Warning: this post contains pictures of faces (mine) that may frighten small children. Parental guidance suggested.
Before embarking on this trip I vowed to leave my comfort zone as much as possible. I strongly believe that that is the only way to expand my mind and grow as a person.
Just going to Central America is, of course, technically leaving my comfort zone. But in a way, traveling IS my comfort zone. I get restless in one place for too long. I crave new experiences and adventures like some people crave chocolate.
(Brb, need a snickers)
Anyway, I knew I needed more than just traveling to really leave my comfort zone. Not just leave it, squirt some gasoline on it and flick a match.
So, in Caye Caulker, I snorkeled with sting rays and nurse sharks. Then fed 4 foot tarpons by hand.
Last weekend I went to ATM Cave knowing full well I would encounter one of my biggest fears: bats.
But today. Today I willingly walked into what I can describe without exaggeration as one of my worst nightmares: an iguana sanctuary. (You may be noticing an “ugly animal” theme to my fears)
I am terrified of lizards. When I lived in South Carolina I once saw a small gecko in my laundry room, screamed like I was being murdered, and spent the remainder of the day perched on my kitchen counter making frantic calls to my mother and screeching every time it moved. I’m still surprised the authorities were not called.
So, walking into an iguana sanctuary was, well, a bit unsettling.
Back story: In Belize, green iguanas are considered a delicacy. To help protect them, the San Ignacio Resort Hotel created the Belize Iguana Project: a sanctuary and educational resource for locals and tourists. For 12 bucks you get a guided educational tour of the hotel grounds and entry to the sanctuary…where they are all crawling around like, well lizards.
I told myself it wouldn’t be that scary. They’re much bigger than the gecko after all. I can’t, y’know, lose one up my pant leg. (I just recoiled after writing that).
It was terrifying.
Our (endlessly patient) guide brought out a plate of fruit, handed us bananas and, as he predicted, they began swarming. As a dozen iguanas began to converge on the fruit in front of me, inching forward in slow, slithery motion, a horror movie soundtrack began to play in my head. I had a fleeting thought: “this is it, this is how I’m going to die”.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t. They’re vegetarians.
Next up came the dreaded “holding” portion of the tour in which iguanas are placed on your body and you’re told not to “make any sudden movements”. Because that’s perfectly easy when iguanas are crawling on you.
Please allow me to present my reaction to being handed a calm, docile, 16 year old iguana.
This picture really captures my physical reaction: 100 yard stare, drool beginning to form, mentally trying to figure out how to somehow detach my arms (similar to a lizard’s tail-see, I learned something) and flee
My first thought was, “PLEASE GET IT AWAY FROM ME”. My second thought was “Wait what exactly happens if I make a sudden movement?” It was then quickly removed from my hands as I looked like I was either going to eat it or have a full blown panic attack (see above).
Please allow me to present a photo essay called “Trying to keep it together, and failing”
By the end, the iguanas requested that I never ever come back. I agreed.
Don’t let my experience dissuade you. Although the intense, completely irrational fear is still there, I’m really really glad I did it. Plus every 12 dollars goes towards helping to protect these peaceful, harmless creatures*. Worst case scenario you’ll have hideous pictures of yourself to post on the Internet for the world to see.
For more info, check out the Belize Iguana Project
*that do NOT look or behave like terrifying alien monsters that will attack me as I sleep. Not at all.