Clive the fisherman shows off some of his tasty fish.
Robert Lalah, Assistant Editor-Features
When the crocodile got a hold of the gangly old man, it held him firmly between its massive jaws and pulled himto the bottom of the river. There, the large reptile held the man for about half a minute as he struggled andgasped for precious air.
This is just one of several close-encounter stories that you'll hear if you come across any of the fishermen from Milk River in Clarendon. These fishermen often double as crocodile hunters as they patrol the waters of the river in search of what many believe to be some of the tastiest fish in the country.
"Yeah man, dem say a di best fish you can get inna Jamaica right now. Well fat and thing. It dangerous, but because the fish taste so good, dem still willing fi take di risk," Miss Carmen said as she waved a fly away from her fish pot on the riverbank. She has been selling fish there for more than 20 years and is good friends with the fishermen who do the hunting. She made a gesture to some men some distance away. They started to walk over to her.
There were about six of them, all between 20 and 40 years old. They were wearing simple clothes and many of them had on waterboots. One of the shorter fellows in the bunch had on something that looked like a snorkel on his head.
"What a go down?" one of the men said. He gave his name as Prento and smiled from ear to ear when Carmen asked him to tell me of the crocodiles in the water.
"Wha you a seh man? Dat full up a crocodile! Hundreds a dem inna dat and dem crocodile yah a nuh di regular one dem. Dem one yah is like a duppy deh pan dem! Dem nuh ordinary!" he shouted. The other men in this ragtag band of fishermen gave nods of approval. "Dem crocodile yah have more sense dan most people inna Jamaica," said some wise guy with a homemade spear gun in his hand.
Prento spoke up again. "One time one bredda name Dean was riding him bicycle inna di early morning pan di road. When him ketch round a di corner, is a crocodile dat jump outa di river pan him and start bite him up! Yes man! Di crocodile nearly nyam him alive until some people hear Dean a scream and run come help him," Prento said, his eyes wide.
The short man with the snorkel told me his name was Clive. He went on his hands and knees to demonstrate just how slow the crocodile moved in the water. "Him smart you know, so him watch you and follow you even when you nuh know. More time we out deh and we see dem and we just haffi splurt. Anyway, dem deh mi haffi just lef dem cause dem more stronger dan di whole a wi together," said Clive.
Unafraid of the water
Miss Carmen shares the secret to cooking good fish. - Photos by Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
The men explained that they also had to be careful when walking on the riverbanks because if they were to unwittingly step too close to where a crocodile had left its eggs, it would be trouble. "Before you realise, di crocodile woulda jump out and nyam you raw!" Prento exclaimed.
But for all the danger of becoming the main course in a crocodile's meal, the men are surprisingly unafraid of the water.
"We leave out from early morning. We come in back by 12 and after we eat and thing, we go back. We live out deh pan di river because di people dem love di fish bad bad," said Clive.
Miss Carmen, who takes the fish, cleans and cooks them, agreed. "Di people dem who come down here love my fish very much. People who going to foreign always come here and ask mi fi fry some fish fi dem carry up and mi do it. People who staying at di Milk River Bath always come here too. Pan Saturdays this place pack up wid people, so we haffi get di fish even if crocodile inna di water," she said emphatically.
Beside Miss Carmen was a much shorter woman wearing a black blouse and a matching baseball cap. She said her name was Charm. The women have been selling together for many years and take great pride in calling their small business the Carm and Charm Fish Stop. Their eyes beamed with pride as they recited the name. They looked at me expectantly as if anticipating a compliment on the clever name. They were met with silence. Soon, however, the women went back to talking about the fish.
"Is all about di seasoning. People always seh our fish is di best because it season so nice," Charm said. Carm agreed.
"Plenty people who seh dat dem know how fi cook fish don't really know. Dem need fi come and make Carm and Charm teach dem something. Even when crocodile inna our water, our fish still taste better! Heh, heh!" she laughed.