November 3, 2003
After a thirty minute boat ride we arrived at Monkey Island, a thick jungly island without a dock or clearings. We mistakenly thought we were going on a hike. Chalk it up to a language barrier. The hotel tour desk clerk shook his head at my sandals and–I thought–had gestured that we would be hiking. So I had worn my boots, and securely packed away my camera, two lens, tripod and video recorder. But apparently we were here, although he kept the motor idling. He pointed to some leaves where several white-faced capuchins were in close proximity.
Scurrying to get out my gear, I caught the form of a monkey jumping into our boat, running past me to the driver and back to the trees. The little boat vibrated and jerked while we watched little white faces pop out of the trees, staring at us with curiosity. A black cap of fur on their heads gave them a comical appearance. A mama with a baby on her back emerged from the leaves eyeing us suspiciously as she approached. In a sudden flurry she jumped from one branch to another until she landed on front of the boat. The driver handed me a banana chunk, and I held it out to the mama watching the baby on her back. She hesitated, and cocked her head scrutinizing me. Then she lurched forward, wrapped her long fingers around the banana and bounded away, almost falling into the water as her flimsy branch dipped dangerously low from the unexpected weight. But the baby clung to its mother and both returned safely.
We watched their playful antics for 15 minutes before the driver took us back across Gatun Lake. Dark clouds loomed overhead, and halfway across an abrupt rain fell, it's raindrops pelting us like hail. The driver handed us yellow raincoats. We threw them over our lifejackets and covered our faces with our hands to reduce the painful stinging. Peeking at each other through our fingers, we discovered that Donna had put her jacket on upside down in the blinding rain. The hood was wrapped around her feet. But she couldn't turn it around without exposing her face to the pelting rain every time she tried to take her hand away, which for some silly reason triggered uncontrollable giggles from both of us all the way back to the marina.
Tours cost $21 and run hourly from 9-4pm. Tip: have camera ready in your lap inside a plastic bag and use 800-speed film to compensate for the jerking movements of the boat.
From journal Panama's Rainforest: not just for the birds!