History Items of the Canal Zone

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Pedro Miguel Cayman

Pio Schultz and I went out to a camp he and his dad had helped make for the Scouts... I don't remember the directions exactly but it was just before one of the towns along the railroad that in 1961 had been abandoned and most of it torn down. The road wound around with lakes and swamps on both sides. You came to a turn off to the right and went down around a hill to the waters edge where there was a place for 5-6 cars to park. Hell, it bugs me so I will call Schultz and find out where it was.

Ok, Pio is in California on a business trip but I tracked him down... After you passed Clayton, there are the three lakes before Pedro Miguel, turn right toward the CZ Police lodge, and just before you get there you turn right into the tall saw grass down to the waters edge... No one could see your cars parked down there -- great place to " park" but that another story... We had a couple 15 foot cayucos we kept sunk with big rocks in them. We would take the rocks out, slosh them end to end emptying them of water, pile our stuff in them and paddle out to the island camp. That lake had several 8-10 foot Cayman living in it... There were big carp, bluegills, mud ducks, ducks, pelicans and seagulls in foul weather. They got BIG and were seldom hungry... That's were grounds maintenance dumped ones they caught in populated areas when "de boss" made dem...

There were two times I had brushes with them... One time I had been fishing all morning and had caught a dozen big bluegills for dinner... I took a long nap in the afternoon... I woke up sunburned and sweaty and decided for a cool swim in the lake. I stripped off and went running down to the water and took a long racing dive into the deep water... Deep hell! I hit soft bottom -- or something soft and movable -- Yike!... It was made a big "woooosh" sound and started croaking and clicking noises and whacked me... I came to the surface at the same time an 8-10 foot Cayman broached water going away at max speed hissing and making croaky gasping noises... It had half the stringer of bluegills trailing and tangled in his teeth and threw it back over its head up on the bank as he waved his snout around to get untangled...

All I can figure is that he was having MY dinner in the deep water where I had left them on the stringer. I had done my racing dive right into the side of his body -- by the feel of it... I had apparently scared him as bad as it scared me, and I had knocked the wind out of him. I swam my fastest crawl not stopping as I went up the mud bank... Up on dry land shivering as much from fear as from the cold water, I I sat in the dirt and watched him turn the corner around the reeds about 100 yards away, still going full out. Mr. Schultz had said they were in there, but that was the first I had seen... He said they were well fed and wouldn't bother humans -- probably -- except if we got near a nest, or woke one up in his bed, or... Well I made plenty of splashing noise before going in the water in the future and stayed in the shallows where I could see a long way... Muddy water, no way...

One other time I was hunting with Pio, and had shot a duck with birdshot from my 22 rifle... It was floating in some deep water... Schultz had the cayuca elsewhere so I waded out up to my nipples to get the bird... Hey, I had been shooting so there could be no Cayman; right? I held the rifle loaded with birdshot up to keep it dry.. As I reached the floating bird and reached out for it a snout about 4 inches wide appeared and gently pinched the back end of the duck... I had the neck in my hand, it had the butt... Slowly two eyes surfaced about 2 feet back from the end of the snout... I pulled softly toward me to see if he would let go all the time pointing the rifle at one of the eyes... He pull the same... A small voice in my head said "Birdshot, Clarke, BIRDSHOT!"... Praying that Cayman didn't read minds, I let go of the neck and started my tiptoe bobbing backward retreat dance to shallow water, all the time watching the eyes watching me watching him... When I got to knee depth and was walking backward, he sank out of sight with a few bubbles and leaving a few white feathers to record our meeting place... Nipple deep is not a good place to meet a BIG Cayman 24 inches from eyes to shout...

We saw them often after that but those were the only two times I got really up close and personal. We got to know at least 6 different beasties by their markings...


Thanks to Tom Kinnaird who sent me these images he scanned of Cayman at Summit Garden Zoo. "Just the way I like toothy reptiles---lots-n-lots of fence between us,", to quote Tom.

The bottom two are two I was able to procure that that I am told were taken at Pedro Miguel near the island in question during mating season.
(Click on the image for a larger one)





Dale,
I was in Troop 5 Boy Scouts and we went to the same camp site near the Police Lodge. I don't remember any caiman. It was a lot of fun to tool around in cayucas. It took about 5 minutes to hang the jungle hammocks and then we were free to screw around. There was a tree that hung over the lake that we would climb up and dive off. I can remember the Explorers coming in sometimes when we were having our meetings and going to the room in the back. I always wondered what you bad boys were cooking up as it was probably better than what we had going.
Bill Egolf.


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