04.10.09

Capuwars

Posted in Bolivia at 4:08 am by Jackson Lee

The capuchins had declared war. Other than strong language, unusual facial expressions and ineffective hand propelled objects, we were helpless to fight back. Their masterminds had deciphered our routines. That the cat’s food arrived at lunch, that we stored it in a locked chest – an unimaginably temptation for the omnivores primates – and that we walked, leaving the camp unguarded, during the afternoons. The monkeys knew too much; we either had a mole amongst the volunteers or the evolutionary tree was about to be rewritten.

Sonku’s cage was the first to be struck. Oren and Mike were out walking Sonku, who had been on a recent “jump-your-volunteer” bender, when the capuchins ransacked their camp. The bad news was Oren’s new camera was missing. Capuchin prefer to stay above ground while moving: jumping, swinging and climbing across the jungle canopy to stay away from the sharp teeth of predators below. As this requires every limb, they do not usually carry ‘stolen’ items far. Armed with this information, we soon found Oren’s camera, which had lost its front lens cover but was still in working properly. We soon found that the sneaky capuchins had left a short video of their heist on the camera.

Sonko - Roys Neighbour

Digesting lunch a week later, Adir and I sat swinging in the camps hammocks. Adir, a chapter-filling personality and Josh’s replacement, had just finished another colourful story about working as an officer in the Israeli army. Coming from a country at perpetual war gives any story teller the license for exaggeration – this epic involved Adir knocking out, with a meaty right hander, a enlisted man in the middle of a major Tel Aviv motorway, thereby creating a respectably large traffic jam. I wondered which slow motion camera angle Adir remembers that blow from…

Adir And Roy

Moments before setting out for the afternoon we noticed a disturbance in the jungle. The normally still trees, whose souls reach neck-breakingly into the sky, began swaying frantically – the distinctive effects of traveling monkeys stirring the still, humid air and enraging groups of tree-heads into a frantic flip-flopping dance. Ignoring their presence, with chests out as usual, we departed with only a passing suspicion that the monkeys were waiting for us to leave to begin their raid.

Trees

A few hours later, after wadding through numerous rivers, somersaulting impassable objects and conquering tiny Everest’s, we returned exhausted to camp and the scene of unleashed monkey madness. The bug covered remains of Roy’s food, as sobering as minimalistic art, was splatted limply across the ground. It told us the moneys had broken into the camps lockbox. All of a sudden it hit me: our cameras had been in the lockbox: the fibers of my materialistic upbringing surged into action. I figured I’d get robbed by some master of the otherworld at least once during my travels around Latin America but I didn’t expect that master to be a midget in a furr suit with a IQ less than the highest number on a one sided dice.

The Lockbox On a Good Day

As if a tornado had struck our little prairie town, in a post catastrophe daze, we drifted around the camp gathering items which had been thrown, by the rampant monkeys, amongst the vegetation. A empty chocolate wrapper here, rusty scissors there, an inverted backpack there and long lengths of pink (which, for those other interested collectors, is the preferred colour in Bolivia) toilet paper practically everywhere. It was as if some magic mushroom intoxicated interior designer had realised their warped vision, and gone about draping pink toilet paper over innocent looking plants and dirty patches of ground.

Most worrying of all was finding that my book, titled “Human Instinct”, had had a section torn out and bite makes left into its spine. The book was an well written summary on basic human nature: and rather worryingly it gave the monkey masterminds valuable insight into mankind’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Shuddering I looked over at Roy, who, from a perch in his cage, was watching us with interest, looking pleased that his jungle pals had got one up on us humans.

We soon found Adirs camera. With soap opera like drama, he had bought the camera (for a very Isreali pleasing price) only three days earlier during a day trip to the black markets in Cochabamba (I was a little, err hum, suspicious when Adir showed me photos of Japanese people from the camera’s memory card). The camera, much like Adirs hard-as-nails personality, was shock resistance and functioning perfectly. Moments later we realised the monkey’s had taken a series of photos of the invasion…

Monkey Arm

Monkey 2

Monkey 3

Monkey Paw?

The search continued for my camera. Clambering though the thick folliage, I was conscious of the danger of unsettling venomous snakes, which are common in the area, or getting a bite from one of the jungles numerous poisonous insects. After a phobia inducing length of time we finally found the camera. The LCD screen had been broken beyond repair and both the memory card and battery had been removed. The cheeky monkeys knew no limit. A few minutes later, while standing in a shine deep puddle of mud, I found the memory card. Just one item remained.

With darkness falling our cheaply evolved eye’s began straining in the dying light, there was still no sign of the camera’s battery so we wearily decided to call an end to the search. The sounds of the creatures of the night, unnoticed until the search ended, quickly grew into a hair-raising crescendo. All around us mothernature was flexing her muscles. Almost immediately, natures friendly faces: the birds, butterflies and sun-worshiping flowers had disappeared and been replaced by the lurking, invisible nasties of the night. With chests deflated, we departed.

Over the next few nights, a series of dramatic late night storms drenched the park in heavy rain and earth shacking lightning. Waking restlessly, I thought about that small little piece of my backpacking life, my trusty canon battery… it was out there, all alone, cowering from the power of nature or perhaps worse, held captive amongst the insidious thieving monkeys.

Days later, after what seemed like an emotional forever, I was finally getting over the loss of the little battery when the monkeys struck again. The camps lockbox had yet to be repaired and we had resorted to putting Roy’s food into his cage, locking it and expecting the monkeys to lack the courage to break into the puma’s habitat. We were, like the Nazi’s on D-day, terribly wrong. After cleaning the camp for a second time and collecting another chicken for Roy we sat in the hammocks, determined, with hammer and nail, to build a Fort Knox like lockbox in the morning.

I looked down. My eyes blurred. There, shinning like electronic royalty, was my little canon battery. I picked it up. A church choir sung. A flock of dove’s sprung forth. Rambo, for a brief moment, stopped killing people. Looking closely, I saw that the monkeys had left a series of deep, plastic deforming, bites into the battery’s edges, the poisonous lithium had not spilled out and given a monkey the shock of its tail swinging life. Back in my room, I put the parts back together and pressed the ‘on’ button – the green light of life sparked a wild celebration.

The week before I left the park the capuchins were still stirring up trouble.The new lockbox Adir and I had fabricated was up to the challenge and had kept the capuchins from reaching Roy’s food again – it didn’t, however, stop them from poohing in our hammocks. I’d learned my lesson: Oceans 13 would do well with a furry fourteenth member, monkeys were not as dumb as their star-sign implied and never, ever, underestimate tree climbing midgets with lots of time on their hands.