It had been raining for days. Successive waves of storms rolled over and through us, lightning alternating between turning nighttime into day with sheets of light and sudden bolts cleaving the sky into halves for nanoseconds before engulfing us in darkness again. Incessant rolling thunder rattled the panes and the nerves as everything that breathed ran for cover. The sky played mind games with our heads as the gray clouds broke up in bright promise and then reformed darker than ever. As another soggy night descended upon us, the posadas of the village looked every bit the outposts of civilization that they were.

 

As the downpours continued day after night, the manicured lawns became ponds and lakes. Even the most raucous birds grew quiet.

 

The special native mud became deeper and more treacherous than ever, sucking at your boots and slowing your pace as the rain pelted harder. Running for cover was impossible for those caught unawares. At least one tourist that ventured out that week, beguiled by a break in the rain, fell and broke a bone in the mud streets. On one occasion I saw a handful of bored and determined tourists leave the safety of their posada, only to turn back in frustration after taking less than a dozen steps.

 

 

On this auspicious night I determined the only reasonable thing to do was to stay in my room, which was comfortable and well lit, and equipped with the mosquito nets as a quiet reminder that I am living in Dengue Fever country. It may not kill you, but it will most likely require a hospital stay in Buenos Aires, about 800 kilometers to the south.

 

Happily, my temporary quarters in this beautiful posada were equipped with netting to protect from mosquitoes whose bites here are nasty and only occasionally deadly.

 

I made myself comfortable, grabbed something to read, and headed for the bathroom, my favorite place to meditate. As is my custom, I did the required test flush before perching, and as the tank emptied its contents into the bowl, I was astonished to see something very alive and black in color struggling to stabilize itself in the rushing water. My first impulse was to jump back, then lean forward and slam the lid down. What the hell . . .  there was a creature in my toilet bowl! It was little, and had legs, like a really big spider, except its legs were different–of course–it had to be a frog. Now what to do about it?

 

My first thought was to go to the reception desk and tell them. I imagined the conversation, if I managed it at all with my Spanglish and animation, would go something like this:

 

Me:  Uh, excuse me senorita, I’m not sure, but I think there’s a frog in my toilet bowl.

Reception:  Uh-hunh. And how may I help you, senor Bechtel?

 

Then I thought, no, she won’t believe me at all. And what would I do if she accompanied me to my room to observe the alleged frog in my toilet and it wasn’t there? I mean, how did it get in there to begin with? Did it go in from the top, or come up from the bottom? I mean, when you flush the toilet, where does all that water go, anyway? And do frogs live down there? Come to think of it, how long had that frog been down there in my toilet bowl before I saw it? OMG, was it down there during one or more of my library perches? Some things don’t bear thinking about.

 

There was only one thing that could be done, one I felt well qualified to do. I needed documentation. This was a photo op if ever I had one. I decided a telephoto lens would be best, and I wasn’t sure where to aim the camera when I flipped up the lid, because who knows where the frog was hiding down there. So I put the camera strap around my neck, so I didn’t drop my camera into the toilet in all the excitement, positioned myself directly above the toilet, and flipped up the lid.

 

Nothing.

 

No frog.

 

It had to be hiding! I flushed! This was a quick-flush toilet with a huge rush of water and then it was gone. I couldn’t really tell if the frog had gone down in all that water, but I had snapped photos about three times. Here’s one of the photos:

Descent into the maelstrom: is there a frog down there or not?

 

I closed the lid to the toilet, just to be safe. I decided to defer any further decisions until the next morning. I was disappointed about the photo op. I should have used a different lens. The telephoto took too long to focus. I went to bed wondering where the frog was.

 

I woke up about 3 a.m. to deafening, crashing thunder. I could tell through the curtains on my door’s window that there was a regular lightning show going on outside. I decided to open the door and go outside to watch the show. I went to the edge of the roof cover, and as the sky obligingly lit up again, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a black creature, about the size and appearance of a very large skunk came flying around the corner of the building just as the thunder clap hit us, and it rushed up to the door of my room, which was ever so slightly ajar, and to my horror, stuck its nose in the gap and nudged the door open and ran into my room! Such chutzpah! I hadn’t turned the light on in my room before stepping outside, so something big was inside my room in the dark. Yikes! And I was in my underwear and bare feet!

 

My heart throbbing, I stepped into the room. The light switch was behind the door, so I had to step around the now open door to reach the switch, and as I did so and turned on the light, this is what I saw beside my bed:

My intruder was a neighborhood dog, frightened by the thunder, who sought safety in the first human habitation with an accessible door. And it was not my fevered imagination at all, this guy in the dark looked like a giant skunk!

 

He had no intention of leaving. He didn’t look menacing, but then I didn’t want to be wrong about him and get bit either. So I took a small hand towel and smacked him on the rump with it, scolding him and telling him to leave. No response. I tried reasoning with him in a very stern voice. Still no response. I wrapped the towel around my hand and pushed him toward the door. He made a feeble attempt at biting me, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. He just wanted to be left alone. Inside my room. Which might have been okay, except he was very wet and smelled bad. Not ugly, just like–soaking wet dog. No, he had to go. I pushed his butt all the way to the door, and out he went, not happy at all at this turn of events. I closed and locked the door. I guess my storm-gazing was over for the evening.

 

I woke up with a start at a tremendous racket outside my bedroom door. The storm had apparently passed, because there was light coming through the window. It was about 7 a.m. But what was all the noise about? Then I heard this deep, throaty growl and I knew this wasn’t a dog. Not this time. I did not open the door. I looked out the window, through the screen. Yes, there was definitely something out there, and it was right on the other side of my door! I ran for my camera and then looked out my window again, and saw this:

This fox was outside my door, growling at the dog that had run into my room in the middle of the night. The dog was ignoring the fox, and when the dog wandered off, the fox ran away. For a moment the fox had thought it was cornered by the dog–outside the door to my room. The fox had knocked my boots over. All things considered, a happy ending.

 

Pleased with my photograph, I thought, hey, let’s check on my frog. I decided on my lens, positioned myself, and popped the lid of the toilet up, and was greeted by this:

Yep, I was right. There was a frog in my toilet. And now he was hiding behind the hinge of the lid. So maybe that’s why the motel I had stayed at the previous weekend had no lids on their toilets! No seats either, as far as that goes!? So the frogs had no place to hide? Honestly, I would never have guessed.

 

Later I mentioned this little episode to someone in the village, and they said, oh yes, the frogs get into the toilets from the top, not the bottom, and all you do is take a tissue and pick them up and put them outside. Un-hunh. I see.  You are sitting on the toilet, and you feel something down there. You reach in and carefully remove the intruding frog and remove him to safety outside, from where he will probably return to your toilet bowl. And if you’re not dressed at this propitious moment? Well, you put the frog down while you are putting on your clothes, with a firm command to Stay! No problemo!

 

What DID I do with my guest frog? I am ashamed to tell you the truth. I did nothing. I left him there on the toilet. I took my shower and got dressed, and packed my bags, checking them carefully as I did so, because it was my last day in that room. My frog might still be there, maybe getting a little bigger by now. I did see one a few days ago in the street, bigger than my fist.

 

And finally I leave you with beautiful thoughts as I stood photographing the sun setting over the wetlands, the kind of scene that makes you forget all the awkward moments of life. I was standing beside a low parapet, and as I clicked away with my camera, I heard screaming, and glancing toward the source of all the noise, saw a group of tourists staring at, well, my feet. Looking down, I caught the tail end of a snake that had slithered over my foot and was rapidly retreating into the underbrush. My camera was already in my hand, so here it is:

Although it was five or six feet long, it wasn’t an anaconda. No, it was a Tropical Racer, and guess what–they eat frogs!

 

Eventually, of course the storms of life pass, and if you wait long enough, the sun returns and the sky clears. Then the world looks like this:

The earth soaks up the excess water and blooms . . .

 

. . . and blooms.

 

Thank you for reading. You are the reason I write. If you are not a subscriber, please do so by entering your name at the top right of this page (if you are on a computer), and if you are on a cell, the space for your email is probably all the way at the bottom. But if you want a really good look at the Tropical Racer snake, you might want to use your computer, and even use your zoom feature.

 

Coming in a post soon is an article about the adobe house builders of the Ibera Wetlands. They’re not what you’d be expecting. Be prepared for a few laughs.

 

 

 

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