My Life in the Amazon: The Monkey Escapades

The Monkey Escapades

From  11 June 2009

What a week it has been!  Three monkeys in the kitchen, one in the office and two in the living room; a near death attack by the highly aggressive and relatively unpleasant female kinkajou; more loads of fruit than any human should ever have to bear; another goodbye fiesta with lots of dancing and a huge ugly hairy tarantula acting as sentry; showering in the waterfall because the water keeps going out; feeding the baby anteater; experiencing hitchhiking (don’t worry Daddy, it’s relatively safe here)… and the crazy events of my days at Amazoonico keep on truckin’.

Beata, a free roaming spider monkey, is mentally and physically disabled. However, no disability prevents her from causing trouble.

Let’s start with the monkey escapades.  I was headed to the office to feed the hormiguerro (baby anteater) when I saw Amu, one of a pair of year-old monkeys, running from the kitchen with an apple.  She dropped the apple when she saw me, knowing she was in trouble.  Then I heard Diana, one of the two Quechua women who cooks lunch for the workers during the week, trying to get the handicapped E.T.-looking spider monkey Beata out of the kitchen.  I carried Beata out (because that’s the only way to get her out) and she then crawled into the office.  I took her out again.  Someone also forgot to lock the living room door in the second volunteer house where I live.  Beata got into the living room, bathroom, upstairs and into two bedrooms.  Forget the mess, I was upset she ruined my puzzle.

That night, a tamarin monkey squeezed through the cracked door.  Ane and I were sitting in hammocks and journaling.  Ane looked up to this cute little tamarin, his arms wrapped around a cup on the table next to us.  He ran into Ane and Sophia’s room (my friends from Denmark) under the bed.  We got a broom to sweep him out but Ane found we didn’t have to use it.  The chicico was huddled in frightened ball buried in a bundle of sheets on the floor.

But the monkey stories don’t stop there.  That Beata is one sneaky girl.  I was cleaning up after breakfast when the door opened.  Again, either a very small person or a monkey.  I guessed monkey.  Sure enough, Beata tried to climb onto the table.  I ran to stop her to prevent the lit candles from setting the hut aflame.  Then I realized the water was running so I headed to the faucet to turn it off.  Simultaneously, I realized “Criminey, the door is still open” and the woolly monkey was about to get in.  I closed the door fast, turned the lock, then ran to stop Beata from climbing into the oven which she has already opened.  Thankfully the oven was not heating but the stove certainly was.  Beata ran away when I tried to grab her.  I turned off the water, reached for her and successfully carried her outside, slamming the door as I surveyed the kitchen.  For the thirty seconds that she was in the kitchen, she caused quite a ruckus.  To top off my monkey shenanigans, Huahuasupay (whose name I can only now correctly spell), accidentally bit my finger when he tried to steal an oatmeal ball from my hand. Huahuasupay is the capuchin whose appropriately chosen name means “little devil” in Quechua. (Again, Dad, the bite is nothing to worry about!)

Onto my near death attack.  During one of the feedings, we have to clean the cage of the kinkajous.  These monkey-looking-but-actually-a-type-of-bear animals are nocturnal so they are usually sleeping inside the tubes in their cage.  One female resides in this enclosure, the dominant one among the five males, and the crankiest animal I’ve ever encountered.  Always one person cleans while the other watches to see if the female pokes her head out of the tube.  If she does, the person cleaning inside (which was me) should stay still.  Since kinkajous are nocturnal, they cannot see well during the day.  If that doesn’t work and she starts to move more, you haul your butt out of there.

I was cleaning the first pool of water when I was warned with a whisper, “She’s out.”  I froze, brush and bottle of water in hand.  She then proceeded to poke her head out more which I knew meant get out and get out fast.  So with some superhuman speed that would have left Carl Lewis in the dust, I got the heck out of there.  I forgot to mention kinkajous can jump three meters.  I was about two-and-a-half meters from the door.  I don’t know how I managed this, but I closed the door as she landed on it, hissing like mad.  I am signing her up for anger management classes.  And needless to say I am steering clear of the kinkajous for awhile.  If she is awake, there is no way I’m going in there.  Looking back on my miraculous escape from death, I question why I threw the bottle but kept the brush in my hand.  Neither seem important when you’re running for you life.  (Okay, it wasn’t really a “near death attack,” but she had mauled the face of a previous volunteer.  I didn’t want my face to be her second mauling.)  After all was said and done and I survived without a scratch, I can say that was one heck of an experience.  And maybe I shouldn’t have thought twice about that Rabies shot.

Believe it or not, hitchhiking is both common and safe in Ecuador. How else am I supposed to get from the jungle to civilization? Here, Ane and I pose with two of our chauffeurs.

I have now hitchhiked to Tena twice.  Hitchhiking in Ecuador is relatively common, but you are lucky if you can bum a ride because only about two cars pass by in an hour at Puerto Rio Barantilla.  That is where the canoe drops us off to catch the bus that we always miss.  I don’t think I’d feel comfortable hitchhiking alone (and my parents, I’m sure, would prefer it if I didn’t), but I was with two other girls both times.  This second time, we rode in the back of a pick-up truck because we wanted ¨the experience.¨  It felt very illegal passing the police who just waved at us (and one whistled) while we waved back.  But then the rain came.  Fast.  And hard.  Luckily, our chaperone driver remembered about the three gringo girls in the back and stopped to let us in.  We listened to a soccer game on the radio.  Ecuador won 2-0 against Argentina.  I celebrated with a low-key victory dance.

Trompi, the trumpet bird, is one of my favorite animals here, though I’ll admit I have a lot of favorites.  She is the only one of her kind and follows the tours around as well as molests the monkeys and dogs that try to pick a fight.  But dang that girl can defend herself!  She is relatively confused as to whether she is a human, a monkey or a dog but I am pretty sure she has ruled out being a bird.  Like most trumpet birds, Trompi makes quite a good guard, making her trumpet call when there are snakes or intruders nearby.  The other day, she followed a friend and I to the waterfall, waiting on a rock for us while we showered, then followed us back to the house.  She looked like she was auditioning for Lion King on Pride Rock.  Maybe she thinks she is part lion, too.

Feeding the baby anteater is one of the highlights of what I do here.  It is very difficult to keep a baby anteater alive and Amazoonico has not yet had success.  But so far, we are beating the odds. A mixture of dog milk, cream of milk, egg yolk and mashed termites is a tasty meal for any anteater.  I, however, think it smells like old gym socks soaked in, well, eggs and milk.  It is quite a lot of work taking care of this little thing, but it is worth it.  And whenever Ane and I feed her, we sing to her (softly of course), “You will survive.  Hey!  Hey!”  Gloria Gaynor would be proud.

Lunch time in the jungle usually involves interaction with a monkey on some level.  Yuma, a woolly monkey, takes great interest in the broom while my co-workers and I are amused by the mingling of a dog, trumpet bird and monkey.

Lastly, let’s talk about the monkeys in the infirmary.  One has a broken foot and the other isn’t eating in the group.  We had to bring in the latter because she has gotten really skinny.  Martina, the broken foot monkey, would not stop jumping on my shoulders while I was cleaning.  She kept wrapping her tail around my neck, playing in my pockets, pulling off my bandanna, and picking out the (hopefully) nonexistent fleas from hair. Clearly it is a task to clean her cage.  As for the other monkey, Uspa, she is timid around humans, but that is a very good thing because it makes her hopes of release high.  She has been at one of the three monkey release stations run by Amazoonico.  She was munching away when I fed her yesterday, so I am hoping she will chubby up pretty soon.

I hope you all have enjoyed this snapshot (in written form) of my Ecuadorian excursions.  I cannot believe I am approaching one month here.  I reckon the second half of my stay will go by quite quickly.  I am glad you all can share with me what I can only call an adventure.

Until next week,



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