In Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a howler monkey dangles from a tree, its long hairy arm and fingers outstretched. A boy excitedly runs up to the monkey. He tries petting it, offering it food. Our tour guide barks, “They are not for petting! They are not here for your amusement.” I think he is not as concerned that the monkey might do the boy harm, as much as outraged that a monkey dangling from a tree entices people to treat it like a house pet.
Can you blame the boy, or the monkeys, for that matter? Tourism has cut through the heart of their rainforest home where their eerie howling resembles the soundtrack from Jurassic Park. It begins at 4:30 a.m., when the monkeys wake. It continues until they sleep twelve hours later.
Past the lodges and down by the illuminated pool and straw-thatched bar, reggae music blares from stereo speakers. The incessant hum of cicadas and chorus of bird calls are drowned out by Bob Marley singing, "Don't worry be happy."
Under night skies, the Caribbean surf pounds like the earth's heartbeat. A full moon floats over the river leading to the breakers and beyond. You find yourself thinking about your faith, about your beliefs.
Over in Sarapiqui, another stop along the rainforest eco-tourism trail, tanagers of all stripes and colors feast on bananas from a pedestal below the hotel balcony where tourists drink coffee and eat pastry. With binoculars we flock to watch the birds, hone in on gold heads and beaks, bright scarlet, orange and turquoise breasts ... 'oohing and aahing' from the balcony of a multi-million-dollar lodge.
|White-faced monkey on pool roof cabana|
When you travel to the rainforest, interconnectedness transcends everything else. How can it not? There's a sense we're all in this together—man and wildlife, flora and fauna. The basilisk perfectly garbed in camouflage on a fallen tree limb lounges near the red and green poisonous frog silhouetted within a scoop of rock puddle.
You ponder the legacy of the ancient chilamate tree, wide enough at the base to stand inside. The ghosts of Columbus and conquistadors walk these same forests.
The small cinderblock dwellings with rusted corrugated tin roofs line roads and highways. Men sit on lawn chairs. They watch the traffic and tour buses pass. Poverty is everywhere.
At one stop, we encounter a road closure. Two hours later we stand in the blistering heat and humidity. Local residents have formed a human blockade to prevent tour buses from passing to the road that leads to the canal boat, leading to the rainforest and the howler monkeys. A mini-uprising. The people protest the huge potholes heavy vehicles have pitted in their road.
As much as coffee and bananas, the economy is driven by tourism. This sets Costa Rica apart from its neighbors, Nicaragua and Guatemala, we are told.
Eco-tourism is big business. This by necessity forces the individual to consider his or her responsibility to the planet, the wildlife.
The rainforest is fragile. A howler monkey dangles from a tree.