Hidden back in the jungle about 45 south of Playa del Carmen resides a wonderful spider monkey sanctuary called The Jungle Place. They conduct semi private tours where visitors can interact with the monkeys in a very intimate way. Guest rooms are also available for those looking to spend more than just a visit to this primate oasis. It just so happens that Allan and I were able to secure a tour on short notice, which is very surprising considering the sanctuary's popularity and very limited visiting hours. Reservations usually need to be made well ahead of time.
Turning off the highway just south of Akumal our SUV snaked through a small town and meandered through dirt roads festering with pot holes. After roughly 20 minutes of driving we approached what looked like a tree house out of Robinson Crusoe or The Swiss Family Robinson. Intricately thatched roofs covered tree huts and enclosures in an intertwining maze of wood and palm leaves.
Heidi and Joel, the Jungle Place's founders and directors, greeted us and gave us the warning speech: take off all jewelry, empty your pockets, take off all hats and glasses - anything that the monkeys might want. Once the monkeys get a hold of it, they can rip it off you, and it will be very difficult to get it back. Don't make any sudden moves or loud noises. Don't grab for anything. If they monkeys want something let them have it.
Needless to say the warning speech made me just a little nervous. I was already apprehensive as primates even as pets are well known to bite with strong force. They are wild animals. Allan on the other hand was filled with excitement. He has loved monkeys for as long as I can remember.
The monkeys are kept in large wooden enclosures, with plenty of room to swing and move around. The enclosures are interconnected, but can be closed off if needed. We were allowed to enter one enclosure with the females. The males are too aggressive and could cause serious harm.
We were instructed to sit on the floor and just let the monkeys come to us. They are naturally inquisitive and affectionate. We were given fruit, nuts and lettuce to feed them and to entice them to come closer. In no time they were crawling all over us. Some rested their heads on our legs and just wanted to be scratched, others wanted to lay in our arms and be rocked, but most just wanted food and to check us out.
For most of the experience I was very uncomfortable. At one point I asked to leave but was told no, as it could upset the monkeys. Apparently one of the monkeys picked up on my discontent and decided to defecate on my shoulder. Monkey poo smells horrible, but at least it convinced Heidi to let me out of the cage. I gladly gifted my soiled shirt to her and she gave me another one to wear and take home.
Despite my jaded experience, Allan and the other guests had a ball. It is really a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who has longed to hold, pet and interact with monkeys.
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