As we drove through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, we often saw people standing along the side of the road holding large, spine-backed reptiles bound to a stick. The people would wave these things at us as we drove past as if they were performing some sort of ceremonial blessing. We realized that the people wanted us to buy one or more, but we were not sure what we were supposed to do with the thing once we got it home.
One afternoon while I lounged outside Wesley while R and the kids shopped for fruit in the market, I noticed two teen boys with slingshots in their hands gazing intently up into the tree tops. I had seen spine-backed reptiles munching on tree leaves during our travels and despite months without seeing a single episode of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (or perhaps, because of this) I am still sharp enough to put two and two together – these boys were aiming to shoot one of these reptiles out of the tree. It still wasn’t clear for what purpose – to be sold as food or as a pet – but knowing how the creatures are obtained before being bound and waved about like shishkabob was kind of like watching the movie Memento, where the scenes happen in reverse. Although, this actually made more sense to me.
We eventually found out from our friend Maria that the bound beasts are destined to become the main course, and in fact, she had recently enjoyed a taste herself. Maria described the reptiles as a delicacy like turtle eggs, but I guess with a less effective political lobbying group because it is now universally illegal to sell turtle eggs or meat in Mexico and Central America while the poor reptiles are openly offered for sale.
In these countries where things seem so hard to come by – volcano guides wear dress shoes to go on vertical hikes and nothing is discarded except plastic bottles, plastic bags, and other useless, broken plastic things – it’s not surprising that iguanas are seen as a food source. The things are as ubiquitous here in Costa Rica (I’ve nearly run over several as they dart across the pavement) as the common squirrel is in the Eastern U.S. so there is a ready supply.
I know a few people who would vote to add a slingshot patrol to the local police force to thin the ranks of our cute, rodent-like neighbors. I’m just not sure those people want squirrel meat in their stew.
What is more surprising is that I have yet to see iguana offered as a choice on any restaurant menu. Maybe the perception is that American tourists – who are also ubiquitous here in Costa Rica – don’t want it on their dinner plates. Or maybe it’s just not very good.