An Act of Piracy
“What defines location of the sea to constitute an act of piracy?” A crime as old as mankind, taking one sailing vessel and commandeering another forcibly to hand over its contents whether goods, food, merchandise or passengers. The Act of Piracy, a culture first recorded by Homer in “The Odyssey” and obviously still practiced in modern day and far from the media covered areas of Somalia and off the coast of East Africa, is in fact a common practice here in the waters off of the America’s.
Of course no adventure is complete without the tale of pirates, if one must sail on open waters and especially the Caribean, it’s a tale from Disney, so it has to be true. I am here to tell you, Pirates exist beyond the media.
It all begins with an early morning bus ride taking us across the small country of Costa Rica towards the coast of Limon heading north northeast near the border of Nicaragua, we will begin our journey from land to sea in the small narrow canals of the black water on the Caribean side of the country. Heading deep into the jungles to find some of Costa Rica’s most abundant wildlife. Our destination, Tortuguero, where there is very little in the way of roads and all travelers must board the small vessels at the docks near Moin, Pavona or Puerto Limon or take a small aircraft to arrive at the destination.
Oursmall vessel, equipped with a single outboard motor, hard seats and a thin, flat roof over our heads, and adorned with many signs of years of use and trips through the canal is our means of transport. We stepped onboard from the dirt bank as the boat rocks back and forth in the waters. A sense of adventure instilled and the search for the bright orange life jacket begins. Naturally, the life jacket is what I look for first, I certainly prefer to stand out if I am bobbing in the crocodile filled waters versus blending in, for some reason the life vest tends to be a great calming affect for this water loving person I am and standing out for crocodiles, is just a minor technicality and we hope to not have to employ the “How to not be a Guest at a Crocodile Dinner 101”.
The rumble of the engine, the vibration of the churning propeller on the small fiberglass framed boat, the choking engine exhaust that overtakes the lucky few the water filling into the boat from the cracks in the floor, and we are off into the canals for our 3 hour journey to reach our place to stay for the next few nights. Along the way, birds of vibrant colors fill the sky, the banks and the trees at water’s edge. The occasional flicker of vibrant blue from the wings of the monarch are seen as we speed through the open waters, the sounds of the capuchin monkeys and howlers are heard like echoes through the thickness of the jungle as we speed down the waterways. Then our open canal turns into a vast waterway where the crashing waves of the sea and the calm waters of the canals meet. We have reached the Confluence where our vessel slows to meander across the choppy waters.
It is at this point, our journey takes on a new form. A vessel approaches rapidly from the South and scrapes along the side of our boat forcing us to cut our engine to stabilize the rocking caused by the impact of the second boat. The boat to the right that has broadsided us has 3 armed men, and I would say not lightly armed men, we would later learn, the men are local Pirates. Luckily, the men stay onboard their craft but speak to the captain of our vessel, the armed men scan through the passengers as we all sit quietly waiting for what might be the next move and wondering what is our escape tactic if there is even one. We are on open water, in a small craft that is already taking on water from years of use and poor upkeep and in crocodile filled waters. Not many options here to pick from. Big Guns, big crocodiles, rough water, you look for option D, you hope for option D.
A few minutes pass, though it seems rather lengthy few minutes given the circumstances and you begin to see people slowly put possessions into cracks in the boat and out of site from their bags as the men look away from them. Then we notice the Captain reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of cannabis and hands over to one of the men. The armed man inspects his payoff and just as they arrived, they shove off from our vessel and disappear back into the canals.
I have made many a trip into the black waters over the years in search of the Jaguar and other elusive animals of the jungles, but I truly figured the odds of finding a jaguar or winning the lottery were much higher than the odds of encountering pirates. As we all took a deep sigh of relief we continued our journey onward to our destination, each with a tale to come home with, each with a tale of relief of knowing that could have not had a good outcome and for a few, realizing, to get home, we have to travel back through the confluence.
Life is no doubt an adventure. There will be many returns to Tortuguero and many travels through the confluence to reach the banks of the jungles. If you ever have the opportunity to go, you must. It is an amazing place abundant with culture, wildlife and no doubt… Adventure!