So, along with fellow students, Deborah and Glenda, our Habla Ya staff guide, Nodir, and our driver, we headed happily south toward the picturesque Chiriquí Gulf region of the country, specifically to an area called Chorcha. Our destination, Alouatta Lodge and Release Center.
Our first 30 or so kilometers in the small 4x4 were a piece of cake. It was the last two I'll remember. Once we turned off the paved road, we wound our way up something that looked like it might, at one time, have been a road. Today, though, it was a series of hub-deep mud holes and hub-high rocks. Our driver handled it with skill and patience.
|Steven Walker with furry sidekick.|
|Michelle Walker, with an armful of monkeys.|
Apparently, they'd intended to refashion the place into a botanical garden and forest preserve, offering guests lodging and a chance to explore a network of trails winding through the preserve.
That was before they were adopted by the howler monkeys. Soon after they'd arrived, a neighbor gave them one they'd rescued, and the Walkers soon picked up another they found wandering, abandoned or lost, along the road. (They learned there were no fewer than ten howler troops residing in and around their land.)
|Yahoo, one of the Walkers' resident mantled howler monkeys.|
As Steven power-washed the deck and Michelle and Becky worked on lunch, the rest of us took the "easy" Green Trail into the woods. It's still the rainy season here, and, though not especially hot, the air was like an over-saturated sponge, sopping us to the skin. We found many interesting
|A serpentine vine slithers through the saturated air.|
|The Blue Morpho loped across the picnic tab|
|Steven shows off one of his rarest halicones.|
|Deborah and new friend|
Gingers, bromeliads, heliconia, vanilla, torch plant, even lantana—a plant I've always associated with Australia, but which Steven says grows naturally here in Panama.
|Glenda, about to lose a knuckle|
After three years of toil, the fond abduction of their hearts and surrender to a simpler, more sane lifestyle, the Walker family now faces a heartbreaking reality. Between a scattering of guests and a few partnerships with other local attractions, they simply can't make the enterprise pay for itself. Just today, they told us, they'd forked over $500 to the vet to treat a couple of sick monkeys. Nonetheless, they've designed a more spectacular, sprawling lodge, hoping, at least, to find a buyer who'd build it some day and commit to preserving both their monkey rescue-and-release efforts and their sustainable footprint on this wonderful place.
|Alouatta Lodge overlooks the islands of the Chiriquí Gulf.|