March 16, 2014-Jungle Line
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
The city of Colon is east of the Panama Canal but Shelter Bay is on the west and just past the marina the jungle closes in. Walk a few hundred yards along the road leading away from the water and you are in the thick of it; the canopy spreads overhead and the eerie echoing sounds of the howler monkeys reverberate off of the forests of tree trunks and shake the banana leaves.
You can’t see the howlers. They roar and scream and they sound like they are just there, just off the road, but the jungle is impenetrable and even though you stare, you don’t see them.
And if you do stare into the green trying to see the howlers then the sound suddenly comes from behind you, from the other side of the road and you want to run. But wherever you go, you still hear the howler monkeys; a rhythmic, grunting, roaring, chest thumping sound, charging, chanting down the jungle line that makes you wonder what they are saying and if it is about you.
We’re told they are harmless, but those kinds of jungle sounds can still haunt you.
At the bar, a guy named Rousseau nursing dark rum stared into the distance and shook his head when I asked him if it was the howlers he had seen.
“No, I only wish. No, I ran into a big black cat, jaguar maybe, in one of those abandoned concrete buildings out there. He was just standing there when I saw him, and he stared at me with impassive yellow eyes and his tail twitched left and right. I just backed out of there and walked away and never looked back. That scared me. Still does.”
Howler monkeys, jaguars, what else? But hey, a walk in the jungle is supposed to be good exercise.
So one morning we grabbed the Nikon and headed out. Edith has been there before and she showed us the way. It was easy going, lots of birds, a few howlers, nothing much. Then Judy nearly stepped on the snake.
I saw it and yelled and shoved her and her foot missed the coiled serpent by inches. And she screamed.
But the snake was dead.
I was ready to turn back, but Edith said just a little father, ten minutes, no more.
And there was the sloth. We almost missed it as we walked under the branches which reached over our heads across the road but a group of workers cutting brush pointed it out to us.
Right above us about 50 feet was a furry dark mass with long arms gripping two limbs and not moving.
We moved around trying to get a camera angle and hoping for some sunlight.
Suddenly branches started breaking off to the side of the road, up in the trees, there were noises, leaves were shaking. No howling monkeys but this was no sloth either. A group of smaller monkeys appeared, looking to cross the road in the intertwining branches. They stopped when they saw the sloth right in their path and looked at the sloth and they looked at us below them in the road. What to do?
A bigger monkey came up from behind to check out the situation. I guess it decided it was OK because it led the way across in the branches over our heads, with the smaller monkeys following, and circled around the sloth who watched motionless except to swivel its head.
The monkeys moved away in the trees on the other side of the road, throwing down seed pods which thumped into the forest floor, and continued to make tree top noises; the sloth stayed put, and the birds sounds and the howlers came back into our consciousness.
But now, somehow, it didn’t seem so threatening anymore.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama
Thank You Joni Mitchell