Aug 28 2014

Monkey Rescue Misadventures: Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara

The Mission

“Retirement” in Costa Rica — you just never know what each day will bring. Our adventure started with a phone call from MINAE (Costa Rica’s Ministry of the Environment and Energy) to Spider Monkey R & R (Rehabilitation and Release). They planned a raid in the morning to confiscate a 3-year-old spider monkey and some parrots and parakeets, and they wanted us there at the time of the raid to take the monkey. The person keeping them didn’t have a license, so he wasn’t authorized to keep wild animals on his property according to Costa Rica law.

MINAE office in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí

MINAE office in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí

We made plans to leave early the next morning for the three-hour drive from San Ramón to the MINAE office in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in order to meet Juan Alexis, our contact, at 9:00am. Michele (owner and chief monkey mama at Spider Monkey R&R), Alexa (our Tica friend and interpreter), and I left at 6:00am, armed only with an animal crate, some fruit to lure her into it, and a few umbrellas. The umbrellas were a necessity we each remembered because it’s the middle of the rainy season here.

Getting There

And it did rain, all day, as Michele drove on highways and muddy mountain roads. Between the three of us, we also had a GPS, 3 cell phones, an iPad, and some Ritz Crackers to ward off hunger. We rode to the other side of the continental divide through a tunnel in the mountain, through the spectacular Braulio Carrillo National Park, and through original, first-growth jungle.

Technology Troubles

So, let’s talk first about the breakdown of technology. I couldn’t get an up-to-date reading with the navigation program on my iPad to determine where exactly we were and where we needed to go. The GPS was helpful but far from perfect (more about this later). Also, getting a cell phone signal was spotty at best. We had a very difficult time getting in touch with Juan Alexis for specific directions or with our spouses to report about our travels. (Okay, so part of the problem with reaching Juan Alexis by phone, we have to admit, was that we were calling the wrong number… multiple times. But once we found the right number, we still had a hard time getting through because of no cell signal.)

Michele Waiting For Paperwork

Michele Waiting For Paperwork

Getting Ready for the Raid

We arrived at MINAE just after 9am and spent the next two hours getting the paperwork done for the transfer. Their office was in the middle of the jungle, along a river bank and it was quite beautiful and peaceful there. And wet… did I mention that it was raining? We could even see a troop of howler monkeys resting in the treetops and a huge iguana on a branch below them. While we were there, we asked Juan Alexis for his permission to name the spider monkey “Juanita” after him and, with a smile, he agreed.

Following the MINAE truck

Following the MINAE truck

Finally, we were off to do the raid and get the monkey. We followed the guys in the MINAE truck through rough, muddy roads and, first, made a stop to pick up “Mary,”a young woman who used to work for the man whose property was being raided – to make it easier to catch her, we all thought. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

The Raid!

We entered the property through a barbed-wire gate and parked about 50 meters from the cages. We saw parrots in small cages and a bunch of bananas hanging from a tree, at-the-ready for the birds and monkeys. The owner of the property wasn’t home, so the two MINAE employees gave the seizure paperwork to a caretaker who was on-site. We gave them the watermelon, bananas, and guavas we had brought and they, along with “Mary,” headed into the cage with the animal crate to get Juanita. It was only then that we realized they didn’t have an animal net, thick gloves, nor anything else to catch her with — and the cage was BIG, originally designed as an aviary.

Juanita's cage

Juanita’s cage

Rain and Bugs

Alexa went with the group over to the cage and frequently came back to report to Michele and me who were sitting in the car, out of the rain. This is the point where OUR lack of preparedness became glaringly obvious. You know how I said it was raining, and had been raining all day? Lots of rain makes lots of mud, and none of the three of us had brought boots. We did have umbrellas, but raincoats and hats would have been a GREAT idea. And the other important thing we neglected to bring? Insect repellent! The bugs were fierce, small black flying insects and mosquitoes biting all of us without mercy. (After we returned home, Michele counted 58 bites on her arms and legs, which promptly began to swell up and turn red!) So, we sat in the car, in the rain, with the windows up to keep out the bugs. And every few minutes, when it got too hot and humid, Michele rolled up the windows and put on the air conditioner to cool us off.

The Thrill of Victory??

Finally, after about an hour, Juanita was lured into the carrier with a banana placed inside, and “Mary” closed the door. (Yes!!)

But wait… she neglected to fasten the crate door and, quick as you will, Juanita escaped!  (Noooooooooooo!!!)

By this point, we were all wet, itchy, and disappointed. The caretaker brought out a wire trap to try to catch Juanita, but spider monkeys are SMART! No way was she going to fall for that and, instead, stayed high up in the cage. After another 30 minutes or so, at 12:30pm, we all gave up. Catching Juanita would just have to wait until another day.jumpercables

Car Woops #1

The MINAE employees packed up the parrots and parakeets they had confiscated. Michele started the car to leave and… whoops… the battery was dead – too much running of the air conditioner to keep out the mosquitoes with the car not running. Luckily, the MINAE guys had jumper cables and room to pull their truck up beside us to charge the battery.

Heading Back Out

We were on the road again for the three hour trip back to San Ramón, but the first order of business was to find a place to stop for lunch. All three of us were wet, tired, and hungry. Alexa was especially wet because she spent a lot of time outside the car, over by the cage (unlike Michele and I, who were wimps). Michele was especially tired as she had done all of the driving, so I Casadooffered to take over for a while. After I was driving for about 10 minutes, I pulled into a soda and the three of us ordered casados con pollo, all around. Before eating, Alexa went into the restroom to change her clothes because they were soaked through. Kudos to her for thinking to bring a change of clothes! But when she put on her dry pants, the button flew off and disappeared into who knows where, and she spent the rest of the day holding up her pants.

Car Woops #2

We happened to glance over at the car, and saw that the headlights were still on.  Whoops again… another dead battery, this time on my watch. We found Michele’s emergency road kit (required by all drivers in Costa Rica) which had never been used (or even seen by Michele) and had to cut the strap open with my tiny manicure clippers to get to the jumper cables inside.

We asked a Tico sitting at the next table if he would give us a “hot shot” and he very nicely agreed. He pulled his heavy-duty truck over to our car, connected the jumper cables, and charged our battery for 15 minutes while we all ate lunch. When Michele offered to buy his lunch, he declined, saying it was his pleasure to help us. I just love Ticos!

Call Paultexting

We hit the road again after lunch, with Michele driving again, and as soon as we had cell phone reception, she asked me to “call Paul” to confer about our best route back to San Ramón. FYI, she and I are both married to guys named Paul, so I proceeded to call my Paul. When he answered with a sleepy voice, I said, “Oh, did I wake you up honey?” Knowing that I wouldn’t call her husband “honey,” Michele then realized that I had called the wrong Paul.  Afterwards, I tried calling her Paul, but with no luck.  The phone kept going directly to voicemail. So, while we were stuck in traffic for 10 minutes at a green light, Michele sent him a text message to “Call me.” It was several hours later when he called back, somewhat confused. The message he received said “Caktjt” and, since he didn’t know what that meant, he called Michele to find out.

Going “Home”


Hotel Grano de Oro, AKA “Home”

Left to our own devices, Michele programmed the GPS to “go home” and we resumed our ride. But soon, we were a bit confused when the GPS directed us into downtown San Jose. Huh? Yet we followed the very specific directions to our “final destination” – which turned out to be the Hotel Grano de Oro, Paul and Michele’s favorite restaurant! As far as the GPS was concerned, the Grano de Oro WAS home. Let’s return to Lesson Learned #1, shall we, and bring a map next time. You can’t always rely on a GPS. Traffic was at a standstill by this time (about 4:00pm) as rush-hour had begun. (When we got home, we saw a US Embassy alert that there would be a “peaceful protest” about something or other at 3:00pm, right where we had just driven through, which explained the severity of the traffic problem.  Eventually, we found our way to the Autopista, but sat in traffic there as well.

MalTiempoBuenaCaraMal Tiempo, Buena Cara

By now, 10 hours after we left that morning, we were frustrated, tired, thirsty, and we were going home empty-handed. But we tried to keep up each others’ spirits, making jokes and laughing as we reviewed the events of this screwy day, and decided that we needed an “Official Monkey Rescue Kit” to make sure things run more smoothly next time. I volunteered that it needed to contain some “comfort food,” maybe some Chunky Monkey ice cream? As we laughed, Alexa said, “Mal tiempo, buena cara.” That means, “Bad time, good face.” That’s what we were doing, not letting the challenges and disappointments of the day cripple us. We chose to put on a “good face,” to laugh instead of being angry about our misadventures in the rainforest. We finally arrived home at 5:30pm, after an 11 ½ hour day. And we vowed to be better prepared next time.

Post Script

Even though we didn’t get Juanita that day, she joined our growing troop of spider monkeys about a week later! But this time, we waited until she was put into a carrier, ready for (Michele’s) Paul to come to pick her up! The monkey gods continued to smile on us in other ways, as the week also brought three more new spider monkeys to Spider Monkey R & R (Rehabilitation and Release) to join Chiquito and Lolita. Introducing DoritaAnita, and Pancita! And then they were six!
























Baby Dorita

Baby Dorita











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