Jungle, crocodiles and crossing a murky river
It’s now 5 weeks since we have arrived in Costa Rica. We have settled into our new home in a small town near the Pacific coast. Our daughters go to school, Ragna is busy with various projects and I continue to work on solar, wind and battery projects. Sounds almost like our life in Freiburg. Really?
Okay it is quite different. It’s truly tropical, deep green, much hotter and there are many, really many more animals. Birds, monkeys, sloths, butterflies, dolphins and whales, to just name a few. But there are also large predators.
On the way to our village we had passed a bridge, where many spectators looked down into the water below. We stopped to find out what the buzz was all about. We walked there and looked down into the the brown, greenish river. Around 10 meters below us, several crocodiles were lazily enjoying the sun. Not cutie, smallish cayman, but full sized American crocodiles. I watched in awe as one swam stealthily along and then, with powerful swings of its scaly tail, started diving. Within seconds nothing could be seen of the 3 meter long predator. Tayanika did not like the sight. Real crocodiles in a river, not too far from where we were going to live, was not what I had expected either. Luckily not many of the numerous rivers here are croco habitats. Most of the rivers have crystal clear water, are to steep, rocky and fast flowing for the crocodiles to feel really cosy. At least so I hope.
The day after arriving in our village, Ragna asked at our daughters’ school about access to the nearest beach.”The main access to beautiful and wild Playa Tortuga is at the river around 2 kilomtres from here. You can access the beach at low tide. Just wade through the river and over a small dune. Alternatively you can walk through the jungle at any time.”
We were hot and sweaty that afternoon and really ready for the beach. The kids did not want a jungle hike just then, and the tide was low. So off we go on our e-bikes towards the river. Once outside of town we cross the Costanera highway and shortly after roll onto a rocky dirt road on the other side. Ragna and I have the kids in front and back on the bikes and manouver around the biggest potholes and rocks. I keep getting distracted by the captivating variety of plants and sounds of this tropical lowland rainforest.
Then the forest opens up towards a river and somewhere beyond it, still invisible though, was the ocean. We stop at a sandy area used as carpark. The next thing I see is a signboard with a crocodile on it. “COCODRILOS, NO NADAR‘, I read. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Crocodiles at our nearest beach and no one even mentioned anything?” There are 2 vehicles parked here, but no one is in sight. Amaya now also sees the picture of the croc, reads the signboard and looks at me with wide open eyes. “We are not going through that river, are we?” I try do appear relaxed and answer. “At school no one said anything about crocodiles and even recommended going this way. Let me have a look around.” I turn my head to Ragna and say. “Maybe this is another insurance protection against the US visitors, who like big lawsuits.”
The slow and murky river in front us looks very much like it could be the hometurf of these ancient reptiles. The water and riverbed meanders through the jungle and then takes a wide bend in front of us. Beyond is a dune and behind there is the ocean. Most of the riverbed is without water. In order to get to the dune and the beach on the other side, we would have to walk through hundred or more meters of mud and definitely have to cross parts of the river.
I lift Amaya of the child saddle in front of me and park my red bike. I look around. The place feels truly wild. Jungle behind me, a murky river in front of me. I walk towards the muddy riverbank and stop only a meter or two from the water’s edge. “There are crocodiles, you can not go there!” commands Amaya. I narrow my eyes and scan the water. “I am just looking”, comes my response, while I slowly walk along the river. I hear parrots cawing and the thick sound of cicadas is everywhere.
Then suddenly Tayanika shouts. “AUAAAAA.” I spin around as if stung by an adder, adrenaline rushes through my veins and every muscle becomes hyper tense. “Ants are biting me!” My muscles relax and I take a deep breath. Ragna lifts Tayanika up. “I want to go home. NOW!” shouts Tayanika. “Me too. I do not like this place! There is no beach. It’s all muddy, sticky and hot,” added Amaya with a frustrated look.
Ragna and I exchange puzzled looks and then Ragna says. “Don’t worry, we are not going in there, unless we see someone walk across or we can ask someone.”
I walk further over the muddy riverbed searching for any sign of crocodiles. Then a men in swimming pants suddenly walks onto the riverbed and heads straight for the water. I stop where I am and watch.
He walks further downstream to a spot where the river is wider than where I stand. There is also a little sandbank in the middle. He takes off his shoes and goes straight into the water. I focus and try to detect any move anywhere. While he walks calmly towards the other side, he goes deeper and deeper until the water is above his knees. Suddenly the image of the powerful forward movement of the crocodile appears in my memory. I try to push it away. Now he has passed the first stretch and steps onto the sandbank. Only a few meters more to safety, is what I think. He steps out of the water and up onto the dune. He strolls away as if this has been everyday walk, no crocodile signboard or no murky water.
I walk back to Ragna and she says. “I think it is safe. How else could the teacher have nonchalantly said, yeah just cross the river at low tide. Why would there be a carpark?”
“Ami, don’t go in the river! The signboard says, beware of crocodiles!” Amaya reminds me. “I really think this signboard is a bad joke. Like maybe one day at high tide someone takes a swim in the river and a crocodile rocks up and nibbles a little.” Amaya gives me a critical look. Not a very convincing statement I must admit.
I walk downstream to the spot where the man had safely crossed the river. Ragna and the kids walk behind me, but stop some meters away from the river. I take my flip-flops in my hands and step into the water. The water is warm and muddy. I can see the ground at first. As I continue the water becomes deeper, I see less and less until I rely on my sense of touch to keep balance between mud, sand and pebbles at the bottom of the river. I concentrate and walk as fast as I can without loosing balance in the water. Once I reach the sandbank I turn around with a big smile and call: “I can see the second stretch on the other side it is much shallower and short. I will come back and carry you over.”
When I lift Amaya on my arm she looks suspiciously at me. “How do you know there are no crocodiles?” “Your teachers told us to go here, and we just saw the man go through.” “Then why is the signboard there?” I start walking and respond evasively. “It’s nice and refreshing in the sea on the other side.” I walk back into the water carrying Amaya towards the sandbank.
Ragna follows shortly after with Tayanika on her arm. By now I am really hot and sticky. The second stretch of water is indeed short and shallow. “Do you see anything?”, I ask. ”Yes over there,” responds Amaya, while pointing to a half submerged log with branches. “This is not a crocodile, I think you can walk across the small stretch yourself. “Let me have a look first!’, comes her answer. “Most certainly, I say”
A few moments later we are finally on the other side, safe and sound. The kids immediately run to some tide pools on the wide beach and splash happily in the lukewarm tropical water. My nerves ease and I feel suddenly rather tired. I lay my arm around Ragna. She says in a relieved voice. “What an adventure”. We hear and then see a pair of scarlet macaws flying over the forest canopy. I respond. “I knew the beach would be wild, but I had no idea how unspoiled and truly wild this place would be. “It feels like in a remote tropical national park.” ”Yes, it does. And now we are living here”, notes Ragna.
As we walk further, I see two other people come our way. This time I really want to ask about the crocodiles. I walk towards an older and younger gentlemen who are chatting merrily. ” Hello, how are you?”, I ask. “‘Fine thank you. How about yourself?” ”Great, but tell me, are there crocodiles in this river, like the signboard suggests?” The younger man responds with a smile: “Maybe some small ones, but they will swim away from you.” “Ah, ok,” I respond with an uncertain look. Then he lifts his right arm and points towards the south of the river. “The big ones are somewhere over there.” I turn my head in that direction too and try to take in what he just said… “The big ones are somewhere over there.” A barrage of questions run through my head “How far is OVER THERE? Do they sometimes come here? Has anything ever happened here?” Before I can decide what to ask first, the two have continued walking towards the river.
Sure, it’s safe, isn’t it?!
THE BIG ONES ARE SOMEWHERE OVER THERE.