So far the highlight of the trip for me has been our day and night at the Alouatta Lodge in the Chiriqui jungle. On our rafting tour the day before, we met 3 people that we staying there, one of which was the son of the people who run the lodge, Gareth. The other 2 were Kevin and Sophie, a couple from Los Angeles. This is the third time they have been there and have become friends with the family and are seriously considering buying a part of the property. Gareth told us to call his mom if we wanted to come and he gave us directions about which buses to take and where to get off. Amazingly, it worked and we ended up at the bottom of the 3 km road up to the lodge. We schlepped ourselves and our big packs up the mountain. I have never sweat so much in my life! It was super hot and humid and we were walking up with a lot of weight on our backs. Turns out it was well worth the sweaty trek.
We were greeted by Michelle, the owner, and 2 howler monkeys, Cat and Google. We sat out on their deck and hung out with Cat and Google for a while. Later, the rest of the troop made their way up to the house. They had been snoozing up in a tree down the hill. The others were Macy who had a one month old baby attached to her at all times. There was also Kiki, Novy and Yahoo. They were very playful and crawled into our laps or climbed up onto our shoulders. The best way to describe them is they are like 2 year olds who will never grow up. Michelle treats them like her children and they need discipline like kids. They some times nip at your arms when playing or if they don't like you. Cat had some issues with me. He growled and bit at Kevin and Steve (the owner). They had to assert theirmdominance back at Cat and then he would be ok for a while. After a while, we became very used to monkeys hanging out on our shoulders and leaping onto our arms as if they were tree branches. I thoroughly enjoyed the monkeys!
We stayed overnight on the property in a bamboo hut with two cots. Sonia and I have been fascinated about the lifestyle this family leads ever since we were there. Steve and Michelle have 2 teenage children, Becky is 15 and Gareth is 18. They have been living here for 4 years and before that have lived all over the world. The kids have to travel to David for school which is a 25 minute drive. Their school is in 100% in Spanish. The family built everything that is on the property. The house is 3 independently standing structures, one with the kitchen and Gareth's bedroom, one is Becky's room and the third is Steve and Michelle's room. They brought plants in from all over the world which line the pathway up to the lodge and are scattered throughout the property. There is only one bathroom for the family and guests.
After dark, Steven took Sonia, Gareth, Kevin and I on a night jungle hike. Once we were equipped with headlamps, we were on our way. Little did we know that the next hour would be straight out of a National Geographic magazine. Let's just say the trip included getting cut in my toe by acutter ant, passing a deadly bullet ant, stepping in a fire ant nest, seeing a tarantula, a scorpion and a giant hissing cockroach. Did I mention we were wearing flip flops? We assumed our attire was adequate as we took the cue from Gareth and Kevin who were both in shorts and sandals. We should have taken our cue from Steven who was wearing long pants, a long sleeved shirt and rubber boots. Live and learn!
We slept in the hut which was up a stone pathway from the house. It was made of bamboo and screen. We had a view over the property, mountains and valley. We could also see the Pacific in the distance. We fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle and awoke to the howls of the monkeys at 5 a.m., a typical occurrence as we were told.
While we never felt so dirty in our lives after a day and night in the jungle, playing with monkeys, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It was one of the most unique things I have done in my travels.