Un Garrobo, Brisas Dulces y Maracuyá


Mi Garrobito


Friday morning in Atenas, Alajuela, Costa Rica, invariably means a stroll past the stands of la feria agricultura. The vendors sell locally grown produce, as well as chickens, eggs, cheeses, meats, fish, baked goods, coffee, tamales, yogurt, flowers and so much more, sometimes even underwear. Their stands form a double ‘L’ along two sides of a mildly neglected park with an exercise area for the marching band of the neighboring school, as well as a basketball court and permanently installed round picnic tables with their curved stone benches. The narrow central alley between the double rows of display tables is alive with an undulating aggregate of potential customers, enlivened even further by seller’s and buyer’s children darting in and out of gaps in the fluid space, chased by or chasing small dogs and the occasional cat.

The farm offerings will be inspected, then either chosen or rejected by savvy householders and clueless newcomers alike. Most vendors are more than happy to instruct us foreigners about names and preparations or uses of such wildly exotic farm products as ayote (squash), camote (sweet potato), yuca or cassava (manioc), tiquisque (taro) or peijbayes (palm fruit). The merchants show much enjoyment and pride in presenting the gifts of their Costarican earth and their labor. Naturally, there’s also considerable merriment and laughter, good-natured, one hopes, about our gringo helplessness in dealing with these old familiar, traditional Costa Rican food staples.

I found out recently that the yucca with the double ‘c’, familiar to me from Texas as a member of the agave family, is used here as well. Flores de itabo, yucca flowers, are a well-liked ingredient in omelets hereabouts – almost, but not quite from desert to dessert …. sorry.

Remind me to take some pictures one of these Fridays and introduce some of our delicious local fruits and vegetables in a future post. For today, I just want to express my delight about finally being back in Atenas, enjoying my husband’s company, while re-discovering the people and sights of our pretty town. One lady vendor at the feria stand where I used to buy my maracuyá (passion fruit, see my post “Maracuyá Delight”, Oct. 16, 2011), recognized me, despite my eight months absence. Warmed the cockles of my heart!

A little later in the day, Barry and I sat on the terrace with a drink and a pastry, inhaling the tranquility and enjoying the soft breezes, while gazing over the mountainous far views of the Central Valley, when I noticed something stirring much closer by. A bright green lizard was climbing up onto the tiled surface surrounding a drainage hole grill. I had never seen such a neon green little creature, so I ran inside to grab the Lumix, which, fortunately already had the zoom lens mounted.


The object in my objective turned out to be a baby reptile, maybe four or five months old. It appeared to be a member of the Iguanidae family, called a spiny-tailed black iguana, Ctenosaura similis, Gray, 1831. This fellow was only about 6″ or 15 cm long snout to cloaca, followed by another six or seven inches of tail. Adults of the species can grow to 18 plus inches in body length, some may reach four feet overall, tail included. They are very fast runners, speeding along the ground on their hind legs. I read that they’ve been clocked at over 21 mph! When I took this picture, I had approached very slowly to a distance of about twenty feet. Iguanas have excellent vision, especially for motion and color. Needless to say, he soon spotted me, as I crept ever closer. First, he threatened me with a rigidly extended tail, then he started extending his dewlap fold to appear bigger and more menacing. When I wasn’t impressed enough to run away, he stalked off in a huff.


Using some conveniently positioned palms, I managed to sneak up on him again and even get a little closer.


Adult black iguanas grow a nice row of soft, comblike spikes along the back, you can already see a serration in his dorsal center line. The ‘ctenos’ part in ctenosaura means ‘comb’, whereas the other name-giving spikes, which ring the tail, are hard and very sharp. This spiky tail is often used as a weapon. The garrobos, as the natives call them, utilize their tails not only defensively, but also in fierce tail-whipping duels with their buddies over females and territories. Iguanas also bite, overall quite the belligerent little charmers. Their claws, on the other hand, if equally impressive looking, are mostly used for tree climbing. Black iguanas are largely herbivores, with the occasional rodent, slug or frog thrown in. The bright green babies have a great appetite for insects, which is nice around the house. Adult black spiny-tailers are indeed black, or at least dark brown and mud-colored, with black markings. Not always, though. Especially in males, one may also find greenish specimen, or individuals sporting blue, turquoise or orange blotches and markings. It all depends on the altitude of habitat, nutrition, temperature, maturity, stage of their mating season, and, who knows what else. Reptiles are very ancient and complicated animals!
And this one was becoming aware of me again.
First, he flipped around to show his broadside to the enemy, then he executed a series of push-ups, before turning a little, as if he was checking on my reaction.
Since I was still standing there, too close for comfort, he whirled around once more and jumped underneath a nearby hedge. So much safer there!

I’d like to leave you with an entertaining image, something to make you smile. These grumpy and territorial spiky and spiny, hefty reptiles love to eat hibiscus. So, picture a four-foot black iguana sitting there happily with a crimson hibiscus flower hanging from its jaws.

It’s good to be back with my family, my husband and my dogs, and my garrobitos as well. Pura vida!!

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