My flip flopped feet sunk into the mud. I should have known better, better than to sign up for a swampy mangrove excursion with only flip-flops as footwear, but I didn't. Ohm, attached to my back in his Ergo carrier, kneed my ribs like an experienced horseman. Steadying myself, I grabbed a vine from a tree to my left.
"Step on the log." Winston, our guide called.
Griping the vine, I hoisted my weight onto a sunken log, the only steady ground in a sea of mud. Praying Ohm would settle and stop shifting about, I took short quick steps.
Mud caked around my feet and ankles. Having learned about the delicate red mangroves, natural purifiers of water and about their heartier cousins the black and white mangroves and having encountered various medicinal herbs and plants, we were making our way through the mangrove swamp to the crocodile nursery to encounter Jamaica's endangered crocodiles.
Pausing for a moment to catch our breath in a clearing dotted with almond trees, Winston cracked a few casings with a rock providing us a hearty and intimate sample. The almonds were small and sweet.
"Yeah man. We eat almonds everyday. They good for everything, heart, skin..."
Before the almonds it was basil, before the basil it was ackee, before the ackee it was mint. We had run into a little bit of everything.
After a short adventure onto a rickety narrow wooden dock that was missing just about every other plank, we came to a wooden platform surrounded by a fence. White herons circled the trees that grew from the brown placid water.
Opening a cooler, Winston produced raw chicken parts.
"John!" he began to holler, hurling a chicken breast into the water.
"Come here John. Dinner time."
"They answer to names- the crocodiles?" I was confused.
"Oh yes. John I call first because he's small and lives over there to the left beyond those trees. He gets intimidated by Herold and Daniel, so I let him eat first. He usually pops up right here."
Winston pointed to a spot in front of Mark.
"You may want to stand back. Sometimes he shoots right out of the water. You know crocodiles can stand on their tales and jump six feet into the air."
I didn't know.
"How high is this fence?" I felt a sudden sense of urgency.
Mark and I both took a few steps back.
"John! John!!!! Hey John!! Come here!!!"
Slowly the water near the trees to our left began to ripple. John's tawny head appeared. Slowly, steadily, he made his way towards us stopping along the way to grab pieces of chicken.
"Hey! John man!" Winston called out.
John stopped before the platform and turned to acknowledge Winston. He turned again to size Mark up.
"Fish!" Ohm called with a shriek.
"No, that's a crocodile." I corrected taking another step back.
Unimpressed, John sunk beneath the water apparently having other more pressing plans to attend to.
"He's my favorite, John. I come out here and have lunch with him every Tuesday and Friday. We have a good ole' time." Winston chuckled as he said time, as if human crocodile lunch dates were commonplace.
Then it was back to business.
"Herald! Daniel!" Winston began to hurl whole chickens into the water. "These are the big guys. More than nine feet."
"Nine feet? How big was John?" I couldn't wrap my head around the sizing.
John to me looked enormous, I couldn't conceptualize John being a "little guy".
"Nah. John a small ting. Almost six feet, not full sized. Herald and Daniel, now they're the big bosses." Winston released another one of his hearty chuckles as I took yet another step backwards.
"Daniel! Herald! Come now, dinner!"
Winston hurled one lifeless pallid chicken carcass after another into the water. I was beginning to feel nauseous.
"You know, crocs, they do what they wanna do. I don't think they're coming out. It's a shame. You should see them."
Mark and I both agreed that it was indeed okay. We could imagine their grandeur.
We began the thirty minute trek home; over the dock, through the swamp, past the almond trees, into the mangroves, past the ackee trees and nooni fruit, the basil and the mint, through a horse stable at the base of the mountain and into the familiar.
The Mangrove and Crocodile Excursion at the Rhodes Resort is so much more than an up-close peek at some of natures most feared beasts, it's a chance to experience and understand the abundant natural beauty of Jamaica. Within the span of the tour, you encounter so many diverse ecosystems and micro-climates. It is truly a unique site to behold.