A crocodile lies with his mouth open under the bridge over the Río Tárcoles in Costa Rica.

My first crocodile-related injury in Costa Rica

A crocodile lies with his mouth open on the bank of the Río Tárcoles in Costa Rica.
He’s not trying to look mean — this is how this croc relaxes.

On Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, after a 12-hour flight from San Jose, California, to Denver to Houston to San José, Costa Rica, to start my new life, I waited and waited and waited at baggage claim and realized I had a problem already.

My two big checked bags had arrived, but my big Igloo ice chest had not. I had decided to spend $150 to bring this cooler as a third checked bag — so that I could put my REI sleeping bag, my mother’s beautiful handmade quilt and some sheets inside, as I couldn’t fit these things in my other bags. (Also, good ice chests are very expensive here, and for someone who likes beer as much as me, I knew I would put it to good use.)

I gloomily joined the line of people waiting to ask about lost bags, knowing my brother was waiting outside wondering when I would emerge. Then I realized I was in line for the wrong airline and moved over. When I got to the right counter I tried to describe to the lady what an Igloo ice chest is, and she said, “Is that it?”

It was sitting right at her feet, amid other baggage that had gone astray.


But why did they put my ice chest among the lost luggage, instead of on the carousel with luggage that wasn’t lost?

Why ask why? Welcome to Costa Rica.

Brother Paul, waiting patiently outside, welcomed me with a big smile and a warm hug. He drove me back to the Hive, his three-bedroom rental house in Distrito Zapote, and showed me to the guest bedroom. I think I was his first guest.

The next day, Paul said we should drive down to Puerto Jiménez, his home base in the Osa Peninsula to the southwest. I was itching to buy a car from my online friends in San José, but I said I was game for a detour.

“Do you want to go the cold way or the hot way?” he asked.

“The hot way,” I said.

“I knew you’d say that.”

I had told Paul that my guidebooks said you should never wear short pants in San José or you’ll look like a tourist and get robbed.

“Change your clothes so you look like a tourist,” Paul said, “or you’re going to hate your life in about an hour.”

I changed into shorts, and Paul drove us out of San José, past Alajuela, through the toll booths and onto the highway toward the coast.

We came to the bridge over the Río Tárcoles, which is famous for the multiple crocodiles that can always be spotted from the bridge, lurking on the banks of the river below.

Paul asked if I had ever seen the crocodiles here, and I said no, so after crossing the bridge he pulled over and told me to go back and take a look. (He was afraid to leave his truck unattended, as thieves in this spot are legion.)

Crocodiles sun themselves on the banks of Costa Rica's Río Tárcoles.
Crocodiles sun themselves on the banks of Costa Rica’s Río Tárcoles.

I jogged back onto the bridge, which was thick with tourists staring into the river and snapping pictures. I looked down and saw two dozen big crocodiles lazing on the banks.

Negotiating the step from the busy highway to the steep sidewalk, I managed to slip and scrape off about three square inches of my right shin on the asphalt sidewalk. Damn shorts!

Tourists snap pictures on the edge of the bridge of the Río Tarcoles.
Tourists snap pictures on the edge of the bridge of the Río Tarcoles. I slipped on the edge and massively skinned my shin on the place where they’re standing.

The wound was broad but not deep, and the blood oozed but didn’t gush. My joke later was, “At least I didn’t fall into the river with the crocodiles.”

I looked down at the dozens of crocs and snapped a bunch of pictures. One had his mouth wide open, which is apparently a comfortable way for a crocodile to relax. I took a zoomed picture of this one and later posted it on Facebook with a caption that said, “Here’s one all ready for a tourist to fall off the bridge.”

I jogged back to Paul’s truck and said, “I’ve been blooded already!” He looked at my shredded leg and uttered an appropriate expletive and said, “You fell down?”

“Yeah, I slipped on the tall sidewalk,” I said. “It’s a flesh wound.”

My shredded shin: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
My shredded shin: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Paul told me about a drunken Tico who had decided to go swimming here, and the next day all they could find was his head. I looked this up on the Tico Times website (http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/29/breaking-unidentified-man-devoured-by-crocodiles-after-falling-off-tarcoles-bridge-in-costa-rica) and it was true, although reports differed as to whether the man was drunk or suicidal or both, or whether he jumped off the bridge or walked down the side and into the river.

But all the stories ended the same way: The next day, the only trace of this man the authorities could find was his head.

“Heads are apparently hard for a crocodile to chew up,” Paul said.

Good to know. So if a crocodile ever attacks me, I should probably try to fight off his teeth with my head.

Next: Payday in paradise — from climbing a tree

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