Where the Crocodiles Roam

 One of my favorite places to visit in Banderas Bay is a little known beach named Carayeros, with white sand and one of the few coral reefs around. There is a gnarled little tree near the water that is perfect for a hammock, and snorkeling here reveals an underwater world full of biodiversity. However, it is what lies on the way to the beach that really captures my imagination. Beside the path that winds through the trees from the dusty road where the car is parked, there is a mangrove estuario; a mysterious stretch of brackish water which looks like a river that dead ends just before it reaches the ocean. It is silent and still, its secrets protected by the thick mangroves guarding its edges. The crocodile warning signs only served to add thrill to the idea of exploring this place, and I had often stood at its edge wishing I had a canoe.

 The second to last time I visited, I noticed a lot of garbage around the mouth of the estuario and the path. I resolved to bring some big plastic bags next time, and show my appreciation for the spirit of that place. Upon my return, I filled three and a half bags. It felt great to look behind me and see pristine white sand. And there was something else there that hadn't been before...a battered old canoe parked on the shore.

 Not one to ignore a sign, I immediately set off down the beach in search of the owner. It didn't take me long to find an old fisherman sitting in the shade of an even older wall, a handmade paddle propped beside him. His name was Ramon, and when I asked if I could borrow the boat, he asked if I knew about the crocodiles. I nodded enthusiastically, and assured him I wouldn't tip it over in the crocodile infested waters. He smiled, and handed me the paddle.

 I slid the canoe into the tea-colored water under the watchful eyes of three large white egrets, paddling slowly so as not to disturb the birds or the energy of the place. Soon I made it around the bend and into unseen territory. The last remnants of sound from the ocean disappeared, and I was truly alone.

 I approached the mangroves on one side, sidling up as close as I could. Leaning in slowly, I attempted to peer through the impenetrable screen created by the roots and shoots. My eyes caught a flicker of movement. There was a loud cracking of branches and a splash. The sound broke the silence so severely I recoiled involuntarily and the old canoe wobbled dangerously. I steadied it, heart pounding furiously. In the panic I was unable to focus in on the creature, but judging by the sound it was big. I retreated to the middle of the river to steady my nerves.

 As I moved further up the estuario, the magic of this place became clear. It was a stronghold for an astonishing variety of secretive creatures. I employed an old strategy for watching nature, which was to sit in one spot and do absolutely nothing. I allowed the canoe to drift slowly and tuned my eyes and ears to the frequency. When you do this with patience, the Earth begins to breathe and move around you. I could see the water thick with fish, movement flashing in the murky water. Small crabs clung to the mangrove roots just under the water's surface, and a sharp eyed blue heron was seeking them out. Suddenly it flew into the trees as a large eagle passed overhead, scanning the water. Branches began to move on the opposite bank, and I focused in on the biggest iguana I've ever seen. Crocodile tracks covered the small muddy patch below. I was surrounded by living things, all coexisting in a perfect rhythm.

 I felt as if I could have sat there forever, but the water creeping up my feet had a different suggestion. A small hole in the boat had been filling steadily, and time was running out. I reluctantly turned the canoe and paddled back. As I reached the bend, I sensed it as a divide between two worlds. As I crossed it, the sound of the ocean returned and I could see people walking on the beach, faces all turned away towards the bay. I paddled hard and the boat beached gracefully. I turned it over to empty the water and slowly made my way back to Ramon. 

 I began to tell him about my adventure, and then stopped. He looked into my eyes, and his twinkled brightly with knowing. I realized then, that he had known it would be this way. This is part of what I love about Mexico, and the people here. They have an uncanny ability to sense the energy and intentions of others. He had taken one look at me and decided that it felt right to share his secret with me. And I will be forever grateful he did.