Spider Monkeys on Linton Island
A month after we arrived in San Blas Archipelago of Panama we are ready to continue our journey. Together with our new boat-friends on S/V Anka we sail to Colon where all ships and boats have to stop for a few days and get ready to cross the Panama Canal.
On the way to Colon we decide to stop overnight at Isla Linton. It’s over 50 nautical miles from Cayos Holandes in San Blas to Linton and in favorable weather conditions it can be a pleasant day sail. We start at 06:00h in the morning on June 27th with 6-10 knot north winds on a beam reach and 2-3 meter waves. The wind picks up a bit to 10-14 knots around 09:00h, and with the current in our direction we are doing steady 6 knots. Anka is within sight slightly behind us at all times. The two boats are sailing with the same speed which makes it ideal for buddy-boating. We keep contact on the VHF radio and Adrian announces that this stretch of sea between San Blas and Linton is his favorite sail since ages: ideal wind strength and angle, the waves not too big and nervous, a beautiful sunny day at sea.
We love it too. We catch two tunies. The first one is small and we decide to release it and give it a chance to grow up, but the second one we keep for lunch that day.
At 16:00h in the afternoon we round the small cape, tall and rocky, at the entrance of a big calm hidden bay and we drop anchor among a population of about thirty other boats in a large pool of deep murky water protected by wind and swell from all directions.
We kayak to the small beach on Isla Linton- an uninhabited island with hills covered in thick green vegetation. There is an abandoned building ashore reclaimed by nature that was once a research station of some sort but today is an empty ruin invaded by spiders and a family of spider monkeys. Linton is The Monkey’s Island, their home and their prison.
We spot a couple of spider monkeys up in the palm trees as we approach the shore and surely they have spotted us too. One is hanging from a palm leaf in a rather bizzare position, holding on with arms and tail, its legs dangling in the air.
The other is sitting comfortably in his throne of green with a tragic expression on his face.
We are super scared to approach them, especially after our friends aboard S/V Amelie-4 had such an awful misadventure here only a few months ago. Meagan, 12-years old, was bringing fruits to feed the monkeys and was on the island with her mom when one of the monkeys grabbed her hand and viciously bit it to the bone. She had to go to a hospital for stitches and treatment, as there was no telling if the monkey was rabid or not. The family’s sailing trip was in jeopardy, as Meagan’s life was at stake. But fortunately, the girl didn’t get infected by any disease, the wound healed well, and they continued their journey at sea crossing the Panama Canal, visiting Mach Picchu in Peru, sailing to Galapagos, crossing the Pacific Ocean, spending a few unforgettable months in French Polynesia, heading to Fiji right now.
Knowing what happened to Meagan, we are keeping our distance and moving very slowly keeping an eye on the monkeys at all times once we step on the beach. The monkeys get excited, barking and screaming and swinging from branch to branch, but as soon as they spot the mango and banana pieces we have brought they descend down from the palms and approach us to get their treats.
Walking upright towards us like a little man dragging his very long arms almost touching the ground beside him, the spider monkey is a surreal looking creature.
With disproportionately long and thin arms and legs, equipped with a tail that is almost like a fifth arm, covered in black fur, and with a human expression on their faces, these are the descendants of the third unsuccessful attempt of the Mayan Gods to create people, according to Popol Vuh. The next “successful” attempt is us, the humans of today.
The spider monkeys are one of the largest New World monkeys, the most intelligent New World monkeys, and one of the critically endangered species in the world.
They live in bands and families occupying large areas of evergreen tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil. Their habitat continues to diminish due to deforestation, and their number continues to dwindle, as they are considered a tasty meal by local communities, hunted, killed and barbecued.
Soon we get used to the creatures and they get used to us.
The darker one with the warrior’s look on his face is nervous moving up and down the coconut palms, emitting his ungodly screams showing the dark interior of his mouth with big yellow teeth. He is the protector.
The other one looks younger and has lighter brownish fur. He is very gentle and has the most melancholic heartbreaking expression, as if suffering from devastating nostalgia for the forests and freedom beyond this island.
He sits motionless most of the time and accepts handouts with slow feminine gestures from Ivo’s hands.
As we are getting ready to leave, a third monkey rushes towards the beach from the shadows of the forest. This one would be the Father or the Chief. His fur is grey at places and full of scars, his face is fierce, his look is provocative. Don’t mess with me! We immediately sentence him as The One Who Bit Meagan and leave his kingdom in a hurry.
The spider monkeys of Linton Island have become the local tourist attraction. Cruisers passing through dinghy to shore to bring them fruit and take their picture, which doesn’t bother them much, but in the afternoon organized excursions from the nearby town of Portobello bring hordes of tourists who scream at them from the small crowded motorboats like paranoid savages until the animals become very irritated and start jumping up and down the trees, swinging from the palm leafs, and screaming back at the tourists, which is what they are paying for and amuses them a lot. Seeing this most perverse situation was disturbing and disgusting: humans acting worse than the animals, no respect whatsoever, stressing and torturing the monkey-prisoners of the island for money and for fun.
I imagined someone saving them and releasing them on Panama’s mainland to be free, but then they would be in danger of being captured and eaten… Who are we “the successful people, created in the image of the Mayan Gods”; what have we become ?
About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page:Facebook/TheLifeNomadik