The Iguanas: A Costa Rica Adventure

May 4, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Maria Ruiz, Terrific Tales

by Maria Ruiz

Maria Ruiz shares another adventure from her life in Costa Rica.

“Honey!” I yelled, “We need to do something to block our view of the empty lot next door.”

“You bet!” he yelled back. “Got any ideas?”

The lot next door had a wreck of an old shed, fallen trees and lots of weeds. I could hear rustling under the leaves and was convinced every conceivable type of animal lived there. This was Costa Rica where strange animals lived in all the trees, creeks and hiding places.

“A hedge.” I answered. Not just any old hedge, one of striking beauty. Flowers of every color. A seventy-foot long hedge of hibiscus. Coral, pink, red, yellow, white, single, doubles and triples; my hedge would be the talk of the small town.

With my minds-eye full of flowering images, I informed Ted of my vision. He, having learned years ago to just go along, agreed. We drove to the local nursery where they had a few hibiscuses, but nowhere near the required one hundred plants. This meant a trip to the capital San Jose.

Driving from the Pacific coast to San Jose and back, a mere sixty miles away, is an all-day trip. The roads, for the most part, are narrow two-lane affairs, with potholes as big as a VW bug. That, plus so many turns as the road follows an old goat path from the seaside, up the mountains and onto the top where San Jose is located, means at least three and a half hours driving just to get there.

We planned, packed the car with the dog, water and a few nibbling things and headed off. In San Jose we visited several nurseries, explained what we needed and made arrangements to pick the plants up in a week.

Back home, Ted stretched a string from the front of the yard, all the way to the beach and we mentally laid out our plans. In a week, we made the trip back and picked up one hundred small hibiscus plants. Since we were already in San Jose, we picked up a few more things and returned home late in the evening.

The heat in the tropics is extreme. We could work for about half an hour before retreating to the air-conditioned computer room to cool off. So planting one hundred little plants took us a whole, long, hot day but we finally had them in. We stood in the kitchen and looked out in pride. We might have sat outside and admired our work, but didn’t feel like feeding the local population of mosquitoes that night.

Early the next morning I woke, fixed myself a cup of coffee and, cup in hand walked out to admire the hedge. What greeted my eyes was a horror beyond belief; twenty or twenty-five sticks with no leaves! Another five or ten had all clearly been chewed on.

“Ted!” I screamed.

He, hearing my yelling and thinking I must be getting attacked by a great beast, came running out, toothbrush in hand.


“Something has eaten the new plants.” I cried.

This got his attention as most of the sweat of planting them had been his. “Where?” he yelled, outraged. We stood looking at a naked stalk, I almost in tears and Ted in frustration.

Then I saw something moving our way through the weeds of the empty, ugly lot. “There! There.” I pointed to it. A lovely, five-foot long, giant Green Iguana walked right up to a new plant and bit in. I ran, arms flailing and Indian whooping at it. It stopped, stared and me and began to chew the bright green leaves. Only when Sherman, all thirty-pound miniature schnauzer of him, came barking, did it turn and run up one of the many coconut trees in our yard. “Well, it’s just a lizard. Granted, it’s big but nonetheless, just a lizard.” I said.

We left Sherman to guard and retreated into the house to think. “We can put up a chicken wire fence and that should do the job,” Ted offered. “We’ll run the wire on both sides of the hedge. They won’t be able to get in.”

Well, any excuse to drive into the little towns along the coast is okay with me. We packed the dog, water and some food for him and set off. The roads along the coast are almost straight and usually the pot holes are fixed, but one never knows what might lie ahead. We drove south to Quepos to the hardware store and bought 200 feet of three-foot high chicken wire, plus enough wooden stakes to hold the fence. We knew the wood would only last for a year before the termites, bugs, heavy rain and moisture would eat it away, but in a year my hedge would be grown and not need the protection.

Back home, sweat pouring off our faces, our flailing arms swatting mosquitoes and little gnats away, we stretched the fence down one side and back up the other.

After a shower, we stood in the kitchen and admired our work. We went to bed, confident we had won.

In the morning, I let Sherman out and heard him start his guard bark. I looked out and saw a couple of six-foot iguanas running back and forth among the tiny plants. What they hadn’t eaten, they were now trampling, trying to get out of the fence. Finally, one reared up and his weight just pulled the side down. The other chose to go out the same way.

Between Sherman barking and my yelling, Ted was debating whether to get out of bed or not. Finally, he decided to come out and see. He shook his head and tried to straighten the fence. Now, anyone who has ever worked with chicken wire knows, once it’s bent, it never gets straight again. He shook his head. “Well, we might just have to put the wire around each plant; little individual fences.” Both of us stood there. We looked down the row at the one hundred plants; one hundred little cages.

“Sure” I answered. That would work. “Little buggers. We’re smarter than you.” I shook my fist at the two iguanas sitting on a log in the empty lot.

After breakfast, we headed south again. We bought about three hundred feet of wire, wire ties and more wooden stakes. One of the men at the hardware store brought out some poison and suggested we use that. I was horrified. How could he even suggest poison? The iguanas live there, I’m the intruder. And besides, I have a dog. We shook our heads with disgust, took our wire and returned home.

We laid the roll of wire on the patio, pulled out the amount we wanted, placed a patio chair on the end and I began to cut with the wire cutters. As soon as I had cut about twelve inches, the cut end fought back like something in pain. It wound itself up with pointed wires sticking into my calves, causing several bleeding holes. All I could find were Band-Aids with Walt Disney characters. Decorated with faces of Pluto and Donald Duck sticking on the back of my legs, I attacked the wire again.

This time I turned it over and finished the cutting.
As soon as the last cut was made, it rolled itself back up and the cut piece rolled up and off the patio. I tried to unroll a new piece, but like a perverse child, the cut ends had entwined themselves in the roll and refused to let go. Finally, I got the piece unrolled again, put another patio chair on it and stomped it flat.

By the third cage, we had gotten the process down. I cut while Ted fastened the rounds together, slid them over the plants pounded the stakes and tied everything down. Fortunately the clouds stayed between us and the sun, so it was only about a hundred degrees with ninety percent humidity.
At each naked plant, I carefully looked to see if any new growth was sprouting from the stems. I found a few and felt confident they would come back.

As we were finishing up, I noticed more iguanas in the lot next door. They were all watching us with great interest. “What do these iguanas have? Do they put up flyers saying good food at our house? Maybe they send messages through the ground like elephants–or iguana mail.” Ted laughed and we went to bed, not so sure that we were winning over the stupid lizards.

The next morning found a dozen or so bent and twisted chicken wire fences over mangled little plants. Another six or seven iguanas were pushing down the wire rounds and Sherman was running back and forth, barking for all his worth. In the lot next door, I counted thirty-seven large iguanas enjoying the free-for-all. In my mind’s eye, I could see hoards of iguanas from all over Costa Rica streaming toward our yard like an invasion of army ants.

I knew the lizards had won. I donated the rest of the little plants to the iguanas, went indoors and watched TV. I just wouldn’t look out the windows on that side of the house again.

Check out more of Maria’s travel and history articles here in KRL.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. Presently, she lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Currently she is writing short stories as part of the Puerto Vallarta Writer’s Group. Her blog can be found at and her travel photos at

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