Monkeys and us

In my efforts to fully experience this wonderful place, I rented a car and took QiJian, my shar pei, and myself to Manuel Antonio– a lovely beach resort town on the Pacific.  (Remember, as small as Costa Rica is, it has a Pacific and Caribbean coast.)  Now, I had read that the beach communities are extremely humid, and I have lived in humid climates.  Nothing prepared me for this.  First off, Manuel Antonio’s popular beach borders on the rain forest. And, although many hotels and beaches are dog-friendly, pets cannot be brought into the rain forest.  After my visit, I understand why.

We arrived at the Mango Moon, an eccentric and funky hotel.  It, like the town, was really hot. Luckily, here, unlike in the Central Valley where I live, there is air conditioning.  Now, keep in mind that I spent the previous years in the desert in Southern California, so I am not unaccustomed to extreme heat and, in the summers, high humidity.  Here, however, I seriously began to wonder about those rumors that people can spontaneously combust.  So, seeking relief, I asked the young man at the hotel desk where I could find the nearest beach.  “Just five minutes,” he said, in that peculiar way that the locals have of  perceiving time and distance.  So QiJian and I started walking…and walking… and walking, each ten minutes stopping to wonder if we should turn back.  I kept seeing glimpses of the ocean, so I knew we weren’t far; but the road was so rough and winding that I couldn’t predict how circuitous the path was.  And, contrary to my plan, pup and I were getting more and more overheated.  After 30 minutes, finally, we hit the beach, which was sparsely populated, except for a man with an large, exposed gut and a floppy hat standing in the sand with his pants unbuckled and smiling at me.

Now, I know that beaches are often good places for making new friends, but I found it hard to believe that he was on the prowl.  First of all, this is a conservative country, and second, I don’t think this fellow would qualify in any culture– at least none that I’ve visited– as a babe.  In any event, fearing that my dog and I were about to pass out, I took a chance and asked him if he was selling water.  Sure enough, he was.  (That explains the alluring pose.)  He proceeded to walk to the nearest tree and pull out a bottle of water.  I soon found myself, however, in a dilemma.

When I originally left for what I thought would be a five-minute walk to a nice beach, I brought neither water nor my wallet.  I dug around in my pockets and lucked out when I found a 10-colones bill, worth about $17.  The vendor then looked at me sadly and said he didn’t have any change.  Now, I knew this was nonsense and that he was playing me.  And I have learned in my years of travel that it’s never a good idea to let oneself be made a sucker.  Word gets out and you’ll never get a fair deal on anything.  So I made the decision to walk away and try to find another place to buy water.  I hoped that the vendor would suddenly come up with change and call me back, but, alas, he didn’t.

As we walked, I watched with some amusement as my dog kept avoiding the waves which were rolling up to us; shar peis are not water dogs, and mine has always hated it.  (I tried several times to get him into the pool in our backyard in California so he would know in case he fell in where to get out.  Each time, he flailed wildly and, in a panic, swam to the deeper end of the pool, so I gave up.)  However, my poor pup was so overheated that, to my surprise, he jumped into water and splayed himself flat.  I would have joined him if I could.

I gave him time to cool down and then headed back to the hotel.  Uphill, on that horrible rocky road, on and on we trudged.  We took breaks every few minutes and, at one point, a young couple sitting on the hood of their jeep watching the ocean, took pity on us– on my dog, anyway, and asked if I had water for him.  I shamefacedly admitted that I didn’t, and they gave me one.  I gave him the water (and, yes, when they weren’t looking, stole a sip myself), and we made it up the hill.

Once we were back on a real road, we sat down on a half-wall to catch our breaths.  That’s when I heard rustling.  Not wanting to be uncool in this tropical paradise, I casually looked around for the source of the sound.  And found it.  For, above our heads, on the power lines crossing the street, were monkeys.  Lots of them.  And the longer we sat there, the more they came.  Now, I’ve loved National Geographic specials as much as you, but these guys were unnerving.  First, they were wild. Literally.  And they appeared unafraid if not downright aggressive.  They hung there and stared at us, with unusual interest in my dog.  He was mesmerized by the beasts and looked like he wanted to play.  During this Hitchcockian experience, fearing that my precious pup was in danger of being attacked and carried off, I decided not let the monkeys sense my anxiety.  So I slowed down my breathing and movements and casually stood up.  That’s when I heard, coming from the nearby trees, the most primitive, ungodly sound I’ve ever heard.  This sound, which I later learned to be the call of howler monkey, was so guttural and primitive that it sent chills up my spine.

Attempting my calmest voice (since animals are sensitive to sound, you know), I said cheerfully, “C’mon, QiJian.  Time to go”  and started to walk back to the hotel.  When I say “walk,”  I mean I did that I’m-not-really-running-it-just-looks-that-way thing while dragging puppy up the hill. When we arrived, I greeted the desk guy and quickly got QiJian into the room, where I immediately closed the doors and windows.  Feeling a bit foolish, I went to open the drapes, only to see several of our new-found friends perched on our balcony railing and watching us.


So there we sat- QiJian and I in air-conditioned comfort eating powerbars and the monkeys on the outside staring in, each side waiting for the other to engage, yet, deep-down, knowing that this is as close as we would get.

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