The boat pulled forward slowly cutting through the brackish water without leaving a wake, like a pregnant snake, it floated low and heavy in the water loaded with tourists from around the world.
At the front of the boat, the tour guide stood proud and tall at 5’5. He was excited to have another captive audience on which to try out his comedy routine. It was still early in the day and he was just getting warmed up on his act.
However, he was also quite literally warming up with the day. It was already 85 degrees out and the sun shined brightly down on his coastal mecca. His black hair was slicked back and drops of perspiration formed along the sides of his face. The moisture glistened as it slid down his neck and was reabsorbed into his shirt. He held onto a silver railing that lined the edge of the boat, steadying himself as the boat continued along the length of the scraggy beach.
“Bienvenidos, ladies and gentlemen, I am Jose and Marco is at the back steering the boat.”
Sure enough, at the back of the boat a man lightly gripped the steering wheel and lifted a hand to wave. He gave a reassuring, toothy smile to the tourists. Everyone on the boat who understood English craned their necks to confirm that there was a Marco steering the boat. They assumed the boat was driving itself until Jose mentioned his coworker and then they had to see him with their own eyes, suddenly a most urgent necessity.
“At the end of the tour, please leave a review on our website, tell your friends and feel free to be generous with your tips.”
He held up a finger to emphasize his next point, “Unless you don’t like the tour, then remember that my name was Juan and Alberto was the captain when you go to tweet or leave a review online or don’t say anything at all. Now with that business out of the way, are you ready to see some crocodiles?”
Then he started on the same spiel in Spanish; half of the crowd listened attentively while the rest gazed expectantly into the water.
An American couple laughed and looked at each other, passing an unknown silent message back and forth. They held hands and sat thigh to thigh with matching sunburns and passport protectors around their necks.
Jose continued, “Unfortunately, we did not learn German at university. So here goes. Hallo, guten tag, auf weidersehn and adieu.”
He winked and waved in a Sound of Music type of way at a pair of blond men with khaki colored hats sitting towards the front of the boat.
“Are we ready for crocodiles, now?” Jose asked again.
The crowd laughed as they refocused and then cheered at Jose’s suggestion.
“There are 400 crocodiles out there but we are only going to see a few.”
The boat glided past a tangle of tree limbs and weeds. Muddy clumps appeared from the dark water between patches of skinny reeds and debris. Motionlessly, a log floated on top of the still surface and started to move forward towards the mess of the tree limbs sending slow ripples out from either side of it. The log had eyes and suddenly a tail emerged from the water.
“This is very good, everyone. Little Girl is out today. This is a smaller, female crocodile who was just resting until we disturbed the her. Do you know what this means?”
Jose continued without waiting for the audiences’ response.
“Big Papa is around and we have to be careful because he will chase the boat. He does not like us to mess with his girlfriends. There is one guy and many girls, he is a lucky crocodile, no?”
“But this is what you came for, to see the croc’s.”
Atop a scrub tree on the beach, a sleek bird of prey perched watching the boat creep along. A long-legged crane picked its way through the water, stopping occasionally to stab at the water with its beak and unconcerned with the tour boat.
“This area is home to more than the crocodiles, look up and you will see the birds. Look down and you will see the fish. We have to take care of it, we have to take care of the Earth because it is changing. If we don’t do something now, it will be too late and there will be nothing we can do about it. What will we leave to our children? What will be left for us?”
The tourists glanced around at one another and then out at the water. It was a sobering moment. Jose was serious and the tour was no longer fun, they were being raised to a higher level of accountability without relation to their country of origin. They were equally responsible for the care of the world, from the inland brackish wetlands to the oceans and everything in between. He made them think.
“Amigos, don’t look so serious. Ok? Today is a good day. Today, you are all VIP because you are on this tour. We normally don’t let people snorkel here, but this is your lucky day. Americans, you can go first. Germanies, you are next. Lastly, the Mexicans will go because we are delicious.”
Half of the tourists laughed while he said the same things in Spanish. The tension was broken but the tourists were left thinking long after the boat brought them safely back to the rickety wooden pier.