Upon arrival at Sabalos Lodge on the Rio San Juan, the two teenage boys on our team began hunting caiman–small alligators that live in the area. They had a catching device that snatched the small creatures on the neck and they managed to pull one out of the water. Unfortunately, he turned his head and took a bite out of Ben. The nurse, Ben’s mother, made him wash it out very thoroughly and he still has his finger two weeks later.
The owners of Sabalos Lodge used to raise reptiles for export to Europe, when they ended their business they simply released the stock to the wild. One afternoon in the shower, I looked up to see a bright yellow frog with dark green eyes staring at me with unblinking eyes. Yaro laughed when I described the creature, “A blue jeans frog.”
We spotted a vivid chartreuse iguana lounging in the bushes above the caiman. A fat toad lived near the hammock bay, merrily sticking out his fast tongue to snag insects every time someone turned on the light. We also encountered a fake-sounding croaker poolside at our hotel near the Pacific Ocean after the mission part of the trip finished. Sabalo means fish in Spanish, more specifically tarpon, and Sabalos proper had a statue of a tarpon in the town square.
A hotel in El Castillo had an open air restaurant where the owners provided bread to toss to the turtles who regularly visited.
We saw scrappy cats, random dogs and happy pigs on several occasions–including one running down the main road to the airport in San Carlos. It amuses me to wonder what these roaming animals were up to. Where where they headed as they trotted down the streets of town alone? Do they have an appointment somewhere?
Chicken was on the menu every night at every restaurant. They wandered the streets, pecked with their chicks in the school, clucked along the walls of the castle in El Castillo, and crowed in the distance, often.
Horses were a mainstay as I’ve already indicated. Bony and smaller than the average American horse, though perhaps just not as well fed, they seemed to pull far more than their weight as they carried goods to market. We passed a barge full of them as we went up river to San Carlos.
An island in the middle of Rio San Juan opposite Sabalos Lodge was home to thousands of birds every night. They soared in from all directions, calling and chirping as they came to roost in the trees. As the light dimmed, we could see clouds of insects hovering over the water, quickly devoured by the birds for a bedtime snack. When dusk snapped off into black night, they settled into silence.
We spent dusk one night hiking through the boggy countryside hunting monkeys. They chattered and “ooow-ooow-ooowed” high in the trees above, and occasionally we caught a glimpse of black shapes swinging from spot to spot. Our final afternoon, a monkey swung by our bungalow and perched in a nearby tree to eat. You can watch it in this video: