I have turned into a crazed iguana stalker.
Iguanas, you see, live in trees. I had never realized this before, having only seen them in terrariums, and, hilariously, once in a kiddie wading pool at the International Reptile Breeders’ Association show in San Diego…there were dozens of baby iguanas skittering around the bottom of the wading pool, and enthusiastic six-year-olds would lean precariously over the edge of the pool, waiting for an unsuspecting baby iguana to come within reach, then teeter over the edge, grab, and come up with a baby iguana. I had never before seen “bobbing for iguanas”, but I think it would make great Halloween entertainment.
…uh, where was I?
Right. I was on the river, in a boat, and Patrick, my guide, suddenly pointed thirty feet up into a tree and said, “Look! An iguana!” I looked up, couldn’t see a damn thing, followed his pointing finger, still couldn’t see anything, and FINALLY, just as we were going by, saw it: a giant male iguana, at least four or five feet long, draped insouciantly over a branch, complacently happy in his iguana-hood.
I was floored. Iguanas can climb trees! They live thirty feet off the ground! They don’t spend all their time in terrariums! And man, that was one honkin’ big iguana.
After that, I started looking for iguanas as we floated downriver. I couldn’t see any, couldn’t see any, couldn’t see any (even with Patrick pointing them out), and then…hey! Is that an IGUANA??
Sure enough, I’d spotted a big old male sunning himself in a tree. After that I started scanning every passing tree, and found a total of five iguanas. And now I know: iguanas DO grow on trees. LOL
We saw quite a bit of wildlife on the river trip. My crocodile hopes were dashed (apparently the crocs weren’t croc’ing today), but we saw blue heron, yellow flycatchers, plover, a hawk and two vultures. And then there was the magical moment when Patrick cried out, “Look! You see that toucan flying over there?” And by God, there WAS a toucan there. I’d never seen one outside the zoo.
We also saw a parrot fly by. I’d seen parrots in the wild once before, in Rewalsar/Tsol Pema, India, in a surreal moment: I was standing at the top of a ridge, in a bamboo forest wreathed in fog, and saw many blunt-headed, green birds flying by. It took me a moment to realize that yes, I was standing there, at the top of the world, watching parrots fly by.
This was like that, except on the river. It was a lovely parrot, too, green with a red head. I love the way parrots fly–they have a distinctly bullet-shaped profile, very cool.
The vegetation along the river was also varied. I am fascinated by mango trees–they grew wild along the river, and Patrick told me there were twenty or thirty varieties of mango at least. I of course must try every single variety–especially a particularly beautiful purple-blue mango that leaned out far over the water–but unfortunately, most of them weren’t ripe yet. It’s just the beginning of mango season.
There were also wild cashews growing along the river! I hadn’t realized that cashews are native to Belize, but they apparently are…I recognized the distinctive fruit immediately. I was tempted to ask Patrick to come in a little closer so I could pick a couple of cashew apples, but remembered in time that the flavor is, well, not too good.
We saw breadfruit trees–“like potato, but better”, and a tree fruit called wild grape that tastes like blueberries. Patrick informed me that iguana was called “bamboo chicken” locally, and that both iguana and iguana eggs were tasty, but they weren’t eaten anymore. There were a few other edible foods whose names I can’t remember.
(If it sounds like I was obsessed with food, I was. It was nearly sundown, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.)
I am fascinated with the number of wild fruit trees here. In the U.S., there aren’t many fruit trees growing wild–if it’s a fruit tree, odds are it was planted and odds are it’s a specially bred variety. Along the river bank, they grow lushly, and seemingly without premeditation.
There were plenty of other trees along the river, probably the most photogenic being the mangroves. They rise up out of the water on their elevated roots, and have long, bean-like fruits which drop off into the water and float–often for amazingly long distances–until they find a new spot to sprout in. There were also emery trees, mahogany, and ceiba trees (which are the national tree of Guatemala).
Sadly, we saw no crocs and no manatee, but I was so thrilled about the toucan (and the iguanas!) that I wasn’t too disappointed. And the iguanas looked so cool while sunning themselves on branches. Henceforth I shall check every passing tree for iguanas. 🙂
Tomorrow I’m going out to see some Inca ruins and a lagoon called the Blue Hole; Thursday, we go out fishing and snorkeling. Friday, I head (regretfully) home.