For days my brain jumped around trying to figure out how to tell you about the capuchin monkeys that thrilled us on the Osa Peninsula. Monkey mind. Not, that’s an insult to the capuchins. I couldn’t settle on a story thread, so today’s post is a knotted string of thoughts, yours to unravel.
My first idea was to tell you about two places we stayed where wild monkeys hung out right outside our door.
Only a handful of hotels that Magellan and I have slept in colour my dreams. The family-owned La Paloma Lodge above the scenic bay where Sir Francis Drake hid his pirated booty in the 1500s is a treasure I dream of returning to.
Half an hour after we arrived to Room D just before sunset, a troop of capuchins joined us, swinging among the trees above our wraparound hardwood deck. We shared our excitement in the central “mirador” room around a communal table at dinner: four courses, simple and delicious, accompanied by free pours of wine. “I can hardly wait ‘til tomorrow night to see them again,” I said. Only to be told it had been a few weeks since a troop had come through.
In this remote Pacific corner of Costa Rica, Mike Kalmbach designed and built the lodge in 1986 to accommodate avid fishermen. His wife Kate home-schooled their kids and landscaped the property, severely denuded from a previous owner’s cattle. After Mike’s fishing boat sunk (the story of he and his dad’s miraculous survival is in the room’s compendium), Kate suggested they turn their business into an eco-lodge. Today, they have eleven thatched ranchos spread over twelve acres of jungle—room for capuchins and humans to roam. “We shudder when we hear the words ‘progress’ and ‘development,’ writes one of their daughters.
Did I mention La Paloma’s breakfasts? Savoury buckwheat crepes before a boat ride to Corcovado National Park, huevos rancheros before a tour of the Terraba Sierpe Mangrove—where we saw more capuchins! And both days, the sweetest pineapple and superb Costa Rican coffee.
What’s a monkey’s favorite type of coffee?
Like cappuccino, the white-faced capuchin monkey is named for its resemblance to members of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, est. 1525. A Capuchin monk dressed in a dark robe with a brown pointed hood called a capuccino. When European explorers saw wild monkeys in the New World with hood-like tufts of brown hair like friars, they named them capuchins.
Which brings to mind a cake I used to make for Magellan’s birthday: Chocolate Cappuccino Torte. In her cookbook A Matter of Taste, Lucy Waverman introduces her recipe: “A dense chocolate cake (right Lucy: one pound of bittersweet, 10 eggs and 1½ cups of butter!) decorated to look like a cup of cappuccino (yeah Lucy: 2 cups of whipping cream and a lot of cinnamon will do that). It is dead easy to make, though it looks as though it had been concocted by a professional pastry chef (true Lucy: plus it’s best made three days ahead of first bites).” COVID cake no? For breakfast with cappuccino? Here’s a link to the recipe. (You’re welcome and sorry I don’t do recipe-exchange chain emails—this is my offering instead.)
What do capuchin monkeys like for breakfast? An omnivore’s diet. They travel about three km a day in search of fruits, insects, lizards, birds’ eggs, caterpillars, oysters and baby coatis. Frugal capuchins sometimes even hoard food for “slim-pickin’ days.” They drink a lot of water, which is why their habitat is usually near a water hole in the jungle.
Where do monkeys go to drink?
The monkey bars.
(Now I’m nostalgic for the days when our Lynn was a little girl swinging on the monkey bars at University Elementary.)
What did the monkey say when he cut off his tail?
It won’t be long now.
And that would be a pity. With a prehensile tail longer than its body height, a capuchin uses her trademark tail to completely support herself while feeding or moving from branch to branch.
It is impossible not
to remember wild and not want to go back (Mary Oliver)
Capuchins are too cute for their own good. Like me, you’ll be sickened to know that many chumps (a certain Canadian celeb among them) keep capuchins as pets. As a result of that, although with Costa Rica’s laws it’s now more frequently habitat loss, the white-faced capuchin is considered Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, SSC Primate Specialist Group, February 2020) and on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In Wildness is the preservation of the World. (Thoreau)
People are also drawn to capuchins because they’re so smart. White-faced capuchins, with their proportionally large brains, are the smartest New World monkey and one of the most intelligent species of monkey on the planet.
Speaking of brains. Apparently a chunk of our cortex (mine anyway) that processes higher functions (like writing a blog) and inhibits impulses (“sure, I’ll have a bourbon with you”) weakens under stress. Ms Google says that since February, there’s been a 300 per cent increase in people searching, “how to get your brain to focus.”
Which may be why I’m googling “best monkey jokes.”
Did you hear about the monkeys that share an Amazon account?
They were Prime mates.
This week I discovered a book by Susan Perry, a UCLA professor who has been researching capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica for decades, unavailable here and Amazon couldn’t deliver it until mid-June.
Susan and her team are experts on these highly social simians.
Capuchins use stones as hammers to open hard-shelled fruits. “Even older monkeys that had already mastered one opening technique would pick up another that was more efficient by watching others,” their research shows. They learn from their parents, close relatives and their own experience. They rile at unfair behavior, getting upset for example, when one capuchin receives a juicy grape for accomplishing a task for which her sister gets a withered slice of cucumber. They rub medicinal plants over their bodies, defend themselves against snakes with sticks, play games by passing one another sticks and stones and put their fingers in one another’s noses and eyes—“perhaps the monkey equivalent of a trust fall.”
Ylang Ylang. Not monkey talk. It’s a tree that provides an exotic ingredient used in Chanel and Dior perfumes and in aromatherapies said to reduce anxiety. It’s also the name of a resort Magellan found on the Nicoya Peninsula for our last three days in Costa Rica. “I don’t know if you like monkeys but there’s a whole bunch of them that come here every evening about 5:30 to roost in the trees beside us,” said our next-door neighbours. This was their fifth visit to Ylang Ylang—and they insist on booking cabano 7. Can we trust you to keep this a secret, at least until we return one more time?
If we never travel again (and who knows if we will?) seeing wild capuchins will forever be “one for the rocking chair.”
Maybe we’ve used this quote before, I forget. But as Michael McCarthy says
There can be occasions when we suddenly and involuntarily find ourselves loving the natural world with a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.
Boser, Ulrich. “What a monkey can teach us about social trust.” Psychology Today. September 3, 2014.
“Capuchin and Rhesus Monkeys Outsmart Humans When It Comes to Cognitive Flexibility.” Science News. October 16, 2019.
Dewar, Gwen. “Growing up, capuchin style: What can the capuchin monkey teach us about kids?” Parenting Science. 2009-2012.
Fell, Andy. “Monkey See, Monkey Do, Depending on Age, Experience and Efficiency Capuchin Monkeys Learn Best-Payoff Ways to Open Fruit From Others.” UC Davis. June 7, 2017. The findings discussed intros article are part of Susan Perry’s thirty-year research at Lomas Barbudal in Costa Rica.
The photo of the Capuchin friar is from the website of St Francis of Assisi Church.
Ylang Ylang Beach Resort is a place you’ll hear about from us in the future, and even more when we return to cabano 6 or 7.