#45 The Iguana Man of Guerrero

San Carlos is located just a little bit to the north of Guaymas

Mike and I recently traveled within the country of Mexico for the first time in a long while and found a lovely new place to visit. After a zig zag flight pattern across the country from Hermosillo to Mexico City we finally landed in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Guerrero. Even though this town is only 1,000 miles south of San Carlos it took us most of the day to get there. This state capital city, at one time a sleepy village, today it is a bustling tourist area. High rise condos and hotels line the beaches along Pacific coast. There visitors can snorkel, sunbathe or scuba dive or move inland a bit and mountain bike the rocky terrain. Big time sports fishermen love the catch they find in Zihuatanejo and cruise ships dock in the port. Warm waters make this area a great Mexico destination during the winter months.

The tiny town of Troncones is about 20 miles further north. That 20 miles makes an unbelievable difference. There we discovered the golden beaches almost empty of tourists. The village of about 500 people has a quiet, lazy feel. You can walk for miles along the shore and never come across another soul, cows and burros, yes, people no. Yoga retreats and surf schools entice tourists wanting that laid back get away. Small homes have turned into guest houses and airbnb offers many options but visitors will not find large chain hotels in Troncones.

Beauty surrounds visitors and it is obviously a goal of the community to keep the area pristine. Signs line the streets and beaches reminding visitors to take care of the earth, the ocean and all living things. Troncones is indeed an ecotourism destination.

What a relaxing place. Casual has a whole new meaning in Troncones. Don’t have time to buy groceries, that’s OK. The fruit and veggie truck comes twice a week. Need fresh seafood? There’s a truck for that, too. No need to do anything but relax and take in the view of waves crashing onto the enormous, black boulders jutting out of the soft sand. In this atmosphere I could spend all day just watching the rhythm of the waves rolling in and breaking on the shore. I did a fair amount of that. I could participate in  yoga sessions. I loved the peace of mind. I could browse in the quaint shops. I now own a red sundress as proof of this outing. I could visit a spa for the “full treatment”. It was simply amazing. I could try my hand at surfing. However, I decided to leave Troncones without a trip to the ER. I could walk the beach gathering sea glass and shells. Always a must. But there was one thing I was told I could not leave Troncones without experiencing. A Costa Nativa Kayak Ecotour.

My sister and her family have visited Troncones several times. When we decided to head that direction she did not hesitate to offer, “You HAVE to go on the kayak tour. It’s one of the best tours in Troncones. Plus, you see lots of iguanas.” Now I do enjoy kayaking and like iguanas just as much as the next person so I contacted Alejandro. He set me up with an Estuary Kayaking and Wildlife Observation for a mere $40. I was ready to as the advertisement claims, “Experience a great paddle on stable and comfortable kayaks along the Boca Estuary. Learn about the ecosystem and observe the abundant biodiversity. Encounter multiple birds, iguanas, turtles and many more organisms that live in the special place.” The day arrived and sadly, Mike was unable to go on the big adventure. I headed into town and found my group where I soon partnered up with a nice woman from Ireland and we were off. 

After a bumpy ride down a winding dirt road in the back of a pickup truck we splashed across a river where we found bright blue kayaks waiting. A few safety directions and we headed down river where our small group clung close to our leader. Alejandro was an excellent guide through the shallow waterway. He pointed out bright yellow orioles building their remarkable sock-like hanging nests and woodpeckers beating their heads to their own tempo. As he identified birds and nests Alejandro also taught us about the importance of the estuary to the biodiversity of the area. Without the estuary many species would not survive. The brackish water of the estuary provides a nursery in which young animals transition from the fresh mountain runoff water found upstream to the salty water of the Pacific Ocean. The semi salty water in the estuary gives many species time to ease into the increased salinity that will eventually become their new home. As we paddled along we were educated about the vegetation lining the shore. Mangroves house millions of eggs for species. The powerful palm tree crops provide palm oil for a multitude of products. Palm trees are one of the most important crops in the state of Gurerrero. We also learned that Troncones (big trunks) is named for the lush trees that cover the area in which it was founded.

Moving slowing along the water was a peaceful experience. Wings of birds flapped, iguanas rustled leaves, crabs skittered along the sand and occasionally fish made daring leaps into the air only to splash back into the still water. A jingling sound echoed from the dense foliage moments before a local farmer materialized with a herd of goats wearing tiny bells around their necks.

Our group disembarked from our kayaks to climb the river delta blocking the ocean waves from the estuary. Standing at the top offered the tale of two waters. To the west waves beat the shore while to the east the water was rippleless. Back in the kayaks we noticed a variety of water birds wading nearby. An Ibis shifted closer to a rose colored Spoonbill. Snowy Egrets seemed to tolerate the tiny SandPipers pecking about their feet for lunch. A variety of Herons stood motionless waiting for our kayaks to pass. 

Breaking trough the jungle into the palms.

We snaked deeper into a narrow passage filled with low hanging branches and spider webs. Just when I began to feel a little claustrophobic, the channel opened to a grassy green shore where a small indigenous man in a floppy hat and rain boots met our flotilla. He helped us out of the kayaks, offered us water and began to speak rather quickly. I wasn’t sure what he said or what the hurry was about but our group followed him inland without a second thought. The jungle looking area soon opened up into a palm tree farm. The rows and rows of tall palms with dappled sun filtering through the fronds to the ground below was stunning.

The next thing I knew a fresh mango was thrust into my hand and the stooped man was pantomiming for me to bite through the skin and peel the mango with my teeth. My eyes opened wide but I proceeded as I was shone. This was not something I expected to learn and quite honestly is not a skill I plan to use moving forward. In hindsight however, it was a deliciously, messy treat. Little did I know, we weren’t the only ones who would be enjoying mango on this day.

As juice ran down to my elbows my straw hatted amigo grabbed two metal buckets full of chopped cabbage, mango, carrots, apples and other vegetarian favorites and began shouting phrases including, “Ven muy rapido!” “Andele!” and “Tiempo para la comida!” As he hustled over to a clearing, I understood these words meant something along the lines of, “Hurry up, it’s time for you to eat.” Behind me there was a rustling sound as hundreds of green iguanas headed toward the person who appeared to be their master.

He tossed the contents of his buckets on the ground dispersing it over a wide area. It was like an iguana orgy as they climbed over and under each other. Amazingly there was no infighting for the reptilian picnic he had tossed on the ground. The pile of lizards was so entwined I wasn’t sure which scaly head matched which equally scaly tail. As the man continued to toss carrots more iguanas arrived. He greeted many of them with names and told them how fancy or beautiful or handsome they were. He gently caressed them like pets and they leaned in looking for more physical contact. Our little group stood back in shock until the Lizard Whisperer told us to feel free to pet them.

As I reached out he said, “No want to touch head.” This was not a warning I took lightly and the head was not even close to the area I intended to touch. As I slid one finger down the iguana’s side he turned his head toward me as if to say, “Thanks,” or more likely, “A little higher and to the left.” His tail was long and scaly but he was calm and continued to chew his cabbage. Maybe his head turn was just an impulse reaction to touch but I’d like to think the green iguana and I shared a moment.

After plenty of photos were taken we boarded the kayaks again and paddled back through the narrow route. During this slow paddle we learned that the Iguana Man plays an important role in the ecosystem. He cares for and feeds these lizards regularly. Why? Locals have no problem enjoying iguana stew or roasted iguana so his efforts assists in leveling out their population. The iguanas are an essential part of the survival of the whole ecosystem and if their numbers drop too low their natural predators will struggle and so on and so on. So the Iguana Man is in a sense, their protector.

Survivors of the journey into the estuary.

Entering the wider part of the estuary a small crocodile blinked its eyes just above the waterline and then submerged itself. I picked up my paddle pace knowing that where there’s a baby, there might be a mother. We made it back to the starting point in record time with all four kayaks and occupants aboard. 

Upon docking our kayaks we walked to a tiny farm where we were taught how to open coconuts with a machete. We enjoyed fresh coconut water right out the shells. while learning that setting fire to the husk of a coconut is a natural insect repellent. The pigs nearby confirmed that pigs will eat just about anything including coconut. As I loaded back into the truck all I could think was, my sister was correct. In Troncones, this is a HAVE TO tour.

Visiting the 32 states of Mexico was one of our goals when moving to San Carlos. Our trip to Troncones checked Guerrero off the list. Memories of surfers, spas, triangle poses and fresh seafood still tickle my brain when I think of Troncones. When we return, and we will, a new adventure will undoubtedly be added alongside the Iguana Man Experience. We can’t wait to return to this lovely, out of the way, hidden secret of Guerrero. And who knows, maybe surfing is in my future after all.

September 15, 2021

“All Iguana do is have some fun!”

Lizard Humor

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