Howler Monkeys sound like King Kong!
Way back in ’89 when the kids were little, we visited Costa Rica for the first time. My folks had just purchased a little house near the beach in Nosara, Guanacaste as a vacation home, never thinking we would end up living here full time. In those days all the roads were dirt, the jungle was thick and the wild-life was abundant.
We had just flown in on Sansa from San Jose. I’ll never forget that first flight into the Nosara air-strip. The door to the cockpit of the eight passenger prop plane was open. My son, Tyler, eight years old at the time, nudged me: “Mom, the pilot is reading the newspaper!” I couldn’t hear him over the propellers, but he was pointing and miming holding an open newspaper. Having been a sky-diver for many years and flown in lots of Cesna 150s with no doors, no seats, and no seatbelts; it hadn’t occurred to me to be nervous. I had lived through worse, so I smiled and motioned that it would be OK. It was too loud to be heard, so reassuring gestures and head bobbing had to suffice.
As we came in for the landing, we could see people shooing cows off the runway, a lone Jeep parked in the field, and a man in a cowboy hat, standing beside it. I was surprised not to see my mom jumping up and down waiting for the plane to land after which she would rush up gushing with joy as her family came to visit her newly adopted home away from home . I suddenly had a stomach-clenching moment hoping we were in the right place. After deplaning, the three of us stood there with our seven suitcases wondering what to do next. I suddenly remembered she had given me the name of an expat who had lived in Nosara for many years as an emergency contact. I rummaged through my pockets, found the crumpled piece of paper with the named scrawled on it, and walked up to the tall guy standing by the Jeep.
Big smile: “Hi! Do you know where Nosara is?”
Deep voice: “You’re standing in it.”
“Oh, good” What a relief. “Do you know a guy named John Chase?”
“You’re talkin’ to him.”
“Oh, good. My mom …”
“I know. Your mom is Micki and she’s late. Go on, you and the kids get in the Jeep. I’ll take you to her house. Where are your bags?”
I pointed to where they were lined up. His eyebrows shot up as he turned to me and said: “Seven? You have seven bags? You are your mother’s daughter! What did she have you bring? Rice?”
“Not this time, but I do have chocolate chips and Hershey bars!” (These were the days before Auto-Mercado and Walmart.)
So, John Chase, the expat from Houston, loaded up the bags, and we bumped along on a dirt road to grandma’s house. As we pulled into the driveway, the welcome shrieks started and the adventure took on new life. We unpacked and got settled in – just in time for sunset. We got our marching orders: grab a flashlight, spray all exposed skin with bug-spray, wear sneakers, and meet at the top of the stairs that led to the jungle trail to the beach. It was about a ten minute walk to Olga’s, the sunset gathering spot; less sophisticated than Mallory Square in the Keys, but nevertheless, the spot for sunset!
We had barely started down the trail, pushing aside the multiple vines hanging from the canopy, an enormous roar stopped me mid-step. My throat constricted, my breathing stopped, adrenalin shot up my spine, and my eyes went wide. I said not a word, and cocked my head. Mom gestured to be quiet and mouthed “Howler Monkeys” while pointing up. The three of us didn’t see anything at first. Another giant roar kick-started more roaring from several different areas in the overhead canopy. My eyes lighted on where the sound came from and I started laughing. The monkey was the size of a cat! I was expecting a gorilla, not a sweet, cuddly looking itty, bitty little guy. So that’s a Howler? That’s what’s making all the noise? Oh.
Now, over twenty years later, Howlers are just as loud, but there are fewer of them. My friends, Steve and Vicki Coan, of the Nosara area, started Sibu, a catch and release sanctuary for these and other endangered critters. More to come about their selfless efforts … meanwhile if you think you hear King Kong in the jungle, never fear; he’s probably living in a New York penthouse with a super-model. What you hear is a little Howler just trying to survive in an ever-changing world!