(To read El Gringo Feo’s Costa Rica Diary from the beginning, start here.)
Saturday, September 1
I’m lounging in the hammock after a sweaty 6-mile traipse across Uvita, lost in John Gardner’s most excellent The Art of Fiction. As I swipe my Kindle to go to the next page, I hear something scratching tree bark over my left shoulder.
I twist in the hammock, awkwardly looking back to discover a howler monkey methodically moving up a tree about 15 feet away. This is by far the closest I’ve come to one of these guys. And of course, I left my phone in the room, part of my ongoing attempts to get my Internet crack habit under control.
At first glance I think sloth. His movements are that slow and deliberate as he climbs. This monkey is in no hurry. He has no idea El Gringo Feo is nested nearby.
Then more noise, this time higher up, in the trees over my right shoulder. As I slowly pivot in the hammock, realigning so the climbing howler is on my right and the commotion in the trees is on my left, I spot monkey number 2. I hunker down to observe.
More howlers appear. At this point, I’m glad I don’t have the camera. I’d be fidgeting with the damned thing rather than watching the monkeys, ending up with a crap iPhone photo instead of this sublime experience.
More monkeys appear in the kaleidoscopic swirl of leaves, branches and tree trunks surrounding me. When they stop moving, they disappear, even when they’re close. I watch carefully for any hint of movement, quickly learning to discern the difference between branches rustled by a breeze and those brushed by a monkey.
In all, I count at least 12 in this group, including a youngster and his mother. Several of them are very close — maybe 20 feet. So close I whistle gently at them to announce my presence. I don’t want to startle them, and I definitely don’t want to end up within selfie range. When I whistle, the one who is closest, the sloth-climber, looks into my eyes for a long moment while he hugs the trunk of the tree. My presence doesn’t seem to bother him at all, and he’s soon going about his business, oblivious to my intrusion.
They spend an hour above and around me, munching some sort of berries, lounging , talking softly to each other in what can only be described as monkey sounds, but quiet, intimate, not the braying howls that will emerge in a few hours as they yell at the sun for abandoning them again.
In a higher branch, one of the larger howlers looks down at me. It appears he has some sort of light colored fruit in his lap. Er, wait. That’s not fruit. Those are his testicles, which becomes apparent as he climbs to a higher perch with those puppies blowing in the breeze. He shall henceforth be known as Big Balls.
After tiring of this spot, they move on up the hill, following an arboreal path through the trees that they’ve likely traversed countless times. Not sure how widely they range, but their morning and evening howl fests grow closer over the course of several days before bursting into my room one morning as if they’re on the deck. Then the howls fade over the next few days, only to repeat.
This is, hands-down, the most moving thing I’ve witnessed so far In Costa Rica. I now totally understand that beatific look Jane Goodall had whenever she was communing with her monkeys.