Monkeying Around in Puyo

Puyo, Ecuador turned out to be a bit of a disappointment — at least as far as the city itself. We didn’t see why anyone would recommend going there except for nearby attractions. Like the Amazon — Puyo is the closest jumping off place to tour the jungle; even the tours leaving from Baños go through Puyo on the way. So you’d better believe that we seriously ruminated on the prospect of taking an Amazon outing ourselves. In the end, we ruled against it, and decided to award ourselves the consolation prize of a couple of other nearby attractions.

One of those attractions was a nature preserve that was only a few miles away; it would have been the next best thing to going to the jungle, since it was literally next to the jungle. Unfortunately, we learned that it was closed on Mondays, which was our one day in the Puyo area. So we settled for option B, which as it turns out wasn’t bad at all: Paseo de los Monos (Walk of the Monkeys), a sanctuary for monkeys and a few other forms of wildlife that allows them to wander around uncaged and interact with human visitors at close range.

Paseo de los Monos

Packing a lunch and our raincoats, we started walking toward the bus station to catch a bus that would take us at least most of the way there — it also was only a few miles away. But as the rain got heavier, we decided to hail a cab. It wasn’t hard to spot one, and the fare was only 4 dollars. A few minutes later, after we’d wound down an isolated dirt road — which would have concerned us if we hadn’t seen signs verifying that this was indeed the way — we were dropped at the entrance.

There was no ticket booth at the entrance, and no sight of anyone around. So we just sauntered on in. After we’d walked for a while, we’d spotted some interesting flora, but not much in the way of fauna. Then finally, there were the monkeys. Or at least some of them, cavorting overhead in wire tunnels that simultaneously kept them caged and gave them free rein. Rather ingenious.

And then, all of a sudden, the cage-free monkeys were upon us. At least half a dozen of them, swinging in the trees above our heads, scampering around our feet, trying to get close enough to snatch our phones, and trying to look into the bags on our backs. We weren’t sure how aggressive they were going to be, but we didn’t want to lose any of our valuables, even to a cuddly-looking little critter. So we did a balancing dance between getting close enough to them to admire them and get some photos and video, and at the same time keeping a reasonable distance and watching our backs.

Also trying to (literally) pick our pickets were some other little adorable varmints that we couldn’t identify at first, but later learned were coatis. They look somewhat like large brown opossums, but they are agile climbers like monkeys. And they have long claws that they love to probe into your pockets with, so you have to be careful with them to avoid getting scratched. There were other animals on display as well — penned and caged rather than running wild like the monkeys and coatis. These included wildcats and some rather smelly boars. But the monkeys really stole the show. They strutted and cavorted as if they knew that the facility was named after them and no one else.

Initially, we weren’t certain if physical contact with them was a wise idea. And there was almost nobody else around to set an example — good or otherwise. So we kept our distance. Finally we did encounter some park attendants and volunteers, and we saw one of them casually allow a monkey to climb on him. So we figured it was all right for us to do it too. When Dennis allowed one little simian to get on his back, the little rascal immediately tried to open the thermos of chocolate (belonging to Kimberly) that he was carrying.

It didn’t take very long to walk through the entire park, and it was a blast — especially since (probably due to the rain) we were the only visitors there. So we turned around and went through it again. It was just as good the second time. The only disappointment was that the serpent house was empty. (Or maybe it was more terrifying than disappointing). We scouted out a staff person — actually a volunteer, who seemed to be European — and asked if someone could call a cab for us, since with our limited Spanish, we were concerned about what might be sent to pick us up if we made the call ourselves.

Ten minutes later, we were back at our hostel, which was comfy enough, but lacked any kitchen facilities, so we had to continue with our intermittent tradition of cold cookery.

The next morning, this time without being hampered by rain, we walked to the bus station, where as it happened, a bus was just leaving for Ambato. So we hustled up and jumped on it as it was pulling out. No, we weren’t taking it upon ourselves to be daredevils, and we weren’t trying to emulate the monkeys we’d just been inspired by; we were simply observing the rule of “when in Ecuador, do as the Ecuadorians do”. It’s common practice in Ecuador, and apparently elsewhere in South America, for passengers to jump on and off (slowly) moving transit vehicles. So now we can add that to our cultural enrichment experiences.

Birds of Puyo

January 31, 2022

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