Friday, May 3, 2013

Chito y Pocho

One unplanned and unexpected highlight of our Costa Rica + Panama trip was hanging out with this guy:

The remarkable story of Chito and his "best friend” Pocho started twenty years ago in Limon. Chito, a fisherman, found a 15-foot long crocodile that had been shot in the eye by a farmer and was slowly starving to death. He brought the emaciated reptile home to Siquerres and nursed it back to health. He dug a lagoon and a series of canals on his property for his new friend.

Things got weirder. Chito came to decide that the crocodile, who he had named “Pocho,” was his friend and that they could swim together in the lagoon. They swam together for years and Chito taught Pocho a few tricks. Ten years ago an employee saw the two of them swimming together and suggested that Chito organize a show for tourists. So he did just that.

Chito and Pocho travelled all over the world. You can see a map that tracks their journeys, as well as press clippings in a variety of languages. Sadly Pocho died of natural causes about two years ago, when his pond was struck by lightning!

The entire town of Siquerres turned out for the funeral, and Chito had Pocho taxidermized and his friend now “lives” in a glass display case on the property.

Tahoma and I stayed one night at El Centro Turistico de Chito y Pocho on the outskirts of Siquerres, and you can, too. They have a small hotel, a restaurant and bar, and a swimming pool. You will almost certainly run into the man himself, Mr Chito. For ten bucks a head he’ll take you on a tour of the property on his “banana boat,” pointing out the giant tortoises, monkeys and a variety of birds.

On to the photo highlights:

Riding the “Banana Boat” with Chito:


The canal looks pretty much like what you’d think of when you think “tropical jungle.” The plants grow incredibly quickly in this climate. We saw a bamboo grove that was at least 40-50 feet tall and Chito said it was only five years old!


This bird is called a night heron, and there were plenty of them nesting above Chito’s canal:


Chito’s place is a few miles outside of town. Anybody you ask in town can give you directions, and it is pretty hard to miss. But if you do miss it, you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of a banana plantation:


I’m not sure that this is the right place. Are you sure that this is the right place?


Here is Chito’s wall of press clippings is in front of Pocho’s final resting place. It didn’t seem right to take a photo of Pocho himself, even though he was on display in the building behind this sign:


The cute hotel rooms rent for $50/night without A/C or $55/night with A/C. Our room had two single bunk beds and a double/queen, so three of four travelers could have easily shared it.


Chito has a few young crocodiles on the property and also a larger adult off-site that he says he is trying to train as a replacement for Pocho. It sounds unlikely that somebody could capture that magic *twice* and domesticate another crocodile, especially without the trauma that Pocho endured before Chito saved him. But you never know…

Speaking of replacements, Tahoma asked Chito whether he ever tried to train a replacement human for whenever Chito decides to retire. Chito told us that plenty of people have contacted him about wanting to get in the water with Pocho and to maybe learn, and had traveled to Chito’s place for this purpose, but he only remembers one guy who actually had the nerve to get in the water – a Chilean TV personality named Felipe Camiroaga. Everybody else who showed up, including the “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, was a combination of too frightened and too frightening to Pocho. But Chito said that Pocho liked Felipe and stayed calm enough to Felipe to get in the water.


You may have heard of Camiroaga two years ago when his small airplane crashed while delivering relief supplies to tsunami victims. Chito says it is uncanny that both Pocho and Camiroaga met their untimely end at the same time. Chito seemed quite fond of Camiroaga, and spoke very highly of him. “He was a good guy, and Pocho could tell.”

If you ever decide to visit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, you will almost certainly drive through the town of Siquerres. If you have your own car or are otherwise able to stop for an hour, go visit our buddy Chito. You won’t be disappointed. He said that if we ever come back to Siquerres that he wanted to take us out for beers. “All the ladies know me. I’m Chito!” Of course.

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