Searching for bugio, the howler monkey

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Fri 14 Aug 2015 22:41
23:08.3S 44:09.4W

"Howler monkeys? No, you never get to see them." seemed to be the general consensus.

Just above the beach where we land the dinghy, a man lives in a shack. He sells drinks and ice lollies and keeps chicken. We had often waved at each other. One afternoon we decided to call by for a drink. When we arrived he had just cut himself while shaving and was busily trying to stem the blood flow. The mirror he uses hangs on a nail on the wall and the wind was buffering it about and his reflection wouldn't stay still, that's how he nicked his lip. He is a Carioca (a man from Rio de Janeiro), and used to live in a slum two hours from Copacabana beach, now he lives in paradise. His fat chickens sleep in a smaller shack just next to the kitchen, they wander freely in and out. We sat in his 'front room', an open air space covered with a blue plastic tarpaulin where he has a few plastic chairs and tables. Across the yard is the toilet.

"Have you ever seen howler monkeys?" we asked. "Yes" he said "they come right down here, to steal my chicken."

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The view (certainly beats living in a Rio de Janeiro slum)

There are some good walks from Abraão, most of which pass through howler monkey territory, but we are realistic, encounters with wildlife are generally down to luck.

The Bico do Papagaio (Parrot's Beak) was irresistible. It is the second highest peak (960m) on the island and the view from the top, a huge boulder had to be impressive. We romped up the 12km (as the crow flies) and didn't see much wildlife other than a few out of breath German tourists. I did play hide and seek with a frog, it won, as it could see me and I never ever did get to spot it.

No bugio but the view was worth it.

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From the top of the Parrot's Beak

There aren't many round trips on Ilha Grande. There is a little circuit near Abraão easily walked in an hour, or there is the walk around the island which takes eight days.

Heitor, the guide from RioHiking who accompanied my mother and I through Tijuca National Park had kindly sent me some maps of Ilha Grande and one of these showed a possible round trip that wasn't on our map. Dorival, our Brazilian cruising friend had mentioned that the path from Abraão to Palmas across the Grossa peninsula was good for wildlife sightings, especially early in the morning.

We got up at first light and passed a couple of girls watching the sun rise who hadn't been to bed yet. On the way over to Palmas, we saw a marmoset and a squirrel and heard the howler monkeys a long way off. We were stopped in Palmas by the village booby who was strutting around, keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour. He became quite aggressive when I tried to take his photo.

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The village booby (he broke his wing and has been adopted by local fishermen)

From Palmas, the route follows the beach to Pouso before heading over the Castelhanos peninsula to Lopes Mendes beach on the Atlantic side of the island. We 'swam' in the surf, (meaning 'we got thoroughly beaten up by breaking waves') and left before the first tourist boat arrived. We walked west to Santo Antônio beach where we hoped to ask for directions as the next section was neither on the map nor sign-posted. Nobody lived there, it was just a beach, so we took the narrow trail we had passed half a mile back.

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My sort of beach: Lopes Menses Beach

In the 19th century, two thirds of the Atlantic coast west from Santo Antônio used to belong to one very large farm centred on Dois Rios. The coffee and sugar plantations were tended by slaves and once the slave trade was banned, there was more money in trafficking slaves than growing crops. The footpath we were following, although not frequently used, was well established, and in places sunken from decades of footfall.

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The narrow trail between Santo Antônio and Caxadaço

We scrambled over logs, ducked under overhanging branches, contoured landfalls and passed under a huge boulder. Then the noise started, that 'grating of steel against rock' sound, howler monkeys were nearby. This time it was different though, the grating would stop and a solo male would start up a rhythmic bark "Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo", others would join in with the barking then everyone would sing along for the 'grating' chorus. It was hard to judge how close they were, we couldn't see anything through the trees. There would be silence for a short while, then it would start up again. I could tell Franco was itching to take part. As the males took up the "hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo", so did Franco. When the chorus finished, Franco carried on, a solo all of his own "hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo". The only way to describe the monkeys' response was 'stunned silence'! Eventually they recovered from the shock caused by this 'giant monkey' interloper and carried on the performance. Suddenly, there they were, smaller than I had imagined, on the highest branches. We only caught a glimpse before they moved on.

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The path passes under a giant boulder

Coming towards us up the track were three French walkers. They told us they had seen howler monkeys in the bamboo and were on their way to Caxadaço. So were we, but in the opposite direction! We explained that they had walked right passed the place and were on their way to Santo Antônio and a very long walk back to Abraão. The girl complained that they had been walking since 10am and still hadn't found a beach. "You've seen howler monkeys! you can go to the beach any day" was my unsympathetic response.

Caxadaço is a small cove completely hidden from the sea by a very large boulder. This is where the slave smuggling ships would unload their cargo, hidden from prying eyes. The slaves, often ill and half starved would have to walk all the way to Dois Rios where the farm headquarters were. Later they would be sold off to landowners on mainland Brazil.

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Caxadaço cove

From Caxadaço, it was another three kilometres (as the drunken crow flies) to the junction with the main track between Abraão to Dois Rios. Dois Rios was yet another fabulous beach but we were too exhausted to head down the hill, so instead we turned right, back over the spine of Ilha Grande to Abraão where we drank a caipirinha (or two) to bugio, the howler monkey.

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One man watching a 'happy clappy' live link. On the wall "Please do not urinate here"