Wandering Thoughts

December 6, 2008

Gator!

Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 1:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

For the first time in almost five years, as the four-wheeled drive taxi stumbled along the track out of Liberia, I felt a sense of home. It stemmed from nothing much; just the colour contrast of the thirsty brown hills and the midday-blue, wind-ruffled sea. If you go surfing in the Wairarapa in summer sometimes the colours you see, winding your way down hills on gravel roads, are almost the same.wavesmall

The feeling came from nothing much and it didn’t last long. Pretty soon the fauna of north-western Costa Rica were doing their best to remind me that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t home.

My first night in the campground descended into an escalating battle of wits between me and the local mapache (a type of raccoon). They expressed interest in my bag of food. I hung it out along a rope between two trees. They climbed along the rope. I tied another rope to the first so that my food hung in mid-air between the trees. They began to clamber down. I moved the food into the tent with me and spent the night cuddling it. Several apples still went missing…

The next day I met the Army ants. A metre wide column of them crossing the nature trail I was walking on. Like an angry and dangerous queue they seethed forwards while nature did it’s best to get out of the way. All around small insects hopped, flapped and fled. And plenty didn’t make it. It was grim to watch but fascinating in a macabre way: an insect would be overtaken, and swallowed under a mass of ants, it’ struggles would cease and it would be maneuvered back down the column.

Later, having leapt over the ants and continued with my walk I met the monkeys. From high in the trees a whole gang of them watched as I passed underneath. First with sullen suspicious silence, then with jeering hoots, they let me know they weren’t so keen to have me there. I retreated back towards the camp.

In the mornings, as I walked down the beach to surf, I’d stumble across straggling baby turtles, still trying to make it out to sea. One evening playing cards, they guy next to me discovered a large scorpion climbing up his leg. I found a dead sea snake on the beach.

I’d been there just about a week when it really happened, though. I’d surfed ’til dusk in small waves, the tide was unusually high, and the sea had washed in to meet the lagoon. What used to be a sand spit was now covered in shallow water. And as the sun set I waded along this towards the beach proper. The warm tropical air was full of salt and colour and I was half lost in day-dreams.

The alligator can’t have been more than three meters away when it reared out of the water. I saw its jaws, its head, its front half, rise up, then splash down, then disappear.

Guided completely by the second bit of my fight-or-flight mechanism I turned (I had been walking straight towards the creature) and ran. In an attempt to get more speed from my legs I also began to holler: “aaaaaarrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh”.

The noise sustained my sprint almost all the way to the sand dunes, where eventually I stopped. Needless to say there was no alligator behind me. Indeed, amapachesmalls I turned I could see it, no more than six feet long, swimming out to sea at speed, performing, I’m sure, the alligator equivalent of the same mad dash I’d just undertaken.

Whatever else you might say about the Wairarapa, you won’t meet too many aligators there. At least not in this geological epoch.

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