July 12, 2019 - We woke up late this morning damn it. I had set the alarm for 6am, for a 6:30 departure. The plan was to get to the wildlife reserve by 7am. But damn it, instead of snooze I turned off the alarm and when I looked at the clock again, it was 7:20am SHIT! I woke up and set everything in motion, the girls all jumped up and we raced around, throwing on clothes, packing up cameras, etc. We were ready in record time, 15 minutes. We took off to the reserve and made it there before 8am.
The reason I wanted to be there as early as possible was for another shot at the spider monkeys before they wandered deep into the jungle. When spider monkeys wake up, they take off to parts unknown. At the end of the day, they return to roost in the safety of the trees near the entrance of the park. But during the day, they are ghosts.
I was hoping for another shot at them, and of course when we arrived, they were gone. However, the real treasure for us this morning was a chance at finding the howler monkeys. We hired another guide, this time I remembered his name; a guy named Angel. Angel has lived and worked at this park his entire life, so I felt confident he could help us out.
He took us to the trails where we encountered the howlers 2 years ago. The morning was cool, but the temperatures were rising fast. It was going to be a very hot day. We worked our way through the forest trails, Angel stopping every so often to show us what poison trees to avoid as well as to listen to the jungle for any signs of the monkeys. After about 35 minutes of searching we turned around and began walking back in the direction that we came, I thought for sure our luck had run out.
We stopped by the lagoon to have a look, Angel quickly spotted a Basilisk Lizard, (Jesus Lizard), by the water which I was really hoping to see. They are nicknamed the Jesus lizard, for their ability to run across water on their back legs. They are such cool animals. I saw one the last time I was here, and really wanted another shot at it, and it was wicked cool finding another. Would love to encounter it while it is running on the water, that would be a dream. Right when our guide Angel found it, the girls were slapping away ants. They unknowingly stepped in an area that was swarming with them. The jungle is alive with a heartbeat, you have to always watch everything here. My poor girls, while they slapped away, I snapped away. lol
We continued walking back in the direction of the entrance and I thought our guide had given up, when in fact, he had not. He knew the monkeys were in the area, he just didn’t know where. The forest is thick and the trees are tall. He would tell us to wait, then walk out into the bush and stand there scanning the trees, listening for any sounds that might betray their location. He returned a few time with disappointing news. No howlers.
On the third attempt, he finally returned with news we wanted to hear, 5 howler monkeys resting in the shade of one of the trees near the lagoon. They were about 40 yards away. We could see them with the help of binoculars. They were up in the tree, sitting in the dark, where it was nice and cool. Finally one of them popped out of the trees on a branch with no leaves on it, a female from the group. Jackpot. It was the opportunity we were looking for. It was still a bit far away, but it was out of the darkness of the tree canopy, so Sophia and I were happy. We finally had an opportunity to capture some clean shots of a howler monkey.
We shot away, shortly after that, a couple of young howler monkeys stepped out into the light. Angel looked at me and said, “Let’s move over to another area in front of them, I know where they are going”. He walked us over to the spot he was referring to. There was a nearby tree with no leaves and hardly any branches on it. He pointed at it and said, “they are going to cross here”. It was super close to us. A few moments later, the female we saw earlier stepped out from behind the thick trees and into the clearing. She walked right onto the tree Angel was talking about. We fired snap shot after snap shot. We were all just floored. Mari recorded videos of the encounter.
After the female passed by, two very young howlers popped out of the tree and onto this branch. They were so freaking cute. One of the babies stayed behind the branches trying to stay hidden but continued to watch us. Finally curiosity won over this baby and he stepped out and towards us, followed by the second baby. They were super curious about us and slowly approached closer. We thought, it just doesn’t get any better than this. We were wrong.
As we were photographing the babies, this big male popped out from the trees and into the light of the empty tree branch. He sat down with his babies and started eating leaves from the nearby tree. Talk about exploding with emotion. Here he was less than ten feet away from us, and in the clear. He was so awesome. Such a beautiful animal. They look like tiny powerfully built gorillas. When they roar it is scary sounding. We photographed them for a few minutes, until they finally wandered back out, deep into the bush again.
After the encounter, all of us were just overwhelmed with excitement from the encounter. It was beyond exciting and we all felt so privileged for this amazing opportunity nature had given us. We decided to leave the animals alone and let them begin their day. We said good bye to the howlers and Angel and jumped in our car to return to Playa. Punta Laguna was well worth the visit and I am already looking forward to next season when we return for more monkey madness and hopefully some wildcat encounters, but more about that later.
Until then, thanks for reading.