No swim! Go! Bikini!”

The effort was fruitless. We had planted our butts on our makeshift towels made of our recently shed shirts, and we weren’t going anywhere.

After the security guards had scuffled away, bored of trying to shoo us along, three of us waded out into the water. Along the surface the trash was only slightly less abundant. Plastic bags wobbled like ghosts in the waves, and the shells of coconuts inched toward us. We picked one up, threw it back, and watched it sail through the air and come down with a heavy “thump”. It came back, slowly, wiggling toward us inch by inch with each wave, and we threw it back again with another “thump”.

The creature emerges…

Our focus was on the coconut, this time right in front of me, just out of arms reach. Behind me were two girls, both who were looking toward the coconut, waiting for another wave. I reached forward, nearly there, my toes grazing the sand on the sea floor, when one of them screamed and flung herself forward toward me, the ripple pushing the coconut out of reach.

I swung around to see her grabbing at her back and scanning the water with wide eyes. “What?! What is it?” I froze, waiting.

And just as another surge of water pushed my heels deeper into the sand, I saw it: a wriggling, spider-like creature lounging on top of the water, terrifyingly immune to sinking and swimming toward me at horrifying speed. As quickly as it paddled it’s hairy legs in no direction in particular, I flew back out of the water, clinging to my waterlogged swimsuit that tried staying in the water without me, and went darting up the beach yelling, “WHAT IS THAT THING?!”

Still clinging to my loosening bikini top, strands of soaking wet hair twisted in my eyelashes and panting as if I’d narrowing escaped a near-death experience, I looked around behind me to see a group of sunbathing Russian tourists staring at me, confused. A few pulled their sunglasses down to get a better look at me, disheveled and clearly having just had a close encounter with a shark.

A slight overreaction… 

Turns out, it was a tiny crab that are common in that part of Mui Ne. They do little more than ride the waves and terrify unsuspecting visitors with their six eyes and menacing likeness to a really ugly spider. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon planted on the beach, unwilling to tread back into the water regardless of the heat.

And, like most of my experiences in Vietnam do, I learned an important lesson. The crab-spider illuminated a part of my personality that I hadn’t yet truly come to grasp — and, in all of thirty seconds, the crab spider forced me to come to the conclusion that a lifelong dream, one I’d held since childhood and spent plenty of time daydreaming about, was crushed. Destroyed. Completely impossible.

Never would I ever be a wildlife photographer.


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