Little brown faces peeking out from behind the fig palm fronds, barking a warning at our presence as they stuff fruit in their mouths then scurry off to get some distance between their breakfast and the perceived threat of our presence– these are the Brown Capuchin Monkeys of the Amazon Rainforest.
I had seen various monkeys before. In zoos. In ‘habitats’. As sad little entertainers leashed to some unenlightened person. But I had never experienced them in the wild, where they are part of the environment, swinging through the trees eating figs and fruit, scolding each other and everything that displeases them and certainly never in large troupes. But now I can check that off my list.
My sister and I spent many mornings in the Amazon on birdwatching hikes and it was on the return of one of these when we heard a sudden snap of branches overhead as large pieces of fuselage from a fig palm crashed to the ground; we ducked our heads in alarm, then saw the palm fronds and branches twist and rotate in a violent dance. Up and down, to and fro as though a squall had materialized right before our eyes in an otherwise peaceful forest.
But the squall was just a troupe of Brown Capuchin Monkeys. The troupe was rambling through the fig palms, stripping dry peels of brown fronds and letting them fall as they went about their fig hunt.
Somehow, they looked nothing like the ‘habitat’ monkeys. They had a sense about them, a wildness the permeated not only their actions but also their character. Their unrest at people being in the area, their area, was palatable and brought a cacophony of scolding and branch ripping, adding to the squall. As I watched them watching me, I could see difference between wild vs. habitat. These guys scolding me from above were edgy, wary and ready for flight and had the physiques to make it happen, much trimmer but the hard muscled bodies were easy to see even from a distance. They had a confidence, a ‘we belong here, you don’t’ kind of snobby attitude along with the knowledge of numbers; they were all family, basically thought with one mind, one set of rules.
One does not see that in the zoo or ‘entertainment’ monkey. When we see the unhappy leash monkey, a very social little creature, existing without the confidence that comes with belonging to family, with monkey rules and order, without ‘backup’ one has to wonder how miserable they must be.
A walk through a rainforest on a beautiful morning reminded me that families come in all shapes and sizes and as much as we find our own family sacred, worry over our children, give them the best opportunity for a full and happy life - so does every other family on Mother Earth.
“To get to the Rainforest, you must ride the red river.” These were the words our guide told us as we stood at the dock, giddy with anticipation as a flock of green and gold Macaws made a riotous noise overhead to welcome our arrival. It was midafternoon and we had a three hour boat ride ahead of us. It was not a large boat, more a narrow canoe reminiscent of the typical river transportation (7 to 8 foot wide, 20 foot long and had fiberglass canopy to shade the bench seats that bordered each side.) but was of man-made materials with a motor. A small motor.
And there were ‘boat rules’ for the ten of us.
Put the life preserver on and secure it tightly.
Do Not – for any reason – get up from your seat, even if we spot wildlife. The boat WILL tip over.
Do not lean over the side of the boat.
Do not trail your hand in the water; something might think it is food – like Piranhas or Caimans.
Do not hold your cameras, cell phones or binoculars over the edge of the boat. The Amazon River is filled with them.
Once underway we were served a typical lunch of the area – a rice dish served in banana leaves and juice aside – then journeyed up the river at small motor speed. By this time, Laureen and I had forgotten our adventures of the past night (we were again in Cusco overnight to catch the flight to Puerto Maldonado and, yes, she got sick once more!) and settled into our new journey, atwitter with the excitement the whole boat had caught. This was definitely going to be different experience, everyone could feel it.
While the jungle and stained water quietly drifted by on our way upriver to the lodge we spotted a group of capybaras with young (large rodents that look a little like a cross between a pig and squirrel) which we watched for several minutes (nobody got up from their seat) and also a Spectacled Caiman. There was nothing else on the river, no boats, no radios blasting, and no towns to go by. It set the stage for what lay ahead - seclusion. Because it was nearing sunset we were told to keep a lookout for any Jaguars that might come down to get a drink. Unfortunately we did not get to see any but the possibility kept me searching the banks as it grew darker – and colder.
The temperature was in the 60 F range. That was much cooler than we had anticipated! I mean I was concerned with sweating through my shirt every couple of hours but as it turned out, I could have packed something a good deal warmer than the shorts and tee shirts I had. (Because of the boat size, we were asked to whittle down our luggage to backpacks that weighted no more than 11 pounds, so not everything I packed for Peru went with me and I feared people were going to get sick of me wearing the same light over-shirt, but I think that was the case for everyone.)
Three hours from our jump off point, we disembarked, donned our backpacks and flashlights, and then headed into the jungle for our hike to the lodge as darkness fell.
It just doesn’t get any better than that my friends!