It happened today.
I was on the Campesino Breakfast Tour with guests. We drove through the finca till we got to the Aguacate Farm, where the chickens, ducks, and cows are kept. Don Juan taught us how to milk a cow; the lactating mother was mooing with discomfort, eager to be relieved of her burden. Sitting on a one-legged stool that was tied to his waist, Don Juan expertly sent streams of white into a gray pail, and the guests crouched to do the same with early morning alacrity.
We filled up the pail, thanked Don Juan, and made our way to the chicken barn. Through the dim light and faintly unpleasant smell, about 180 chickens skittered about, clucking indignantly at the disturbance. A rake and shovel leaned against the wall, a wooden stick with little rawhide strings hung from a column, and a leather belt was wound around a rafter in the corner. The man who takes care of the chickens took Harvey aside and whispered something in his ear, then proceeded to lead the guests through the barn to show them the coops and water-troughs. While the guests were distracted, Harvey approached me.
And then it happened.
He surreptitiously pointed up and to my left, at the leather belt in the corner of the rafters. I shrugged the universal question mark. He looked at me and said quietly, “Boa.” Stifling my excitement, I peered to get a closer look at the dark object and perceived that it was indeed a large snake, and not the clothing accessory I had presumed. “I didn’t want the guests to be alarmed, so we won’t say anything until they’re out, in which case they can come back to see it,” Harvey said in Spanish.
I finally had my boa sighting!
I waited till the guests went through a screen door to the room of the chickens raised for meat and the outdoor duck enclosure beyond. Then I approached the corner where the boa was sleeping and raised my camera.
I photographed the snake as I do all wildlife: from a distance first, and then every few steps, in case my proximity scares the animal away and I end up with very few shots, or none at all. Fortunately, since the boa was resting or asleep (they are nocturnal hunters, mostly) I was able to make up for my lack of zoom by advancing till I could almost fill the whole frame with the coiled snake. It was fairly large, about as wide as two fists at some points, and probably over six feet long. Towards the tail its coloring became reddish, which signaled that it wasn’t fully mature yet—its head also wasn’t as big as some of the specimens I’d seen elsewhere.
About a dozen photos in, I got a couple shots of the boa peeking around a rafter in what seemed a curious and playful way—I was tempted to reach out and pet the camouflaged coils that reflected rainbows in the camera’s flash. I’m very glad that I was able to see a boa, and surprised at the circumstances in which I found it. The chances of coming across a boa in the forest were pretty slim, due to its reclusive nature and excellent camouflage; encountering a wild one in an inhabited building (someone is almost always in the barn to look after the chickens) was unexpected but not unbelievable. After all, had it gone undetected till nighttime, the boa would have easily grabbed a chicken and escaped the barn. Like Kipling’s Rock Python, Kaa, in The Jungle Book, this snake was “very cunning and always hungry,” had a “beautifully mottled brown and yellow jacket,” and “his strength lay in his hug, and when he had once lapped his huge coils round anybody there was no more to be said.”
Back to the breakfast tour. After milking a cow and collecting eggs, guests take these ingredients to a little house kept for preparing and eating the breakfast. Doña Candida, the woman who helps prepare the breakfast, greeted us and took out a ceramic chicken-shaped bowl to place the eggs in. Then she showed us how to grind corn kernels into meal using a small hand-operated mill, which was mixed with salt and water to make tortilla dough. She also taught guests how to carefully pat balls of dough into circles with no air bubbles and of level consistency before baking them on a fire stove for a few minutes. Doña Candida scrambled the morning-laid eggs with some onion and salt, and, having already prepared the gallo pinto, brought breakfast to the table. Drinking coffee with the fresh milk, the guests were completely satisfied with the delicious simplicity of a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast.