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Eating Iguanas

We are in San Ignacio, Belize, driving thorough a gurgling stream, grooving to Punta Rock music and listening to our badass tour guide, Eric, spin tales. “On our days off,” he murmurs as we meander through acres of orange groves, scaring colourful parrots which are soaring along the roadside, “we swim in the river and sometimes we like to go hunting for iguanas that nap along its banks.”

My vegetarian companion, Darby, is silently disapproving while the rest of our tour group groans in boisterous disbelief. “It’s true,” he grins, “if you want me to prove it, meet me tomorrow and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Our fate is decided. In the meantime, we spend the rest of the day enjoying the Cayo area’s natural beauty. We canoe inside a cave filled with ancient Mayan artefacts, gallop through the jungle on horseback, and cliff jump along waterfalls in the Mountain Pine District.

The next day my friend Lindsay and I are the only members of the original group brave (or stupid) enough to arrive at the appointed meeting spot, a colourful bar packed with friendly locals. Eric is there, sipping Belikin beer with two of his Belizean friends whom he introduces as Dennis and “Voodoo”. They down their drinks and we pile into Eric’s beat up pickup truck.

We soon head down a windy gravel road through endless plantain orchards, stopping finally along a tree-lined riverbank. When we disembark, the boys begin to prowl its shores in search of iguana prey.

After much hunting, Eric spots a potential victim resting on a branch dozens of meters up a tree. Dennis is appointed as our climber and makes a supernaturally fast shimmy up the smooth trunk. He continues until he is barely visible among the lush foliage. Although from our vantage point he looks like a speck in the canopy, we make out his attempts to throw fistfuls of foliage at the sleepy animal while simultaneously shaking the tree branch.

In the meantime, the rest of our party rolls up their pants and wades into the slow-moving river. After more hair-raising manoeuvres on Dennis’s part, the iguana decides she has had her share of his antics and leaps into the river far below. She creates a huge splash when she makes contact with the murky water, and I get a glimpse of her dragon- tail whipping the air.

Following a wet and strenuous chase, Eric emerges holding an enormously beautiful lizard shimmering with brown, gold and beige hues in the sunlight. He barely strains with the weight of his catch as he climbs onto the muddy bank.

Placing the iguana on the grass, Eric wields his rusty machete against her sinewy muscles and tender neck, and she falls still. Together, Voodoo and Dennis join in to cut and prepare the meat, revealing firm pink flesh and thin ribbons of fat.

A great orange fire is soon burning on the bank and the iguana meat boils overtop in a large black cookpot. Into the mixture the boys add fresh coconut milk and sliced plantains, stolen from one of the nearby plantations. Our meal takes over an hour to cook but the final result is surprisingly edible; Lindsay and I agree it tastes a lot like turkey.

We will soon have to bid our brave hunters goodbye but I will always savour the experience of hunting iguanas with complete strangers by the banks of the lazy San Ignacio river.

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