Crocodile Smile – Part 1

I once heard it said that one can never truly know what it means to live until one has faced certain death. As I lay here in this hospital bed recovering from exposure and exhaustion I find myself inclined to agree.

Two weeks ago I set out on a photo expedition of Central America. It had long been a dream of mine to capture images of the amazing wild life in that part of the world and at last the various requirements for such a journey were realized and I was on my way.

I have been a long time avid birder and wanted to capture images of the Macaws and Quetzals to be found throughout Central America, most especially in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

So it was that I found myself on a flight to San Jose. It was early spring and I had hoped the weather would not be too warm but it was in the mid 90’s at barely 10 A.M. when I arrived. Resigning myself to the heat I set about finding the best way to make my way to Corcovado National Park on the southwest Pacific coast where I had decided to start my adventure.

I decided to take one of the Chicken Buses to soak up some local colour. Chicken buses are old U.S. school buses that are painted in bright colours and given fanciful names by their owner-operators. It is common for people transporting small livestock to board the buses for a ride from one town to another, thus the name.

It was a long sweltering ride; the buses have no air conditioning save the lack of windows, which is to say they are not cool at all. I passed the time taking photos of the native women walking along the road with their impossibly large baskets of fruit and vegetables balanced on their heads.

I arrived at a town just outside the park and found a room for the night. It was too late in the day to begin my trek into the forest and I wanted to arrange my gear for the days ahead.

I was carrying an outsized backpack that contained all my camera gear, foodstuffs, clothing and camping gear. I managed to get reasonable sleep and the next morning I wandered the streets negotiating with independent taxis to take me to the park entrance.

It was a half hour ride and I arrived early before the heat of the day set in and began my trek armed with an official government map of the park. I had enquired about the likely areas to get the photos I was after and knew I would have a bit of a climb into the mountains.

I decided to go by way of Corcovado Lake as it was between two ranger stations and I wanted to be on the safe side since I was travelling alone. I reached the far northern edge of the lake in the late afternoon. I was exhausted and sweating profusely. My pack was heavier than I had allowed myself to think. I decided that it would be prudent to call a halt for the day. I had seen some amazing wildlife along the way and as it was now the golden hour for photography I set up a makeshift camp under a large tree near the edge of the lake and set about taking photos.

I was struck by the isolation of the spot I had chosen. I hadn’t seen any other hikers for more than an hour and had the place to myself. I began walking along the water’s edge taking photos. It looked like I could expect a brilliant sunset and I was looking forward to it.

Several minutes later my adventure turned into a nightmare.

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