Fried cheese along with breakfast? Yum! Thus began an entire day of fun events. Early in the morning, the missions team, the Duncans, and two Dominicans piled into a small, white bus and began the roughly 2-hour trip to Monkey Jungle, near Puerta Plata. As we neared the general area, Jared discovered that nobody knew exactly where we were going. While Ben pulled up Google maps on his phone, Jared had the driver stop several times so that he could ask people near the road for directions. (Good man!) The information that they gathered between them pointed us in the right direction, and somebody spotted a sign for Monkey Jungle on a corner. We followed the arrow onto a side street and headed up a hill.
In time, the pavement turned to gravel; the gravel turned to red clay. Civilization vanished, and towering trees leaned over the path to peer at the invaders. We still saw no sign of our destination. The pitted road wandered left and right in its climb through the forest like it couldn’t quite make up its mind which direction to go, but also like it didn’t really matter, because it had all of forever in which to get there.
By this time, however, I needed to get somewhere rather quickly. I was on the verge of accepting the fact that “somewhere” could be defined as “behind the bus” when we turned yet another corner and caught sight of an open area with buildings. As we drew closer, we realized that it was, incredibly, a driving range. A long building near the road included three small doors that bore a blessed similarity to bathroom doors. As soon as the bus came to a halt, I took it upon myself to investigate. Two restrooms and one storage. Score!
By the way, I figured out The Law of the Bathroom today:
1. The light works.
2. There is toilet paper.
3. The toilet flushes.
–> Pick two or less!
We continued our drive with the encouraging information that our destination lay only 10-15 minutes ahead. Sure enough, we soon came to an entrance on our right, which we identified after some confusion as belonging to the correct place. The parking lot overlooks part of the zip line course, and we spent some time gawking over the railings before heading into the pavilion area.
Before we could begin, we were required to fill out paperwork acknowledging our understanding of the fact that if our current level of physical fitness was less than that of an Olympic athlete, we were going to die. And that it was not their fault; we had been warned. (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but look at this…)
I did fill out one of the forms, but as I stood in the parking lot waiting for some of the others to finish, the heat and humidity began to feel suffocating. Considering that the last time I tried to climb in such conditions, I experienced tunnel vision and thought that I was going to pass out, I decided to skip this part of the adventure. Jared switched places with me; he went on the zip line, and I watched their baby, Harmony.
Since I was in the pavilion and not on the course, I was able to get pictures of everybody as they went by. I tried to be patient while waiting what seemed like an awfully long time for the group to start coming down the zip line by the parking lot. I figured that the workers were busy explaining all the safety rules and procedures, but found out later that everybody was actually busy climbing. Yep, it’s a good thing I didn’t go!
Harmony had been fed and changed, and the theory was that she was ready for a nap. I sat down to cradle her in my lap, and she promptly sat up and started trying to grab everything in sight. Okaaaaaaaay, that’s not going to work… walking around for awhile seemed to lull her nearly to sleep, so I tried sitting down again. Boink! Wide awake. When I didn’t let her grab anything this time, she howled in protest. Back to walking…
At one point, I noticed that if I stayed in the edge of the shadow cast by the pavilion, that little bit of extra light coming in from the side caused her to close her eyes without really noticing or being bothered by it. About 5 minutes of that combined with the lullaby dance sent her sufficiently far into dreamland that I was finally able to sit down and take a good look at the area.
The counter in the center of the pavilion provided a location for filling out paperwork, ordering food, and paying. On the near side of the counter, scattered picnic tables and chairs invited visitors to relax and stay awhile, while a gift shop on the far side hoped to induce further purchases. The zip line course stretched over the bank to my left. To my right, a row of cages lined the outer wall of a very large enclosure. I saw birds, rabbits, and a small monkey in the cages, and wondered what was in the area behind them. (I definitely found out later!)
In front of the cages, two macaws perched on a large cross-beam and entertained passersby with their antics. They seemed uncertain whether they were best friends or worst enemies, alternating between preening each other and threatening each other with menacing beaks and talons. With alarming regularity, they emitted ear-splitting squawks that made me glance down at Harmony and wince. Later in the day, one of them startled me by starting to talk. In Spanish, of course!
After I saw the group zip by the parking area, it didn’t seem to be long at all until they were back, piling out of the vehicle that had picked them up at the end of the course. I enjoyed hearing all about it as we ate. (Ben even captured Jessica’s shrieking vertical descent into the cave on video!) Three people ordered the Dominican lunch, a huge plate of beans, meat, and rice. Arianna had a grilled cheese sandwich, and the rest of us ate either a hamburger or a cheeseburger. I found the burger to be quite odd – the meat was full of bits of… vegetables? seasonings? I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know!
After lunch, a guide with a bucket of loaded plates took us into the large enclosure that I had wondered about earlier. As we walked down a wooden stairway under the trees, dozens of very tiny, very adorable, very eager squirrel monkeys bounced from branch to railing to shoulder to branch, chattering excitedly. One by one, we held a plate of food in our hands and were instantly covered in squirrel monkeys!
Don’t let the cuteness fool you, though – these little guys are actually a band of thieves! They yanked and tugged on everything they could get their furry golden paws on. Eventually, one of them found an object that wasn’t securely attached – Harmony’s pacifier! As he disappeared into the trees with his prize, a spontaneous game of keep-away began. All we could do was laugh as the pacifier passed from one primate to another, especially when we noticed that one of the players decided that the most efficient way to carry the loot was in his mouth, just like Harmony! A few times, a fumbled pass sent the pacifier plummeting to the ground, followed by a scramble of monkeys racing in pursuit. When the pacifier landed close enough to Jared for him to snatch it back, the game ended.
Large cages in the lower level of the enclosure held two other types of monkeys, and pea fowl wandered loose. The guide also mentioned iguanas, but we didn’t see any.
Next came the long ride back to Esperanza in the rain. On the way, I spotted the following street sign:
Actually, signs like this warned the driver about upcoming speed bumps… sometimes. We also saw signs followed by no speed bumps and ran into speed bumps preceded by no signs! Which reminds me, I also figured out the Law of the Traffic today:
1. No lines = No rules.
2. Dotted lines = Pass as you please.
3. Solid lines = Pass quickly.
On the way back, we stopped briefly at a large grocery store. We didn’t have time to explore, but a few people bought apples or candy bars and shared them with the rest of the group. They were both very good! Since we were driving along the northern coast of the island, we also stopped for a few minutes to see what the beach was like, despite the rain.
I don’t know how Donna managed to avoid injuring her feet, but she made it back unscathed with a unique piece of driftwood and several gems of sea glass.
For dinner, we enjoyed a vegetable salad, a bone-in chicken and rice dish, fried plantains, and fried corn cakes. After dinner, we found ourselves in a lengthy, in-depth conversation about knowing God’s will through signs (which prompted a few jokes about fleece in the coming week!) Later, after the others left, Ben and Jared stayed up sufficiently late that I finally fell asleep listening to their debate on whether or not a certain passage of scripture pertaining to the end times is literal or figurative…