I like to fish....but....
Last time I spoke with you, I was talking about the morning visit to meet Qinchenshan's Pandas. This time I am going to relay the story of the afternoon's visit to the Cerealia Caviar Sturgeon farm.
Lying among the beautiful mountains of Dujiangyan the concrete fish pens funnel through fresh and oxygen rich ice melt water, perfect conditions for the Sturgeon that lurk below. To say Sturgeon are an ancient animal could be a slight understatement. Their evolution dates back some 240 million years, all the way back to the Triassic period. Having hardly changed as found from early fossil records, they have proved to be perfectly designed to survive. Only now, thanks to humans and harvesting of Sturgeon eggs for caviar in the wild have they become endangered. Farms such as this one are countering the need to catch and harvest wild fish, producing a very high quality caviar which is distributed all around the world to grace the tables of connoisseurs of this luxury delicacy.
Personally I am not the biggest fan of caviar, it just doesn't do it for me. I don't hate it, but like my wife with scallops, I feel those who appreciate it more should enjoy it. Having said that, I was lead to believe there would be an opportunity to actually try the fish itself, and that it really is very delicious. Similar to Sharks, Sturgeon do not have bones as such, instead they are all muscle around a cartilage like frame. The skin is smooth and scale free, armoured with hard plates with sharp edges along the sides and back, this teamed with their sheer scale, growing on average to 7-12 feet in length protects them from predators. The largest Sturgeon on record was a Beluga female captured in 1827, she weighed over 1500kg and measured a whopping 24ft!
After the fun Panda morning, I was looking forward to this amazing lunch, as ever though I got a different surprise, and treat. The surprise was not just for me though, it was for my friend and guide Olaf (Guest Experience Manager at The Six Senses Resort and Spa Qingchenshan). We were not offered the Sturgeon lunch, instead we were offered a chance to get in the water with these beasts and give them a hug. Well I thought that sounded like a splendid idea, Olaf on the other hand, having watched Jaws the night before was a little less enthusiastic.
This life experience was only given to us as they were purging the tanks and refreshing the water for the fish. As you can see the water level was drained, this meant the fish were much more concentrated in the couple of feet depth that was left. This level of concentration didn't do Olaf any favours, neither did my teasing as I gladly got into the cool water on the hot and sunny day. The fish are very solid as you can imagine, I tried to gently move through the water, almost stumbling as they brushed and banged unseen against my legs.
Snow (the lovely lady in the water already) was as amused as I was with Olaf's reluctance, but eventually we got him in and his fears were all but allayed.
I have fished on an off for most of my life and am quite used to handling them. I also am a fully trained rescue diver and enjoy seeing them in their natural environment. These guys were something different though. Bumping your leg into them felt a bit like trying to push a reluctant horse, they were slow most of the time and wonderfully docile. Maybe it is because the species has been around for so many millennia they have become super chilled out. Snow showed us how to give them a hug, I kind of knew it was best to not grab them, but to be gentle, calm, slow and deliberate so the fish didn't feel threatened.
I am not sure how much experience with fish Olaf has had, but they kept slipping through his arms with a splash.
My advice in English was echoed by Snow in Chinese "handle them gently and with care, like a woman...haha."
Having seen Olaf find success, I handed my camera to our driver and went back to greet the fish properly and have a closer look at what beautiful creatures they really are.
The sunlight hitting the fish made it shine golden, you can really see the platelets along the flanks of the fish and its whiskers which help it hunt out it's food in the heavily coloured water, what a beautiful animal.
Finally it was time for all three of us to have our photo opportunity, or should I say four.
I am not sure how much the fish enjoyed that, but as you can see it was smiles all around for Snow, Olaf and I. I for one loved the chance to get in and see a Sturgeon up close an personal, what a great and graceful animal.
For me it is experiences like this that make travel so exciting, working hard has given me the privilege to shoot for Nat Geo Traveller UK, and have these experiences. Life has taught me to generally say yes when an opportunity such as this is presented. How many times in life will a person get to hug a Sturgeon after all, and share that experience with such lovely people, not to mention one from China, one from Germany and me from England. Wonderful.
I am going to continue with my China assignment, however I feel my next blog may be on a different subject, one that I have been thinking over for a couple of days now. That will wait, so for now I hope that you enjoyed the tale of this little adventure with the beasts beneath.
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Until next time love to all....