July 11, 2019 - Coba, Mexico. So the girls and I. Mari, Sophia and my niece Oya rented a car today from my buddy Andres and we drove to Coba, Mexico this afternoon. The plan was to visit Punta Laguna National Reserve to seek out spider monkeys and howler monkeys, and other wildlife that we might find. I wanted David to go with us, but he had divers today so he couldn’t get away.
This is just a quick visit for us and our second time visiting this park, we went three years ago. It is such a great spot, we had to return. I really wanted another shot at photographing these monkeys. It is such a challenge to capture nice images of these primates, because they are up in the tree canopy and the great light is lost in the thickness of the leaves here - and I am not a fan of using strobes on wildlife, so I avoid it when I can. We just have to look for opportunities for images and that takes some work.
It is an easy trip from Playa. The reserve is an hour and 26 minutes away. So we packed an over night bag and hit the road, to try and find some animals to photograph. The plan was to visit the park at dusk when the monkeys come in close to the entrance to sleep, and then again in the early morning when they were just waking up, seeking breakfast in the fruit trees. Spider monkeys are easiest to find, but the coveted howler monkeys are a lot tougher.
We checked into the hotel and hid from the scorching afternoon sun. Today was hot. We prepped cameras and took off around 4:30pm and drove to the reserve which was about a 20 minute drive.
When we got to the reserve we paid our entrance fees and hired a guide. The guides walk these parks everyday and know where the best spots to find these primates are. After we paid our fees, we told our guide what we wanted which was monkeys of course, he said ok, then walked us to the parking lot where a bunch of spider monkeys were feeding on the fruit of one of the forest trees. They were on the low hanging branches and in good light, so Sophia and I snapped a bunch of images. We spent about 10 minutes with them and then pushed on. We joked with our guide saying that he was pretty much done now. He got a kick out of that.
He took us deeper into the forest where we found more spider monkeys, they were up high, jumping from tree to tree, I managed to snap a shot of the monkey jumping, however, my ISO was a bit too high, so it is a bit blown out. I was bummed but still happy I managed a decent jumping shot of one. A new challenge begins!
After we found these guys, our guide ( I feel bad calling him our guide in this story, but I forgot the kids name.), took us onto a small jungle trail where he found us a family of about 20 spider monkeys all feeding on fruit. There were some very young babies with this group, and once we played with our settings, we were able to capture a few amazing shots. One of the babies was very curious about us and climbed to the low hanging branches to get a better look at us, his vigilant mother, was feeding nearby, watching him, to make sure he didn’t get into too much trouble.
We shot for a while then pressed on, now in search of howler monkeys. These are awesome little monkeys that look like tiny gorillas, and they have a tremendous roar. If you heard them and did not know what was roaring in the jungle, it would scare the crap out of you.
Next to one of the trails we were walking on, our guide showed us a big area where there was a lot of dirt piles which were home to leaf cutter ants. He pointed out this huge trail where the ants were busy bringing leaves home. It was so fascinating. I have a macro lens which I brought in case we found cool small stuff, but I left it in the hotel room. At this point I was kicking myself hard for missing the opportunity. We had the next best thing, our iPhones did a great job of recording the ants working away. Such cool little animals.
After we left the ants, our guide kept searching and led us to a lone male howler monkey eating leaves up high… freaking jackpot. He kind of knew it was in the area from one of the other guides, but actually finding it is another story. The guide was good, howler monkeys are so hard to find, so we were pumped that we found one. We tried to capture images of him, but he was never in a good position for a nice shot. Hoping we get another shot at him tomorrow morning. Despite not getting any decent images, it was still really exciting seeing one. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in capturing images, you forget to just enjoy watching them.
We finished up the tour with a stop at the lagoon. It was huge and absolutely beautiful. Some rain clouds were out there killing our view of the setting sun, but it was still amazing to see.
Our guide showed us one last exciting sight before we called it a day; feeding Yucatan locusts. These are really big bugs and there were hundreds of them. They feed on the bark of a very particular tree, it was so interesting and fun watching and trying to photograph these guys.
Over all a great afternoon of wildlife and a fun day with my girls. Looking forward to tomorrow morning…