This Is No Croc of Baloney
by Lou Womack
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Many times during my years in the Canal Zone I swam in the Chagres River and in the Panama Canal. Now I shutter when I think of the creatures that were swimming underwater. I was either gutsy, naive, or maybe just oblivious.  Which was it?
There was a pond down the ravine in back of our cottage. When we moved into the cottage, my first thought was, “Oh a private swimming hole!” That thought perished the minute I was warned not to go in that water as “the water was  too still.”   I don’t know what still water had to do with where a crocodile likes to hang out, but the warning was heeded. I was allowed to swim wherever the water was running swiftly, but not in still waters. Once in a while I have to admit, as most CZ Brats would, that if a minnow nibbled on your leg or if you touched an unseen log underwater with the tip of your foot while in the water, a chill would rapidly go through your entire system until the minnow or log was verified as being what it was!

One of our favorite swimming holes was at the Gamboa Yacht Club.  That is until one day a great big crocodile was hauled in. It must have been at least twenty feet long. I know for sure that I never went swimming there again. Come to think of it, it was still water. Dad was right!

Dad was very well known for his barbeque expertise and his homemade barbeque sauce, so he was asked to be the chef for a big barbeque being held at Howard Air Force Base. His pay for doing this was an Argus camera.  That was the beginning of his photography career. In no time at all he was taking pictures with another purchase, a newly acquired Bell & Howell Movie Camera. From then on, all our animals were filmed plus the many events held in Gamboa, the Christmas decorations on the front of our house and our wonderful trips to the Perlas Islands.

While Dad was traveling up the Mindinga River he spotted a very large crocodile.  It seemed as though every time he went up there, it was always in the same location. His first inclination was, “I’ve got to get a shot of this creature!”

On the next trip he had his movie camera with him just in case the crocodile also happened to be in the same vicinity. To his great joy, it was.  He docked the launch next to the shoreline, got out of the boat and I am assuming that he used his crocodile calling technique to get its attention. It worked because the crocodile turned and headed in his direction. Dad was ecstatic over the film footage he was getting. As the crocodile approached closer the view of it was magnificient for a close up picture. “What a film this will make!“ he thought as more and more footage was clicking in his camera.  This photographer was so engrossed with the picture in the viewfinder that he didn’t realize the crocodile was engrossed in him also. All of a sudden reality set in, “He’s not stopping! I am the hunted!”  The camera continued to whirr.  However, by that time only sky was being filmed as the “hunted” ran frantically up the hill to a place of safety.

Our conversation at the dinner table that night was very exciting as well as a little bit frightening as Dad related, as only he could, his experience on the Mindinga River that day. Much to his dismay, when he opened his movie camera, something was  threaded the wrong way and his prize picture was never taken.

February 19, 2000

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