Crocodile Hunting

4 August

On Sunday we did hire a canoe from the Lodge, as we couldn’t wait any longer for a boat. Apart from the torrential shower that fell just after we got into the lagoon (we went ashore again and waited for 25 minutes till it passed) we spent the most magical of hours drifting quietly along the creek.

Try to imagine:
Picture yourself
On a boat
On a river
With tangerine trees
And marmalade skies
Suddenly something is standing before you
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes…

Well, it wasn’t Lucy, or LSD for that matter, but it was magical!

No doubt in the dry season, this is a sandy pathway running for a couple of miles along the edge of the mud/sand flats. But right now, it is a creek. We are seated in a canoe, still ever-hopeful to see a croc or at least a turtle, both of which need to sun themselves to keep their reptilian bodies happy. The sudden torrential downpour which has just ceased will probably scupper that, but we are ever hopeful!

The quality of stillness is hard to describe. The creek runs for about 3 miles parallel with the main body of the lagoon, and the banks – well, not banks because it all emerges out of the water – are lined with mangroves and mimosa, all interwoven with flowering plants and creepers. The lagoon frequently has a prevailing east wind straight off the Caribbean, which is about 20 miles away as the crow flies. From Birds Eye Lodge, you paddle south for about ¼ mile, passing a bay with some of the horses that roam everywhere standing knee high in the water. Then, carefully navigating some old rotting bits of mimosa bush poking out of the water, you enter the mouth of the creek. Almost immediately the waterway is sheltered from the wind. One of the loveliest things about canoes is their silence and manoeuvrability. Partly because we were hoping to surprise a basking croc upon the sprawls of dead wood dotted everywhere, and partly just because of the place itself, we settled into a rhythm of silent paddling together. I am in the front, paddling either to the right or left, and Conor’s in the back, more of a cull position, steering us round. Some of the overhanging branches had some webs, spiders more or less visible, more or less large, and on those occasions when we were nearer than I wished, the paddle came in useful as a stick to push the offending bits well and truly out of my way! (I am my daughter’s mother, yes I admit to being not too fond of spiders either!) The creek was varying from about 7 feet to 15 feet in width, though with occasional mimosa strands poking up in front of you. Damsel flies and dragon flies abound, every colour of the rainbow, dancing so delicately around you, around the bushes, occasionally alighting upon a foot or side of the canoe. Brilliant sapphire blue, deep ruby red, emerald green, azure, and ochre – the jewels shimmered and soared. Lucy was in the sky with her diamonds.

Every now and then one or other of us would point hopefully at a piece of gnarled wood protruding above the water, perfectly mimicking a croc’s eye, but alas none was to be seen! Even the bird life was pretty silent in there – it was about 3pm which is the hottest part of the day and not the best for birding. We saw nothing new – at least as far as we were aware – but we enjoyed every minute. Keeping an eye on the time – our hire was for an hour – we turned round and made our way through a thinner part of the mangrove, ducking and pushing branches out of the way as we went into the main lagoon. Conor spotted a blue jay (Uniform Jay) just as we emerged out, a brilliant blue scuttling into the undergrowth, and a little later we saw a large green iguana going for a swim on the end of a branch suspended just above the water.

The sheer absence of anything but the channel of water, vegetation and the occasional drip from the recent rain, accompanied by the near silent swish of the paddle, created an atmosphere that was irresistible. We did hope that Uriah will find us a boat.

11 August

A week later found us in the same creek… As I said, irresistible, and we still hadn’t found a croc or turtle. This time it was a little more windy, and we had the canoe for up to 2 hours, ever hopeful! We made our way through the waterway, navigating the rogue branches, dodging the webs, and continuing the pas des deux with the damselflies and dragon flies. We went further down the channel, aiming towards some of the large broad leaved trees we could see in the distance, guessing that they must be on terra firma. No wet roots holding up those big beauties. We resumed our teamwork with the paddles, and our silent gesturing at ghosts! Slowly we meandered into new territory, parts of the channel becoming quite broad with less dense foliage between us and the lagoon. Still the broadleaves beckoned, so we paddled on. The channel narrowed, with the taller trees and shrubs towering over us. A crackle caught our attention, and to my great excitement I saw about a 2 foot long, quite thick tail with a curl in its end moving down a tree trunk. I couldn’t see any more, but Conor could see its body too. He describes it as about the size of a dog, but with the bottom of a cat rather than a monkey. There are dark brown /black howler monkeys here, but in our guide books it refers to coatis being on the reserve. We looked up both – good old Google – and the coatis fits the bill! Related to the racoon, it’s about the size of a dog, right colouring, and thick tail. How very exciting!

We were close to the big trees now, branches spreading high above us, and the creek becoming just a few inches shallow at this point, before deepening again. Suddenly we saw a flash of chestnut, large, fly out from the left, low, swoop up a bit, and into the foliage further down the same side. Eyes glued, we paddled on, hoping to get a better view. Out it swooped again, and we managed to get a good look before it disappeared into the canopy. It had wide chestnut wings and a short tail. We reckoned an eagle or hawk. Our bird book confirmed the Black-collared hawk, and the guide book also said that this is one of the animals alongside the coatis, howler monkeys and crocodiles one might see in the reserve! Two down, two to go…