I was not whistling while I worked. There were no merry tunes hummed. And, certainly, there was no dancing (yet). I just pushed the broom and it broke. If you are assuming I’m no Superman, you would be right. I’m going to guess that there might have been some termite infestation in the wooden handle. Whatever the reason, I had two pieces of wood in my hands. I could have thrown it all away, but I decided that wood glue and duct tape might be the solution. So, I took it to my sister’s other home, repaired the broom, and left it to dry overnight.
The next morning, I headed out to retrieve the broom for another morning’s sweep. Now, don’t be confused. I never clean my own home that often. But, when you live on the beach, sand gets tracked in every day. So, in Belize – and not Ohio – I sweep every day.
Remember, it’s about a ten-minute walk across a wetlands to get to my sister’s house on the Caribbean. I’ve walked it for a month. On this walk, I’ve seen pelicans, egrets, spoonbills, storks, iguana and assorted lizards. I’d never seen the crocodile reportedly living in my midst.
That is, until today.
I’ve been on safari and know that something as big as an elephant can be really close to you in the African bush and be nearly invisible. Well, it’s the same with a crocodile in the wetlands. There were a lot of fallen trees in the area. At first glance, I thought this six-foot crocodile was just another log on a sandbar. But, I took a second look. Finally, after more than a month, I had my first sighting.
The reptile was about 40 yards away. My camera has a nice zoom lens, but I wanted to get a little closer than 40 yards. You may be wiser than me. You may already guess that 40 yards is plenty close to a dangerous animal in the wild. I’m a little slower learner.
There was the smallest stream of water separating the main road from the sandbar and my crocodile. My thoughts were to cut my distance in about half. As soon as I stepped next to that stream, my sandal sank in muck, covering my foot. Now, you might think of a wetlands area as something totally romantic and exotic. I hate to burst that bubble, but this wetlands had swamp gas that smelled kind of like a sewer. So, when you step in swamp sludge and cover your foot, you might be tempted to scream out just what it smelled like. “Sludge” isn’t the word that came to mind.
But, I was a man on a mission. I was not about to let some smelly sludge stop me from getting a little closer. I spied some driftwood to my right and thought I might just be able to make a walkway to the sandbar. It was not my brightest move. It was not my proudest moment. I am thankful that I was alone and nobody else witnessed my stupidity.
Okay, I moved a few pieces of driftwood. My walkway made a little progress. Then, I took one more step for an additional piece of driftwood and lost my balance. No, I didn’t fall, but I took four quick steps in the muck and mire -- up to my knees -- before regaining my balance.
I learned my lesson. There was not going to be any walking on a sandbar to get any closer to a crocodile. Mr. Dundee never mentioned anything about smelly sludge. I had no idea how safe and solid that sandbar was. You can’t possibly outrun a crocodile when you sink in mire up to your knees with every step. I love a good photo, but it isn’t worth risking my life over.
In a perfect world, there would be no sludge. In a perfect world, I would have foolishly gotten closer to that critter. But, I was in a smelly swamp, it was not a perfect world, and my lesson wasn’t over.
During my “trip” and that quick four-step dance in the mire, I lost both of my sandals. I needed my sandals. Of course, I considered just leaving them, but I really needed my sandals. I needed them enough to reach my hand down into the mire that smelled like “that which will not be uttered” and quickly found my first sandal in hole number two.
I didn’t know for sure where my other sandal was buried.
Now, as I slopped through the sludge, I had to keep one eye on the crocodile as well. I didn’t want him slithering any closer to me while I was distracted with slime. While I was hunting – and hopefully gathering – I didn’t want this reptile to do the same.
He held his ground, or sludge, as the case may be.
For some reason, I thought my other sandal was in hole number four. I dug out sludge, reaching in farther and farther until I was up to my elbow. If it was there, it wasn’t going to be found. Okay, there was a chance the sandal was in hole number three. I repeated the process. I went in elbow deep one more time with no hint of sandal. By this point in time, I wasn’t even sure if I pulled the sandal in my possession out of hole number one or two.
I had done everything I could to find the missing sandal. It wasn’t going to happen. I looked back over the mess in shame, and that was when I spied the straps of my missing sandal in hole number one. It was not buried elbow deep anywhere. The missing sandal was right at surface level.
Sandals reinstalled where they belonged, with mud up to both knees and one elbow, I quickly hiked on to my sister’s outdoor garden hose before anyone saw me. When I got home, everything including the sandals took a shower to wash away the remaining sludge.
As for the broom at my sister’s house, the glue didn’t hold. I found the broom broken in two, hidden in the back of the closet. So, my hike across the wetlands did nothing for the sand situation in my sister’s kitchen. Nothing got swept up. But, I certainly collected one of my more memorable – and disgusting – experiences from my time in Belize.
P.S. Later in the week, my brother-in-law walked through the wetlands. In the very spot where I was stuck in the sludge, two large crocodiles basked in the morning sun. By the time I arrived on the scene, one slithered down the sandbar while the other completely disappeared. Jim waded through the sludge and down the neighboring sandbar. When I saw that it was possible to walk on the sandbar without hopelessly fighting sludge, I took off my sandals and waded forward, ankle deep in muck, but only for a little bit.
You can see how closely we approached the crocodile. It seemed like a very safe distance. It wasn't quite as safe as I suspected. When the crocodile decided he'd had enough of visitors, he slashed through the air and splashed into the water. I had no idea such a big creature could move so fast.
It was time to backtrack, safely, through the sludge.