After several minutes of navigation, Jason adjusts his binoculars and signals. “That’s it,” he said. Camouflaged in mud and rocks, the head of “Osama” emerges, one of the 2,000 American crocodiles that inhabit the Tárcoles River in Costa Rica.
Guide Jason Vargas says they named this crocodile Osama after the missing al-Qaeda leader because he’s always hard to find when the tourist expedition goes to sea.
“We recognize some of them by the territories they usually hang out in, that’s why we gave them fun names like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Bush, Fidel Castro, Osama Bin Laden, Donald Trump, Selena Gomez and others,” says Vargas. , 43, and whom they call “The Crocodile Man”.
Crocodile watching at the mouth of the Tárcoles River in the Pacific is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Garabito Township, a town in western Costa Rica. Tourists can board a boat and travel part of the 118 km of this river surrounded by mangroves where migratory birds and macaws rest.
Some male crocodiles like “Osama bin Laden”, who could be 80 years old and six meters long, defend their territory, even with fights that cost them part of their body. Osama lost an eye in a fight.
Upstream, he goes in search of “Captain Hook”, so nicknamed because he lost an arm fighting for his space. This time, he doesn’t show up. However, “Fidel” makes a brief appearance.
Perhaps accustomed to passing visitors, Osama cautiously approaches the boat. Jason interacts with him, with similar or greater caution. It ensures that the animal has food in its mouth, such as a fish, so that it can touch it with less risk.
Earlier, “Monica”, a 15-year-old crocodile, one and a half meters long, also approached the animal. They normally feed on sea fish that come in at high tide and river fish. Although there was a cattle rancher in the area who once complained because he lost a cow.
“We shouldn’t be overconfident. You have to have respect and put everything in the hands of God so that nothing happens to you every day,” says Jason, who wears a necklace with three crocodile teeth that he recovered from the river. He has been doing this job for 20 years.
Tourism is one of the economic engines of the country, a paradise for lovers of the beach, nature and ecology. The Covid-19 has hit the sector hard, which is trying to recover. According to the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), just over 1.3 million tourists entered in 2021, a recovery from 2020 but still far from the more than 3 million who arrived in 2019.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen crocodiles, it was incredible, I didn’t expect to be so close to them,” said Yohann Snell, a 37-year-old South African who visited the Costa Rica with his family. Those who don’t take the tour usually stop at nearby bridges to observe how the crocodiles sometimes come out in groups to sunbathe, resting on the muddy banks. After a while, they dive and get lost, covered by the current.