Costa Rica 31 -- October 30, 2005
Quarreling monkeys and cute squirrels

By Bob Corbett


Last evening we had a tremendous storm, as hard a rain as I've yet experienced and it went on for hours. I thought it might have been Hurricane Beta related, but I now think now, according to the weather people, we are LIKELY to get hit with very heavy rains and flooding in the next few days.

I'm in an excellent position. I have a lovely second floor room with excellent ventilation. I do have a strong ceiling fan, but even if power were knocked out, I will be very comfortable. I have a great (common) balcony with comfortable chairs.

Since I'm going to be here until the morning of Nov. 6th anyway, I went ahead and purchased several 1.5 liter bottles of water, and I have a good deal of food in the room, including a number of things that don't need refrigeration like nuts, tuna fish, cracker, pretzels, cookies and such. So I think I will have no trouble weathering most anything that comes this way, which will only be side effects since the hurricane itself will hit NORTHERN Nicaragua, a goodly distance from here.

This morning I was on the first bus to Manuel Antonio and got off at the very first stop at the top of the mountain to maximize my walk down the mountain to Manuel Antonio beach. It was just over 2 miles.

I was walking along one stretch of road higher up on the mountain where the trees do NOT yet form a canopy and as I was walking down the very sunny highway, I heard the loud screams of monkeys. I thought that had to be howler monkeys to make that level of racket. In a bit I saw them, first on my left, the forest side of the road. First two, then two more. Four of them foraging in a coconut tree (I have always seen it written and heard these trees called palm trees, but every one here calls them coconut trees). Then the screaming began and it came from the beach side as well. I looked up there and there were three of them there. At least the 7 were all I saw, but they were going all over the place, very excited and chattering and screaming. They were clearly the white faced monkeys, very cute, and easily visible since they weren't very high up and only feet from the road on either side.

However, they couldn't get from one side to the other by trees. The gap was a good 30 yards. I was enjoying the spectacle and wondering what was going on, not able at this point to understand any monkey talk.

In a minute a van pulled up and a uniformed tour guide got out with two tourists. He said he watches for people walking the road and watching the trees, since often there are more monkey sightings on this ROAD than in the NATIONAL FOREST. The two American tourists were utterly delighted and took a zillion pictures. (I've never had a camera save my first two years of living in the Bahamas in 1962-64.) The guide was telling them the white faced monkeys eat bird eggs and insects as well as various plants. The howler monkeys, however, are strictly vegetarian and eat neither eggs nor insects.

The guide was very happy I had spotted the monkeys and he spotted me spotting them and since there were only the two tourists, offered me a ride to Manuel Antonio, but I told him I was there to walk, and hoping to spot more creatures along the way. He enjoyed that and on they went.

But I didn't see anything interesting until I got to the beach. Walking along the beach I saw two squirrels. I had seen about 6-8 of them in the past weeks, and all looked just like the ones in my backyard in St. Louis. But these two were DISTINCTIVELY different and really beautiful. There were classic squirrel bodies and behavior, the two chasing each other all over the coconut trees and seeming having a ball. But, the trunk of their bodies looked much more like chipmunks in coloring. Sort of a rust colored belly, and then mottled brown and tan back, then with a very distinctive tail, a bit longer than the tail on Missouri squirrels and a very light grey color, close to dingy white.

They were beautiful animals.

The tide was out and I could walk a long way on the beach. When I got back to the heart of Manuel Antonio where the bus stop is I had already done 5 miles and some, so at 7:30 AM my walking was finished. I was utterly delighted since I have a television in my room and today on Costa Rican TV is virtually non-stop soccer!!!! I'm going to veg out in my very comfortable and airy room, pulling into my room one of the comfortable rockers from the balcony, and watch soccer to my heart's content.

I've been talking to a number of Ticos who speak English. Salaries for the masses here are extremely low and $300 U.S. a MONTH is a significant salary for the masses. Huge numbers work in the tourist industry, especially cleaning staffs, yard men, and food service workers. They are the lowest paid and most seem to work 7 days a week. I had noticed that. I ate 10 days in a row at the same lovely restaurant in Monteverde and the same young man waited my table every time. He never missed a day.

Somebody, however, is making huge money on tourists, and the claim is there is a vast difference in classes, with the ownership class -- people who own the hotels and hostels, and tour companies and buses and such -- making huge amounts of money and the masses with very little.

Nonetheless Costa Rica is very prosperous for a third world nation, among the highest and safest qualities of life on any. The country has had no army since 1949 and is a fairly decently functioning democracy with lots of political corruption, but extremely little violence and mainly a law-abiding citizenry.

In the novel I just finished, set in the unnamed Central American country, there was an exchange between a U.S. hotel manager and a woman U.S. tourist. I thought this exchange captured a lot that was true of Costa Rica. I repeat it here:

[The hotel manager has taken a walk around the poor village with the tourist]

She touched a sheet of corrugated tin, part of the roof. Her hand jerked away. "It's hot," she said, then, "People live in these?"

"Poor side of town," Leon said.

"There's poverty in paradise?"

"This isn't paradise for them. It's paradise for us."

"What is it for them?"



I really liked that exchange. And I think Leon is correct. It isn't misery for them, or horrors, but it isn't the paradise I am writing about each day. I am living at a level most people would not want to travel at, but my 6 day budget would be a comfortable wage for a FAMILY here. Yes, it is paradise for me, but it's just home for most Ticos.

I try not to lose sight of that.

On a lighter note. My new book which I began last night is set in the lower Caribbean, still not sure where, but I suspect it is the island of Grenada. The main characters are East Indians with a significant degree of East Indian culture. The daughter of this family is dating a Canadian fellow and the mother of the Indian woman asks him about cricket in relation to baseball. She says:

"The Americans ... have a way of simplifying things. They've changed a game for gentlemen into a pastime for boys."

I laughed aloud at the coffee shop when I came to that line....

Okay, off for some serious soccer.....

Bob Corbett




Bob Corbett