Thud! Whack! Aeeei-Waaaa!
The Howler Monkey Rebellion has started! I fret as I open my eyes with the kind of addlepated dread that afflicts the seriously deranged and those who get startled from their sleep amid unfamiliar sheets before dawn.
I squint into the darkness, listening through the pounding rain and the jungle chatter to determine whether simian intruders have breached the cabin walls. Just a few hours earlier, over a family-style dinner of giant river prawns and other meat offerings, fellow hotel guest Gerry Wiley had recounted the wakeup call he got during his first night at the Rio Indio Lodge: Three fang-baring howler monkeys had dropped from a tree onto his cabin porch at 4:30 a.m., saw their reflection in the darkened window, and went berserk pounding on the panes with primate fury.
“That was better than a cup of coffee to get me out of bed in the morning,” Wiley joked. I chuckled at his story over dinner, but now lay in bed breathless, trying not to smell like a ripe banana.
I emerged from my room with mild trepidation the next morning, half expecting to find the jungle lodge overrun by the wild animals I had heard conspiring outside my cabin throughout the night. At the very least, I expected to discover most of the hotel washed into the river after a relentless torrent punctuated by roof-rattling thunder.
So you can imagine my surprise when I found the hotel merrily going about its business as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “ Buenos dias,” a friendly hotel employee said to me as I blinked dumbly.
A new day
All that had sounded wild and unsettling during the night now appeared verdant and fetching. In the bluish-grey light of early morning, the forest glistened and dripped with rain outside the elevated thatched-roof walkway connecting the cabins to the central lodge. Tropical birds screeched across the sky, butterflies danced aimlessly amid rainforest flowers, insects chirped from orchid-covered trees, howler monkeys barked somewhere in the distance (the safe distance, I noted), and a chorus of other unseen animals made cooing and croaking noises unfamiliar to my urban ears. Even the white-faced monkeys (the presumptive scouts of the ape army) leapt playfully through the trees, snagging plantains hung on a rope from the lodge’s treetop veranda. Like a monkey, I too scampered to the coffee bar to feed my caffeine cravings.
Rio Indio Lodge, a $7 million eco-tourism development at the mouth of Nicaragua’s mighty San Juan and Indio rivers, is as wild as the jungle it inhabits. That jungle swallowed nearby Greytown, a former boomtown and hub for trade in the 18th and19th centuries, almost 100 years ago.
Now, thanks to a new airport, this remote jungle corner of southeastern Nicaragua is more accessible than it has been for 200 years, when getting here meant taking a boat along the Caribbean coast down the San Juan River from the interior of the country. The ghost town is hoping to be rediscovered as a unique jungle-tourism destination
While the colonial outpost is now just a one-hour plane ride from Managua, it’s still as remote and exotic as it ever was. Indeed, even in the rustic but luxurious Rio Indio Lodge — the area’s main tourist destination — it’s sometimes hard to determine where the jungle ends and the lodge begins.