It was just after breakfast when our group piled into the microbus to drive to our final destination on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. I really had no idea what to expect from the journey ahead. Except that it would be long. And could quickly become even longer if the road was washed out from mudslides, as it had been the day before, making the roads impassable and with no detour. Also, it was recommended that we didn’t drive at night because of so many unknowns. Whatever lie ahead, it was sure to be an adventure as we traversed the Continental Divide from the capitol of San Jose, Costa Rica to the small village of Manzanillo, located just outside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge. I’m a traveler and I have been very fortunate to explore some really amazing places and ecosystems over the years. But I knew somehow this trip was going to be very different. And it was.
I sat in the middle row of the microbus watching and listening as the city scenery changed from the hustle-bustle energy of street vendors selling their wares, taxis and microbuses beeping through traffic, and barred windows on business, to the steep dirt roads of the rain forest. Roads became either lined with vegetation so green and thick you couldn’t see more than three feet into its lushness, or, with such extreme drop-offs that even if you did actually survive plummeting off the road, you’d never get your vehicle towed out. It was very exciting to say the least!
Then all of a sudden there was a very obvious shift. A shift in everything. The energy, the scenery, the people walking along the roadside, the smell in the air. We had made it, safely, to the Caribbean Coast! As the the daylight was slowly fading we made our way along the roads through small coastal villages, past mass fruit production farms and banana plantations. It was very dark when we made it to our final destination. Being in the jungle away from the city and light pollution made everything seem that much more dark. And intriguing if you have an especially vivid imagination. As I slowly I stepped out of the microbus I was immediately overwhelmed with a sound I was not expecting, nor had ever heard before. It was so incredibly loud, and seemed almost prehistoric as it echoed and rolled high above me through the tree tops. What on earth was that?! I soon discovered it was a Mantled Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). I couldn’t wait for daylight to get my eyes on the monkeys in the morning! Well, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, at about 4:00 a.m. everyday the troop of monkeys above us woke up, and soon began communicating to one another with their incredible vocalization.
I spent hours watching them, and them watching me, taking photos of the detailed hands, and recording their vocalizations. They were so interesting! And very cheeky. So cheeky in fact, they shat on me, an sometimes even unexpectedly threw it at me from high above. All I could do was laugh every time. These monkeys have really good aim! The family system is apparent and impressive. And talk about males with testosterone! Wow. The care given to young is incredible. Watching each effortless movement through the enormous trees above was better than watching any human acrobats I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to Costa Rica a couple times now. And each time this mammal is a highlight for me. The Howlers continue to face a very sad fate in Costa Rica though. But I’ll talk about that another time. For now, I’ll just sit here writing, with a huge smile on my face and laughing out loud as I reflect on how cheeky the Howler monkeys truly are.