Sunday, December 20, 2009

Huntin' Iguana

Iguana is an epicurean delicacy here. I’ve been told that a good sized iguana can be sold on the market for Q200. To put that in perspective, a full meal (plate of meat, rice, veggies and a soda) at a comedor here costs Q15. So when Seño Lili called me to lunch one day, put a foreign meat on my plate and said, “Iguana, try it”, I did. The meat was a bit rubbery, I guess that’s what one would expect from reptile meat. It tasted a bit like chicken but with an extra strong smokey flavor. When I mentioned this Seño Lili she laughed and said, “thats because it was just taken off the fire” but my palate was convinced it wasn’t just the grill. Then Fernando came to the table for his portion. He sat down with the satisfied thud of a General ready for a feast after winning a battle. I noticed three long red claw marks on both of his forearms. His plate of iguana was served and he began telling me, “Oh this iguana put up a good fight. We hunted six hours to take home four iguanas and this one we caught last.” Up until this point I hadn’t been told that Fernando actually hunted my lunch himself. Seño Lili was standing proudly and listening to the story over his shoulder as he continued, “She was up in a tree and when I grabbed her she clawed me here and here,” pointing to the red marks on his left arm, then his right. “Her body was this big” he sized up the iguana with his hands about three feet long. Then he dove into his meal. As I watched him happily munch away on his catch I couldn’t help but think of that poor female iguana (probably with little baby iguanas to take care of) up in that tree struggling with Fernando trying to escape capture. It all seemed so cruel. Thats when I decided I didn’t really like the taste of iguana.

I don’t know what role iguanas play in the ecosystem. I guess I should google them or something cause I’m sure they eat bugs (hopefully mosquitos) or do something useful to man. If true, that would make me feel even better about not wanting to eat them despite their popularity amongst Guatemalans. Regardless of my opposition to the idea of catching and eating iguana I am still fascinated by its cultural significance here. I have to imagine the real motivation to hunt iguana comes not from the taste of the meat but from the thrill of the hunt and pride in the catch. It must feel good to walk through town after a long day in the mangrove with a large iguana in hand for all to see, its stringy claws tied tight, swaying by its tail in step with the hunter’s bravado. A guy thing of course. I know this because when I told my boyfriend Colin that Fernando caught an iguana and we ate it for lunch his response was, “I want to go hunt iguana.” That night while we were swinging off our dinner in hammocks I told the family that Fernando has a new hunting partner. Seño Lili’s joked, “Are you sure Colin wants to hunt six hours in the mangrove? Maybe he should start with catching the iguana that sunbathes on our neighbors roof.” This statement only furthered my belief that iguana hunting was done for the thrill of it. If it was done out of necessity, I would expect that big fat iguana on my neighbors roof would have been lunch meat ages ago. But instead, everyone in town leaves it in peace and trudges off to the mangrove to hunt.

One day, about two weeks ago, I walked home from the Coop to find Fernando and his friend outside proudly gazing at a large iguana stretched across the patio. They had been hunting that morning and were admiring their catch. I couldn’t resist, I ran upstairs to get my camera. When I got back downstairs I had Fernando pose for a few pictures.

I was certain the iguana was dead so when it started to move its legs I freaked out which amused the men. The poor thing was still alive. The animal lover in me sighed. I couldn’t bare to think that this little beast was going to be murdered. What did it ever do to deserve this fate? I shook off my pity. Then I took a few pictures with it.

A few days later I was off too Hawaii (not the island in the US but a beach town on the pacific coast in Guatemala) to visit with other Peace Corps volunteers. Fernando’s iguana was still alive tied up in the back of his pick-up truck. As I was heading out the door Fernando pointed to some soccer bruises on my leg and said, “Tell Colin you got those from fighting the iguana.” Luckily, I never watched Fernando finish off the little beast and I was in Hawaii when the family had their iguana feast.

I don’t only have run-ins with iguanas when Fernando brings them back from the mangrove. One lives on my roof. I hear him from time to time chirping like a little bird or scurrying along the plastic roof making scratching noises like a rat. Sometimes he even makes quick appearances in my room. A leg here or a tail there peaking through the crack between the roof and the rafters. Last Sunday was the first time I actually saw him in his entirety. He ran across the wood rafter above my bed while i was reading. I was scared shitless and prayed that he wouldn’t slip. My mosquito net wouldn’t have protected me from that ten pound monster.

And just yesterday I came home from a soccer tournament (my team took 1st place and the Q400 prize that came with it) I opened my door and off jumped an iguana from the top of my fan. He scurried under my bed and I had to shoo him from my room with a broom.

My bedroom has been the hub of much critter activity. I wouldn’t want to take away from the other little animals i’ve been surprised by so i leave you pictures of some of the most notable: a scorpion and little frog.

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