…And so we survived our first day and night on the river. But who knows what the new day will bring…
It brought crocodiles.
The day started calmly. The early morning hovering mist had dispersed and a blue sky emerged. All was still except for the few birds that had missed the dawn chorus. A sprightly yellow one and sleek black with bright red breasts. Kingfishers sweeping along the water top, skimming so close their wing tips lightly brush but never break the surface. And the little ones who dart and dive and swoop and plunge. They may be a dull grey but their true colour is a bright playful character and joy of life. A heron stands by the bank until we come close and it flies downstream.
And out of my peripheral vision I see movement. As I turn to look, I hear a splash and catch the fleeting glimpse of a reptilian tail disappearing off a rock. My heart starts beating faster, and suddenly my packraft feels small and inadequate.
What exactly am I doing floating an inflatable raft, that is smaller than the crocodiles that inhabit this river? I remind myself that these crocodiles are not aggressive and don’t see me as dinner…
I paddle a little harder until we meet another rapid that takes us round a bend, below which is another village. Women wash and children play. All stare and wonder. We smile and wave.
Crocodiles have evolved into near perfect predators. They are masters of stealth. If they don’t want to be seen, they won’t be. Since I made it past one that I’d seen and probably several more I hadn’t, it seemed likely there was nothing to fear afterall.
But I kept a good lookout, I wanted to see more. Close enough for a photo, but not too close….
And then, in the afternoon, on the outer bend, on a dirt embankment, with wild grass and creepers and trees surrounding it, there lay another. Motionless. Merciless. A chilling pitiless stare.
Not too close…
These animals demand guarded respect.
The following day I see another, larger specimen. On a sandy bank, with a small trail leading up to a simple hut. But before I can point this one out to Lars, it has slid silently into the river and disappeared from sight. Lars is beginning to disbelieve I am seeing crocodiles and so from now on, anything that might be a crocodile I point out before it can hide… ‘Is that a croc or a log?’ This is bringing back memories of the Niger River again… ‘is that a hippo or a rock?’ But we do not see another.
The second night we camp at a village. Drawing up to the bank I scramble up to the first house and ask the young man if we can camp by the river. Sure.
As we pitch our tents, the villagers come to watch. An elderly lady, sun-wrinkled skin and grey wispy hair picks up a paddle and inspects it. Makes paddling motions and walks off with it to the water to test it. And comes back with a large smile and nod of approval. She may be small and frail-looking, but she commands a crocodile-respect of the whole village. No-one else dares touch it.
One man carrying a gun comes over, informing us he is the ‘policia’ for the village and is here to protect us. He will sleep by our tents to ensure we are safe. I insist that is not necessary, but it falls on deaf ears.
As the sun sets and darkness calls the villagers to the safety of their homes, we are left with just one guard. His children watch us cook dinner and talk in soft voices while inspecting the packrafts.
The ‘policia’ returns later, the children go home, and he sets up a hammock, his machete tied to the tree for quick retrieval.
Lying in my tent, a voice shatters the silence. Our guard wants to talk. And so, through tent walls in broken spanish, I fight off sleep and listen.
He is not only responsible for the safety of the village, but also works for the conservation of the BOSAWAS reserve, through which we are passing…
‘Do you know Russell Mears?’ – Er, who? ‘Russell Mears.’ I think hard… who could he be talking about. This guys works in the wilderness, knows a lot about survival… ‘You mean Ray Mears?’ I suggest. ‘No, Russell. Russell Mears, and his wife Barbara. They are Americans I worked with for two years’.
– Er, no I don’t, and I suppress a smile. ‘Oh,’ he says in a slightly surprised and disappointed voice. And that ends that conversation.
More about Packrafting on the Rio Bocay to come. But for now, you can read Lars´ blog here (use the translate button if you´re not conversant in Swedish!). And thanks of course to Avanza Kayak for the packraft.