Visiting Don Miguel and the Spider Monkeys

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

Based on what we’ve been able to see in the weather forecasts, we’ll leave from here tomorrow and try to make Huatulco in one go. We calculate it should take us between 72 and 84 hours, depending on conditions.

We’ve enjoyed our time here in Barillas, even though we’re a bit remote. There aren’t too many boats here, so the social life is quiet. But it’s been blessedly calm, with refreshing afternoon breezes and tide swings to change the scenery four times a day.

We’ve taken a few dinghy explorations as it’s rumored there are “crocodiles” lurking in the mangroves – I think they mean caimans, I’ll have to look up the difference. When we’re in the mangroves, all of the birds seem to hold their collective breath, and the only sounds we hear as we row along are drips and loud pops. An internet investigation suggests that the pops we hear are actually a species of shrimp – pistol shrimp, or snapping shrimp – that are rumored to be among the loudest creatures on earth for their size. Of birds, we see lots of ibis, herons, parakeets, and ubiquitous grackles. We hear and see fish jumping in the water, but they are uninterested in our spinning rod and lure.

We’ve spent some of the time touching up the varnish on the cap rail, as we haven’t seen rain from the time we arrived in Puntarenas until a shower came through just the other night. The boat is dusty and covered with sugar cane ash, as we’re in the season where they burn the fields to prepare for the new crop.

We joined a Canadian couple for an accompanied walk through the forest to visit the spider monkeys, known personally and by name by an old man, Don Miguel, and his family who live on the property. Roberto, the marina’s security guard, led us through the jungle, helped us identify trees and plants, and introduced us to the landlord of the “monkey preserve.”

As we approached Don Miguel’s poor little house and compound, he cheerfully began shouting for Pancho and Maria, and after a few minutes, we saw the upper branches of the trees moving, and a family of spider monkeys swung down into the garden to eat bananas from his hands. He identified each one by name, and pointed out a matriarch of 30 years old, whom he has known all her life, as well as Maria’s son Panchito, a youngster of a year or two in age. It was touching to watch Don Miguel interact with the troop, and his affection for them and their trust of him were clear.


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