Jungle Problems

My town is having some jungle problems. In case you’re wondering if this is about crocodiles again—yes it is. Sorry. I’m a little stuck on that. But we’re also having a problem with the estuary. You will see, if you don’t already know, how the two are related.

What To Do About The Crocodile(s) is causing firestorms all over facebook—The Estuary Problem, not so much. Not yet, anyway. And hopefully it won’t. I hate facebook firestorms. It’s so easy to type hurtful things onto a screen from the comfort of your hammock, and then lie back feeling smug. I doubt any serious problem has ever been solved by a facebook firestorm. And we have a serious problem.

After the day in July when Jon was attacked by a crocodile in the Las Baulas estuary between Tamarindo and Playa Grande, a bunch of meetings were held order to determine what could be done about The Crocodile Problem. The Crocodile Problem, in a nutshell, is that the area is now populated by a large number of salt water crocodiles that have been fed by humans for the last 15 years. Folks who have lived in Tamarindo since the 70s and 80s, back when it was a beach with no town, say that caimans have always been normal in and around the estuary, but that salt water crocs are new. That concurs with my experience of the last 20 years. So this leads to the argument: Are Crocodiles Native or Non-Native to The Las Baulas Estuary? Perspectives vary. No firestorms, please.

The result of the meetings was the declaration by the Environmental Ministry (I wasn’t there. I was at my sister’s wedding in Colorado) that:
–The crocodiles cannot be exterminated. They are wild animals and to kill them is illegal.
–The crocodiles cannot be moved to another place. The Las Baulas Estuary is a wildlife refuge, and they are wildlife.
–We can put up signs to warn people about the crocodiles.

Meeting adjourned.

Let me esplain The Estuary Problem, now, before I circle back around to The Crocodile Problem and to my own personal proposition. From the beach, the estuary looks like a river mouth, but it’s really the connecting point of an enormous salt water swamp system with the ocean. Its components are water and sand. When I first saw the estuary, as best I can remember, in 1996, it intersected the beach at something like a right angle. Imagine a T, with the top being the beach and the stalk being the estuary. But being as it’s sand and water, it moves. I’ve seen it snake all around during the years I’ve watched it. I remember it curving to the north toward the rocks by Casitas on Playa Grande. I remember it curving to the south. I most prefer it the way it was when I found it, but clearly nobody is asking me.

What I have never seen, is the like of what the estuary is doing now. It is not making the shape of any letter in my alphabet. It hits the sand headed due south and keeps right on going, finally emptying into the ocean directly beside Pico Grande. What does this mean? It means that the beach is bisected by the estuary, that Playa Grande is mas grande que nunca and that the natural habitat of large snaggle-toothed reptiles is right smack in the middle of Tamarindo Beach.

The ironies. Just now, when we have The Crocodile Problem. In fact, if it wasn’t for The Crocodile Problem, I wouldn’t have named The Estuary Problem a problem at all. The estuary is allowed to do whatever it wants. It took out the lifeguard stand, which sucks. Beachfront businesses are nervous about how far inland it will curve. But the thing is, no matter what it is doing today or where it’s path takes it, it’s temporary. For all we know, this is it’s “normal” path, and those 10 or 20 years when it didn’t head straight south are an anomaly. We are privy to all of about 40 years of the history of this beach. We know nothing.

What do we do about The Estuary Problem?  Nothing.  Wait.  Appreciate the mysteries of Mother Nature.  Take photos.  I will  confess that configuration of the estuary, the beach and the saltwater crocs is not to my liking. It has, to some degree, ruined surfing for me. It’s hard to do something for pleasure while trying to ignore fear. I do my best.  There are other places to surf, but not for girls who have long boards, day jobs, and no car.  I take more beach walks on my two good legs.

So, back to The Crocodile Problem. We’re not allowed to kill them. We’re not allowed to move them. Somebody posts a picture of one on facebook with a kind warning for everyone to be careful, and a war of the words ensues. Somebody says we should kill them. Somebody else replies that they were here first and we are in their home. Then we hear the part about how they really aren’t native to this region. Then it turns into Costa Ricans against foreigners and if foreigners don’t like Costa Rica the way it is and can’t leave it alone, then we should go back where we came from. It got ugly. Why do you say we can’t kill a crocodile but you eat cows and chickens? But crocodiles are wild animals and it’s not the same… And so on and so forth.

I think about it a lot. I’m a little obsessed, maybe. But that’s what happens when, one lovely morning in July, you find at your feet a destroyed human being that the crocodile chewed up and spit out. Everything in your spirit stops.
You have to start from scratch.

Starting from scratch:

I’m a farm girl. I grew up on a chicken farm in Pennsylvania, and I have eaten one hell of a lot of chickens. My dad is a hunter. He fills the freezer (even now at age 72) with venison, and sometimes elk from trips to the west. We never ate beef in my home, and my mom hates fish—it was venison, chicken, or breakfast—point being, I have also eaten many many, many wild animals. I’m not a big carnivore anymore. I’m not a vegetarian either, except in my heart. I eat meat because my husband is a fabulous cook, and at my house the cook chooses the menu.

In all honesty, I personally would like to see a significant number of the crocodiles “harvested.” Not out of hate. Out of common sense. Out of the life experience of being a farm girl and a hunter’s daughter. We’re both at the top of the food chain, the crocs and us, and if we use our superior intelligence to choose to let them harm and potentially devour us, what sense does that make? What kind of intelligence is it? And, um, we just took ourselves down a peg.

So in order not to disrespect the life of the crocodile who attacked the man I found looking up at me from the shallow waves that morning, I have a proposition: I will volunteer to eat it– same as it would do to me if given half a chance.  Mammal against reptile.  No hate.  No disrespect.  No life wasted.

It will be a tough chew, I expect.  Maybe I’ll share with the cats.  I have no idea how to cook a crocodile, but bring it to me. I’ll figure it out.


I took this photo shortly before sunset on an incoming tide in Aug 2016.



Flash non-fiction from times when the jungle was wilder.

I pull the suitcase down off the shelf above the corner closet, and there she is looking at me—a boa. We are equally surprised, and both jump back. How long has she been with me in my bedroom on top of the closet? How on earth did she get in?

How on earth will I get her out?

Maybe I should leave her there, I think. Maybe I have slept in my bed with her watching over me on many nights.

Maybe so, I think, but no more. We are afraid of each other now, and in this room together neither of us will sleep.

I stand on a chair with a broom and push her onto the floor. She flops helplessly to the tile, and in a desperate speedy wiggle, dives toward the safe darkness under my bed. I swipe at her with the broom – mighty whacks that push her toward the open door. I don’t want to hit her, but I am afraid of her. She strikes at the broom. She is afraid of me.

When I finally push her through the door into the black night, she slithers into the leafy jungle. My heart is pounding fast, as if I have been fighting for my life. Does she have a sister in my bedroom? Will she try to find her way back in?

Now, if she bites me I will deserve it. I hit her hard, and she did nothing to me but enter unannounced.

I lay on my bed in the dark and I am not sleepy. I imagine eyes looking down at me from the shelf on top of the closet. I feel the flicker of a thin tongue that reads my dreams.

I have been wrong. On how many nights have I lamented sleeping alone, while in truth accompanied by a lithe and silent guardian?

Barbara Struncova’s 37th Birthday

Happy birthday, Barbara. From all of us who refuse to forget you.


You are supposed to be celebrating 37 years, today.

Bill is in jail today, like he was last year on your birthday. The USA did all it could to fight for you in court. They pulled the story of what happened to you from the archives of the OIJ, translated it to English, and presented it in a court of law, so that now what was once secret is public information. The judge, of course, was unable to sentence Bill for a crime that was not one of the original charges, but believe me girl–everyone got the point.

I wish we had more to give you for your birthday, but this is what we hold in our hands.

I know you are very close, or you were. I would like to question the trees, the crocodiles, the owls. When I learn to speak their languages, I will.

Sleep sweetly, friend.

About Being Brave. Or Not.

I’ve always been perplexed by people who tell me I’m brave—or maybe I should say, I am intrigued by the things that people interpret as acts of bravery.

How many times have I heard this: “You live in Costa Rica?  Oh you’re so brave!”  Or in reference to me moving here by myself (even though I was coming back to friends) when I was 24, “That’s so brave!”

The thing is, it’s not brave.  Not for me, anyway.  How can you be brave if you aren’t scared?  If I’m not afraid of something, for me to do it requires no bravery at all.

My boss took the batch of us on a canopy tour, recently, where you harness up, hang by metal clamps from steel cables, and zoom through the jungle canopy from tree to tree.  It’s a lot of fun.  I’ve never been afraid of heights, so it requires no bravery for me to launch from the platform and fly through the air.  Some of the team members, however, were petrified.  For them to do the exact same thing as I did was a tremendous act of bravery.  I watched them struggle with their fear and overcome it (or not).

To be brave is not the same as to be fearless.  If I’m not afraid of the ocean and I paddle out into it on a surfboard, that’s not bravery.  If I am afraid of the ocean and I paddle out into it anyway, THAT is brave.

For me, getting on an airplane is brave.  Getting on the motorcycle is brave.  (I do it all the time, clamped for dear life to the back of my husband who is cool as a cumber.)  Living in Costa Rica?  Not brave.  Getting on a boat?  Not brave.  Canopy tour?  Not brave.  Spelunking?  That’s another story.  I will hang by my tiptoes from a tightrope before I crawl into a small space that I can’t see my way out of.  That would require me to be brave, and I’m not interested.  Call me a chicken.

Up until the end of July, surfing, for me, was generally not an act of bravery unless there were a lot of rocks in the water.  I have this inexplicable panic in the presence of rocks.  Duh.  Rocks.  But yes—seeing dark shapes under me, or feeling them when I can’t see them, has always just about sent me over the edge.  No idea why.  And then the crocodile thing happened.

It didn’t happen to me in the most literal way, but there are ways in which it did.  And I’ve been back surfing, since.  Gingerly, if there is such a thing.  It’s getting a little better.  But make no mistake—surfing, for me, has become an act of bravery in a way that it wasn’t before.  I think I speak for a lot of people in my town when I say that.  Whereas before, perhaps, we are fearless, we have now become brave.

Being fearless, which can be good or bad, is a characteristic, and who chooses their characteristics?  Being brave is a choice.

Where am I going with this?  A ninguna parte.  I’m just saying.  Fearlessness and bravery might look the same on the outside.  On the inside, they’re not.