It was a hot, sunny day in Tortuguero. A welcome breeze skimmed the surface of the river, and the cries of gulls and frigatebirds broke through the air. Our boat pushed forwards through the water, inland towards the intricate river systems, and our guide and driver held gentle conversation in Spanish at the stern of the boat. We narrowed our eyes against the wind and looked around us. The dense jungle foliage came right down to the water’s edge, concealing all manner of creatures. The previous day had yielded dozens of scarlet mud crabs, unconcernedly going about their business, rare and wonderful hummingbirds making the most of a blossoming tree, and a tamandua, dense and purposeful, hunting through dripping bromeliads for ants.
We meandered down various tributaries, with always the thrum of the engine, the calls of the birds, the murmuring of our guides adding to the buzzing of the heat in our brains. Further still from the main river, we gradually left the noises behind us and a blanketing silence descended.
“Today”, said our guide, “we are visiting the Black Water”.
As we took a sharp turn into a shady waterway, the driver killed the engine, and we slid through the water and saw what he meant. The surface of the water extends as smooth as glass, and in its depths a perfect mirror world, darker, calmer, inviting. Huge trees send their roots into the water, and grow great again in the depths. Broken palm leaves reflect and extend into sharp geometric patterns, and draw our eyes irresistibly downwards.
As we drift further in, a small, pale face stares out at us from the branches that bend down to meet the mirror. A capuchin monkey, silently watching our progress, his eyes meeting ours as we pass, unspeaking, through his verdant home. We move further on, and a black snake shivers and writhes on the trunk of a tree, the movement doubled in the dark water. Closer in, not a snake; a line of bats, startled enough by our presence to imitate the predator.
Time stretches as we glide on, and the noise of the engine restarting comes as a harsh shock, ripping apart the soothing, heavy air. It is time for us to leave. Behind us the surface is broken, the illusion shattered, and the water is just water. But as we leave, and the ripples of our passage die away, the mirror returns, the contemplative calm returns, and there is magic.