Me and Martina had a connection. She kept playing with my hair. She couldn’t stop hugging me (well, my head, more specifically). I thought it was love until, after less than an hour together, she switched her attentions to Gareth, an American forever-traveller in his late twenties. Sure, he’s a good looking guy, but come on! Fickle affection.
Martina is a chorongo monkey, one of many at the Centro de Rescate Monos or Paseo Los Monos – a sanctuary near Puyo for rescued monkeys, monkeys that have previously been pets (illegal in Ecuador) or who are orphaned following the hunting and killing of their parents, usually for meat. The idea is to reintroduce them to the jungle, but in some cases the damage and trauma to the animals is too great and they will remain in the care of the centre for the rest of their lives.
Asides from chorongo monkeys, the place is home to squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and white and black capuchin monkeys. Although housed in cages, many are given the freedom to roam around the grounds. There are also some coatis (Coati Amazonzo) – crazy, persistent and somewhat vicious creatures. The centre workers had to step in when one scrambled all over me, hanging onto my bag, undoing the zip and then biting when I tried to get him off. And then there are some turtles that currently live in an enclosure – something to do with the coatis attacking and ripping them apart and eating them.
I had wanted to volunteer at the centre ($100 per week and the work involves cleaning out the enclosures, developing the site and just spending time with the monkeys, amongst other things) but the place was full. A half day at the Paseo Los Monos as a visitor was my next option, so I paid my $2 entry fee. There isn’t a load to do as a tourist other than wander around and hang out with the animals and relax and watch the feeding sessions.
Pretty soon after I had arrived, Martina attached herself to me, wrapping her tail around my neck and massaging my head with her little hands. She stayed there as I strolled around the pretty woodland nature walk and down to the river. She fell asleep. It felt like having a ridiculously hot hat and scarf set, which, considering the high temperatures and humidity, was really quite unnecessary.
I have no idea of what suffering Martina had gone through, but she was clingy and affectionate and wanted to be close to people. I did wonder whether she could ever be rehabilitated back into the jungle, or whether she was too damaged and had got too comfy with human beings. After my Cuyabeno jungle trip where butterflies had captured my heart (there were some beauties at this place too), I thought I had moved on from my childhood monkey fascination. But it turns out no, I haven’t.