It took me a moment to see the first big American Crocodile. Not because it was obstructed or especially well camouflaged by the sun-dabbled background, but because it was so close, my fight-or-flight lizard brain refused to process the giant smiling threat.
We had taken the bus to La Manzanilla with my parents and our friends from Hanacrew to visit the crocodile preserve. And after paying our 5 peso (50 cent) entry fee, we crossed a rickety bridge right into the heart of a swamp. Within a few minutes it was clear that the barrier between the crocodiles and us was token at best (and occasionally non-existent). We were relying on the fact that between a plentiful diet of fish and birds (and the occasional unfortunate dog), and the fact American crocodiles don’t attack people (that often) we’d be safe.
Still, when you gaze at one of the huge still forms and it blandly stares back at you, it’s hard to decide whether to move closer (to see if it’s actually alive and breathing) or back up (to get out of range).
The impulse is so strong that my step dad Frank actually reached his arm out toward one of the two-foot-long baby crocs—and then jumped two feet himself when the little croc exploded into motion and hurtled itself back into the water.
Happily Frank still has a hand—but the lesson was observed and appreciated by the kids in our group.