No visitor to our little pocket of Mexico is spared the mandatory march through the crocodile refuge in La Manzanilla.
When I lived on the laguna in Villa Obregon, leaving home was not required to snuggle up to one of life's most fascinating creations. All you needed to do was to wait until nightfall, grab a flashlight and a camera, and step out my back gate. There were usually one or two good-sized crocodiles lurking just a few feet from my back door.
No more. Now, if I want to show off a collection of American crocodiles, I need to pile visitors into my Escape for a short drive to La Manzanilla. And I do like showing them off.
The crocodiles at La Manzanilla live in a protected reserve. That was not always so. When I first moved down here, the crocodiles freely roamed the beaches and streets around their mangrove home.
But the presence of crocodiles attracted tourists. And that was a volatile mix. Several lap dogs suffered the consequences. So, the local authorities decided to round up the crocodiles, fence them in their own area, and charge an admission fee. It was a perfect mix.
Over the years, the ability to see the crocodiles and the other inhabitants of the mangrove wetland has been improved with the installation of a boardwalk, observation towers, and two suspension bridges right of The Temple of Doom. Disney could learn from this refuge about creating the thrill of true danger.
Of course, what we go to see are the crocodiles. They are not really in their natural setting. Regular feedings cause them to congregate near the chicken table.
But most people would never get to see these magnificent beasts if the refuge did not exist. Their existence was once threatened through hunting and loss of environment. Even though they are still listed as "vulnerable," they have made a steady recovery in Mexico. Mexican efforts to keep the mangrove wetlands undeveloped has been their best survival technique.
And it has provided tourists with a taste of what life is like in the mangroves.
We took our cue from the crocodiles and indulged in our own predatory behavior by driving a couple of miles furthrer north along Tenacatita Bay to one of our favorite haunts -- Chantli Mare, a boutique hotel that offers a great lunch and opportunities for walks on flat beaches.
Of course, it is also one of our favorite stops to play Mexican train -- a version of dominoes that is almost addictive. It certainly stirs up the competitive hormones in our family.
George M Cohan, the perfect showman, always played the sad scene against a happy background. We had one of those, as well, at Chantli Mare.
Most of the guests had left their tables to crowd around a lump at the tide line on the beach. It turned out to be a turtle. A badly injured turtle who looked as if her final hour was near.
She was a reminder, that in this world of joy, tragedy is always present. She probably did not know she was dying. Only that she no longer had the strength to swim in the open water. And her time, like our own, would soon be over.
Maybe that is why we flock to see the crocodiles. They carry the potential of danger. And we cling to our rickety boardwalk hoping that today is not the day we will end up as part of a crocioile's bouillabaisse.
Let me add a coda. We are in the midst of celebrating the feast day of the local patron saint -- San Patricio. That means fireworks. More particularly, the spectacle of the castillo with its spinning wheels and shooting projectiles.
Even though the best castillo will be on Saturday, we stopped by to watch the ritual of young men braving the scars of fireworks. In the video, I particularly like the father in the blue shirt teaching his son how to jump the fire.
No crocodiles are included.