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Costa Rica - Central America
It wasn’t long before we spotted our first croc., or rather it spotted us, slithering down the muddy bank without a splash, speeding silently towards us like lighting. Not the best time to test the water temperature, I thought, or lean over the edge to take a picture, but having sniffed around, the creature treated us with utter contempt and vanished.
There were many more, scattered like dead wood along the shore, shifting now and then on their fat cumbersome bellies or gliding in the water, scaly backs floating like logs, perfectly camouflaged but eyes popping up here and there, filled with malice and anticipation. To no avail.
I turned my attention to more friendly residents. First, a rainbow toucan, also known as a ‘kill-bill bird’, but harmless enough perched on top of a flame tree, until you took a closer look through binoculars. Then, there were storks and little blue herons, sandpipers and turkey vultures, ospreys, orioles, ringed kingfishers, black fan-tailed grackles and scarlet macaws, the national birds, spreading their wings like a painter’s palette.
We did not speak, not even the young boy who’d seen it all before but like all Costa Ricans, he had been taught to appreciate and respect the natural world. Spindly branches and roots lay trapped in the shallows but our captain knew his way, veering right and left with the grace of a ballet dancer.
The Pacific glistened in the distance, with barely a ripple, and soon the sky turned all shades of pink and gold in the setting sun. There wasn’t another boat in sight. We turned into the mangrove where black and white swallows followed us in increasing numbers, feasting, to our delight, on the growing numbers of mosquitoes. Nature, it seemed, had got it right.
The captain switched off the engine and signalled to wait. Something passed through the air then the egrets arrived, hundreds of them, draping the foliage like myriad snowflakes under the tropical sky. They favoured the bank where trees came down to the water’s edge, rather than the other side where bushes had claimed the best spot. I rushed up and down the boat, bubbling with excitement, but not for long.
‘Stop,’ said the captain, ‘listen, howler monkeys’. And so it was, the raucous sound of a male, produced by the enlarged bone in his throat, calling the rest of the troop to rally round and roost for the night. They came one by one, from every direction, jet black, walking stealthily through the tree tops, answering the call in similar fashion, like someone with a mighty sore throat. It sent shivers down your spine and as the evening breeze swept across the estuary, the crocodiles began to stir, ready for the night hunt.
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