I watched the tiny reptiles scurry away from the feet of the hotel’s guests as they strolled by, unaware. “Do they ever get into the rooms?” I wondered aloud.
My husband Tom whimsically replied, “That’s where they sleep,” knowing I love to entertain myself with ridiculously improbable, cute images. I picture myself turning down the sheets to go to bed, and finding a long row of curly-tailed lizards, heads on two gigantic pillows, sleeping away. Their tails curl up and down as they dream of their normal lizard days.
Tom and I had just gotten to our hotel in the Bahamas, ready for three days of relaxing, beach time, and plenty of reptiles. As part of the preparation for this trip, I had invested in a digital camera, knowing I would see thousands of reptile species and take thousands of National Geographic-worthy photos as we would trudge through lush tropical jungles dripping sweat.
Well, it never happens as I dream it.
I knew that where we would be staying on Grand Bahama Island was a bit of a tourist trap (now a gross understatement). The two towns of Lucaya and Freeport hadn’t even really existed before the 1960s, when a Virginian named Wallace Groves came and developed it with casinos and ritzy hotels.
Our hotel had been built much before the glitzy hotels, but it had a fresh, cheery coat of paint. It was what I had hoped our hotel would look like. Also, to make me over-the-top excited, it was inhabited by the quirkiest, cutest wild lizards I had ever seen. Curly-tailed lizards peeked out from every corner in the place. By the end of our trip, I had memorized the location of each lizard’s “home”, and every time we would come back from an activity, I would make the rounds, checking to see if each one was out sunning in its own particular spot, spread out across the cement, doing what lizards do best.
The folks at the hotel began to know me through my absurd crouching, peeking, meandering, and incessant picture-taking. The final morning we were in the Bahamas, it rained. It was very overcast, but I tried to hold on to the idea that they might still come out, and that I could take, oh, just thirty or so more pictures of these crazy and wonderfully silly creatures.
“You won’t find any this morning,” a cab driver waiting at the hotel’s front entrance said. “It’s too cloudy.” At first I was surprised that he knew what I was looking for, but upon taking a step back out of myself, I realized that for the past three days I had been acting quite obsessively, repeatedly circling the courtyard, checking sewer grates, steps, plants, the grandstand. Once I spotted one, I would squat and slowly duck-walk over as close as I could get, hoping that the little guy wouldn’t freak and scoot away. I was the epitome of stealth. (Don’t look right at them, they’ll know… be sneaky!)
The curly-tails seemed so playful, active, and talkative (in lizard ways, of course.) They would do a series of tiny bobs at each other from across the walkways, then eat the ants that marched along the cracks in the pavement. OK, so it doesn’t sound that different from other lizards, but their tails! Their tails expressed so much! While basking, the lizards’ tails would seem normal, stretched out with the rest of their bodies, but when alert and ready to run, their tails would quickly curl up like a spring, forming a Fibonacci-esque spiral– the perfect curlicue.
“How can these even exist?” I squealed. (I say this when I see every reptile.) They seemed so incredibly foreign.
The curly-tailed lizards really found a place in my heart in the short time we were there. There were few other reptiles that I saw during our stay, and none seemed to have the charismatic charm of the curly-tails.
Now that I think of it, I must have seen the curly-tails in pet stores here and there. They just didn’t have the same joie de vivre, which is probably why they didn’t strike me in the same way the wild ones did. But just maybe, perhaps, when the lights go out and the store closes for the night, they tug out a pillow hidden behind their Repti Rapids waterfall, and collectively dream of wilder days back on that touristy island of Grand Bahama, their tails curling up and down as they sleep.