Those of you who have been following our “Amazing Campeche” trip report will remember that, at the end of our second day, we were poised to discover an unexpected place. Feeling very hungry after a day of birding and eager to explore options different from the small menu offered at our lodgings, we decided to drive around the sandy streets of Isla Arena looking for suggestions. Locals seemed rather amused, even bewildered by our questions, for this is a very small community with no restaurants, yet it wasn’t long before we were directed to Wotich Aayin, the “House of Crocodiles”. Food was our main concern but we were also about to find something else.
As soon as we pulled into the small parking lot at Wotich Aayin, the doors of the main house flung open and we were warmly welcomed by Mr. Carlos Rivero León. Yes, they did have food and would be happy to serve us, he informed us, but wouldn’t we care to learn about their crocodile farming project as well?
Thus our visit turned out to be not only a tasty experience, as we enjoyed a meal of delicious shrimp, but also an interesting opportunity to walk through the mangrove forest and learn about a crocodile breeding project that, after many years of hard work by an industrious group of close-knit family members, has blossomed into a noteworthy and growing success.
We followed Mr. Rivero down the interpretative trail, enjoying as we had in El Remate the opportunity to be immersed in the mangrove forest. As we reached the end of the walkway we were rewarded by a wonderful vista of the waters we had traveled by boat a few hours earlier. A small dock with wooden benches offered us a place to sit. The area was very calm and constantly caressed by a gentle, cool breeze.
As the afternoon gave way to dusk, our group of birders would not be denied the final find of the day. Not too far from the dock we spotted a bird that would soon be identified with characteristic ability by Cherie and her field guide: it was a Sora (Porzaba carolina). Howell and Webb’s Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America provides the following information: “Widespread winter visitor. (…) Ages differ, sexes similar. (…) Habitats: Freshwater and brackish marshes, especially with reeds, flooded pastures, mangroves. Less skulking than most crakes, often feeds in open situations at marsh edge (…).” A perfect description of the location and behavior of the bird, just as we saw it.
After walking back through the mangrove forest we were treated to an interesting explanation by Mr. Rivero about the ins and outs of the Wotoch Aayin crocodile farm. The species of choice for this project is Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreleti), more manageable, smaller and somewhat less aggressive than the larger American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), also found in the Yucatan Peninsula. The project has achieved a remarkably successful reproduction rate and Mr. Rivero has become quite a crocodile wrangler, an ability he demonstrated by quickly handling a juvenile specimen so that we could all take turns holding it for a moment. He made sure to first put a noose on the croc’s mandibles, since even at such a young age these reptiles have a very powerful bite and can easily chop off two or three human fingers in the wink of an eye.
Back at the restaurant we met Ms. Rumualda Gómez Gómez, President of the Wotoch Aayin group, a lively woman who charmed us with her friendly conversation. We decided this would be the ideal place to have breakfast before getting back on the road the next day, and even though it meant the restaurant would have to open its doors before the usual time on Sundays, they readily agreed to do so. What more could we ask for? If you’re planning to visit Isla Arena, do not miss this interesting spot. You can learn more about Wotoch Aayin by visiting their FaceBook page, here.
I can almost hear some of our fiercest hardcore birders out there grumbling, “…enough with these crocodiles already! What about the birds?!”. However, before we move on to the birds we saw in the last leg of our trip, do keep in mind that all birds are evolutionary descendants from ancient reptiles, so these crocodiles are at the very least distant cousins to our feathered friends. “It goes back to evolution in terms of crocodiles appearing to be the closest existing relatives of the birds, and the birds being modern dinosaurs, basically”, says Dr. Carl Schmidt of the University of Delaware in a report by Adam Thomas that you’ll find here.
And so it was that, after a good night’s sleep, we made it out at dawn the following day. We split the morning in two halves, starting at the bridge that crosses into Isla Arena and exploring several miles of the main road with Peten ecosystem on both sides of it, then backtracking towards La Casa del Cocodrilo for delicious mid-morning shrimp omelettes. Thus energized, we checked-out of our cabañas and got on the road again, with Merida as our final destination but stopping frequently to see and photograph more birds along the way, including a final experience at El Remate. As we left Isla Arena behind, thoughts about a second visit were already on my mind. I’ll let the photos and captions tell the story:
SPECIAL THANKS: to Maria Andrade, Cherie Pitillo and Jacqueline Aldana, for being such great travel companions. Also, to Maria for making arrangements for this trip; to Cherie, for carrying and sharing her field guide and expertise; and to Jacqueline, for being our expert driver!