After showing us the bedrooms and giving us the WiFi password, Allison the owner mentioned casually that a crocodile lived in the pond in the backyard, and that we might get a glimpse if we were lucky, especially if we went out at night or were to continue reading on the terrace during a hot afternoon when it came out to sunbathe. Then more talk about where to find the towels, and how there was no hot water. I’m honestly not sure what else she said, because I promptly stopped listening to all of her non-herpetological jibber jabber. Thoughts of Crocodylus acutus were consuming my imagination, and the spectre of an animal in the backyard that could literally consume me was too much. I had to get out there.
Moments later, we hurried down the steps and headed for the pond, a small impoundment where Jorge, the patriarch of the family, raised shrimp and baitfish for his forays into the mangroves. The crocodile had taken up residence here and feasted on the easy pickings. As we neared the pond, the family’s pack of dogs, a motley and raucous crew of ten or so pitbulls, schnauzers and combinations thereof, raced ahead to prove their mettle to us and to each other.
As the pack hit the far end of the pond, the Schnauzer veered left, taking aim at a giant green iguana, but the lizard was too quick – it made a lightning fast leap directly over the bank and into the water, narrowly escaping the dog’s wrath.
The wrath it did not escape, however, was the crocodile’s. No sooner had the smaller lizard dipped his toes (or perhaps he was still mid air, I can’t rightly say), than his mighty cousin, a two meter long dinosaur laying in wait, erupted forth from the murk and devoured the flying iguana. The crocodile’s upward motion was an explosion, but the descent was gentle and calm, a brief swallowing of his mid day snack, and then back into the dark water, hidden away again. We called the Schnauzer back from the edge of the pond where he stood barking at the thief who had stolen his quarry.
When we made our plans to spend the winter in Costa Rica, invariably we heard that it had “been found” and that it was nothing but tourists. Beautiful scenery, of course, but tame – that was the implication. Traveling with a three year old, and requiring consistent internet and electricity to work, we were willing to make the sacrifice of deep wilderness and danger given our situation. And then we came to Isla Damas, an island bounded by a maze of rivers and estuaries and looking out on the wide Pacific. And our few days spent with the crocodile and the other denizens of this island world were far from tame. It was a land cut off by, and in many ways saved by, its boundaries of dark water.
To enter the island, we meandered through a few rough streets and made small talk with a few rough men, and then abuelo Miguel drove onto a single car ferry, down a steep ramp and across a few meager planks placed just so. As we pushed off I set Finn in the passenger seat, but the young ferryman named Jarrin advised me that I should keep him outside the car, as it’s much safer there were the boat to sink. “Yo tengo hijo, tambien,” he told me.
A well oiled machine: simultaneously telling Mike to stop and go….
We made it across the wide river afloat and into the rough little village of Cocal, a vibrant place, but not a place that’s high on my list to spend an evening after nightfall. The tourism boom of Costa Rica had not yet made it here. We then followed Allison for a drive of a few miles down the deserted beach and then up into the jungle where our lodging, and the crocodile, awaited.
That night we watched a local fisherman catch a snook on a handline, and we tried and failed casting to some ourselves. Expensive rods and reels were no match for slug of lead, a live sardine, and a lifetime of experience catching fish to feed your family. This island, its inhabitants, and its wildness sunk quickly into our bones and we could feel that we were beyond the limits of the tame Costa Rica experience. It was the pinnacle, thus far, of our trip seeking out far off places and ends of the road.
More to come on Isla Damas in the coming days…