Monday, January 10, 2011

fatal attractions

La Manzanilla has a new attraction.  Or, at least an old attraction with a new twist.

I am not talking about the on-going project to cobble the dust out of the business district.  Even though it is a great idea, and seems to be working nicely.

This post is not about streets.  It is about La Manzanilla's new wildlife viewing area.

The wildlife we are discussing, as you probably have already guessed, are La Manzanilla's famous crocodiles in the mangrove swamp at he edge of the village.

There have been crocodiles in the swamp long before humans made it to the Mexico coast.  But they were one of the factors that almost made me decide to make La Manzanilla my home.  They are fascinating creatures.

The edge of their swamp home migrates according to the amount of rsain that swells its streams.  And, just like a crocodile RV, when their home moves, they move right along with it.

When I first came to La Manzanilla in 2007, the swamp had almost joined the ocean. 

And several crocodiles had almost joined tourists eating their lunch on the beach.  Crocodiles were also known to wander the streets around the swamp.

After a few Canadian and American fluffies ended their pampered canine lives as crocodile snacks, the ejido decided to fence in the entire swamp.  At least, the crocodiles were in their natural environment.

But the ejido went one step further by constructing a viewing platform along the edge of the swamp.

Here's the drill.  First, pay 5 pesos to a bored young girl.

Then cross a suspension bridge over the edge of the swamp -- a bridge that would feel at home in any Indiana Jones movie. 

I discovered my right ankle has not quite gained the balance I thought it should have.  Any policeman would have had probable cause to doubt my sobriety on that bridge.  (Some would say "sanity.")

At the most unstable portion of the bridge, a rather large broad-headed crocodile was waiting below.  Perhaps, he had less faith in Mexican engineering than the tourists.

If Disney had designed the place, the bridge would have teetered dangerously close to the crocodile.  But, in Disneyland, the animations usually do not eat the tourists.  This big guy might have.

You then wander through a bit of mangrove swamp -- where you can see how the mangroves are rooted in the swamp.  And how the mangrove canopy provides a habitat for birds and iguanas.

The path then leads up to one of the truly sad sights of this attraction.

There are about a half dozen crocodiles imprisoned in a small concrete pond. 

The type of animal penitentiary that were once the norm for zoos a century ago.  I could not understand the purpose of the tank -- nor are there any signs that attempt to satisfy curiosity. 

The swamp is filled with crocodiles.  What is this bunch doing in prison?  Are they former narco leaders?  I guess I will never know.

I am not a crocodile expert, but they did not all seem to be the same species.  They may simply have been different sexes and ages -- for all I know.

After the holding tank, the trail turns into an elevated boardwalk above the swamp -- leading to a raised viewing platform.  Someone obviously put a lot of thought into the platform because it opens on a broad panorama of the swamp -- with large nesting birds at eye level.

What did not seem to receive a lot of thought was the engineering of the platform.  The floor boards seem a bit too thin to bear the weight of an average tourist.  I had visions of crashing through the Acme floor into the swamp -- just like Wile E. Coyote.

I was chuckling at my paranoia when two couples from Ontario showed up and made me feel a lot better. 

They refused to climb the stairs to the platform because the handrail was inadequate.  And then they muttered that a Mexican inspector should shut the place down until the owners installed an adequate guard rail.

I suspect they were completely oblivious to the fact that the people who built the viewing platform employ the inspectors.

Ironically, the critical couples got me to thinking about what I do not like about the new fence and restricted viewing area.  They attempt to suck the danger out of watching the crocodiles.

Now, I am not talking about getting in the water and swimming with them.  But there was a certain exhilaration of sharing the same space -- at a distance -- with a wild creature that could easily maim (if not kill) you.  The potential for being known as Stubby for the rest of your life helps to center your focus.

I come from a society where bicycle-riding children are ensconced in enough safety equipment that they could probably survive a direct asteroid strike.

And, as a result, they are doomed to miss the privilege of learning about life from making mistakes.  They live in the mirage of shells rather than learning the true security of self-assurance.

If you have not yet seen the crocodiles of La Manzanilla, get it on your list.  Before too long, they may be reduced to "It's a Croc World After All."

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