In search for the World´s rarest crocodile

Northern Sierra Madre National Park Travel Blog

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See me smiling? I had no idea what I was getting myself into...

It has come to it at last! I am going to search for crocodiles in the wild. For one week we will go to the mountains, which thus far I have seen only as blue shapes on the horizon. I will join Willem, who will do his research, our Philippino counterpart Edmund and guide/crocodile catcher Jun-jun. (He learned the profession from his father who was a renowned crocodile catcher.)

 

All more easily said than done. Endangered species have a habit of living in the remotest areas. Our journey consists of many steps, and each will bring me farther from the civilized world.

 

First we go to the local municipality and ask permission from te mayor behind his big desk, from the police captain (who thought I was a Mormon missionary) and the local militairy division.

Hiking
Then we take a jeepney to a smaller village. Here all roads end and the Sierra Madre looms near, one of the most unexplored areas of Southeast Asia.

 

Since the jeepney was stocked with children, rice, chickens and pigs, I spent 1.5 hour on the roof. Halfway the road ended and turned into a river. The jeep heaved to and fro along deep crevasses and I was rather busy trying to stay alive. But we weren’t there yet. To reach the crocodile areas we had to hike for 2 hours through the mountains. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, with 15 kilos on your back and the sun on hot. There are barely roads, only rocks and slippery mud. Sometimes I had to cross rivers (naked) holding my bag on my head. Other crocodiles swim in these rivers and big leeches.

 

I slip on the rocks at every riverbank.

Edmund, Nestor of Disulap and JunJun
It is very frustrating and shameful, as Ed and Jun just walk on on their slippers, but the land is very beautiful. An endless landscape of little valleys with ricefields and houses of bamboo. The people start to look different, darker. This is the land of the Acta and Kalinga, indigenous peoples. We sleep in wooden houses and the rivers are our bathrooms. Sometimes Jun disappears with his machete and returns with coconuts to drink from.

 

How to catch a crocodile:

You wait for sunset. (Thats right, we enter the jungle at night. There is not much to see at night if you don’t know where to look, except certain trees that attract fireflies. Sometimes hundreds inhabit a tree and make it look like a christmas tree.)

With a flashlight you scan the riverbanks.

Look I found something!
Crocodile eyes reflect as little red lights above the water. As soon as you approach the crocodile, he thinks: ‘trouble’ and the eyes dive under the water. Then Jun-jun jumps into the river and with his long arms and big hands does GRAB and we got him. Simple. (There are many stories of Jun. He once catched a crocodile while taking a piss. And once during shaving he catched a deer and killed it with his razor.)

Frustrated crocodiles make a really strange noise. Iuw! Iuw! We try to harass the crocodiles as little as possible. We note their code and measure lengths and weight and release them again.

 

The next day the rest of the crocodile team arrived with some important people. An Australian named Tom and the head of the Philippine crocodile breeding farm in Palawan, Glenn.

Willem looking for crocodiles
They watched wile I joined the others as a professional crocodile catcher, hehehe!

 

The return journey....

The road to home was incredibly hard. In the morning we discovered it had been raining all night and the rest of the day the rain would never stop. Everything was now slippery clay and mud, and your feet slipped away with every step. The rivers were swollen and dangerous. We were completely exhausted from the past days, but we had no choice but to start the hike.

 

Two hours later we reached a couple of houses.

Jun got a big one
A jeep was supposed to leave from here, but we were too late, we had to push on to another village. By now I could not even see my shoes anymore. Everything below my knees was a muddy stump. I slipped with every step, and while carrying 15 kilo you are a little off balance and you cannot hold on to anything.

 

Another hour passed and there was no more drinking water. To keep on going I licked the drops from banana leaves and sucked the moisture from my shirt, and meanwhile I had to concentrate heavily on the road, for if you fall, you can break all your bones. Thinking back, I remember moments that I just kept standing with my feet in a difficult position, and lost all courage and energy to continue, being close to tears. I felt like Frodo crawling up Mount Doom.

 

All in all it took about 4 hours for us to reach a village from where a truck would leave for the city.

tonight is a good night for crocodile hunting
We kept waiting for another 3 hours while people loaded the truck with bananas and we could ride along on top or at the back. This too was incredibly dangerous. The road was really bad with big rocks and holes. Sometimes the wheels almost left the ground and even the Philippinos started to look nervous. It sometimes happens that trucks fall over and people die on this road. But we made it! The city! I looked back at the road and there was a little sign: thank you come again. I washed the mud from my hands and legs and discoved I was covered with stings and cuts and wounds and blisters.

 

I learned there is a whole universe between nearly died and death, but I feel very much alive now. I went to Jollibee’s and claimed my right to order their biggest burger, the champ. Only for crocodile catchers. When I entered, I bumped against a sign that warned me for wet floors, and for some reason I though it was extremely hilarious.

TravellinChic says:
what an adventure :)
Posted on: Aug 11, 2010
darlenemartin says:
I'm sure I will always remember this blog whenever i see a wet floor sign! Haha! This is the EXPERIENCE to cherish for lifetime! :)
Posted on: Jun 11, 2010
ellechic says:
great blog!
i especially love the part where after all that hike - to and fro - treated yourself to jollibee! lol.
Posted on: May 12, 2009
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See me smiling? I had no idea what…
See me smiling? I had no idea wha…
Hiking
Hiking
Edmund, Nestor of Disulap and JunJ…
Edmund, Nestor of Disulap and Jun…
Look I found something!
Look I found something!
Willem looking for crocodiles
Willem looking for crocodiles
Jun got a big one
Jun got a big one
tonight is a good night for crocod…
tonight is a good night for croco…
Still hiking
Still hiking
Philippine countryside
Philippine countryside
One of our temporary houses
One of our temporary houses
Little village of Disulap
Little village of Disulap
Edmund
Edmund
The kitchen
The kitchen
JunJun preparing for the hunt
JunJun preparing for the hunt
The road ahead is empty
The road ahead is empty
hiking again (but not before we ha…
hiking again (but not before we h…
Philippine countryside
Philippine countryside
First catch of the week
First catch of the week
Jun preparing for the hunt
Jun preparing for the hunt
Im a crocodile hunter!
I'm a crocodile hunter!
hatchlings
hatchlings
Willem
Willem
Willem looking for crocodiles
Willem looking for crocodiles
Got one!
Got one!
Northern Sierra Madre National Park
photo by: Jeroenadmiraal