It started out as a simple walk through the Ngao Mangrove Forest Research Centre. At just over 1.5 km long, the elevated walk way cuts a square-ish path through the mangroves a few meters above the swampy floor. We went at low tide to get a good look at the roots twisting and winding there way down to the muck. Not what you'd call beautiful, but certainly an showcase of nature.
Low tide also means the mosquitos are out in full-force, just waiting for tasty creatures on two legs to stop long enough to expose a patch of bare flesh. But we were walking in a self-sustaining mist of Off!, so the little bloodsuckers would find no quarter. The monkeys, on the other hand, hadn't yet discovered chemistry, so they were left to their own devices, the little thieving bastards that they are.
You'll need some sort of mosquito repellent when you go, or you won't see the little thieving bastard monkeys. Oh, they'll see you alright. And they'll stay motionless, blending in to the muck and trees like invisible ninjas. Invisible ninja monkeys just waiting to steal your stuff, the little thieving bastards. (And if you stop, you get eaten. Hence, the mosquito repellent.) Stop and be still for a minute. You'll catch a glimpse of one (a monkey, not a mosquito) in the trees regardless of what direction your looking. Slowly let your gaze wander, making very little noise and no sudden movements, and you'll see more. There are reportedly over 200 mangrove macaques (also known as crab-eating macaques) in the area. And at least one of them is a thieving bastard.
We'd stopped long enough to get set up to take a One Minute Memories video of the mangrove swamp itself. Yes, it's a swamp. I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home there, but the trees are actually quite lovely. The supports of the walkway gave her a solid flat surface (because we didn't bring the tripod) to record from and the buzzing sounds of insects and occasional bird calls made for a very relaxing scene. Swaying trees, light playing off the water. Lovely!
At 42 seconds into the recording, we both saw our first monkey. If you look closely about a third of the way to the right edge at the mid-point of the screen, you can just make him out. We wanted a better OMM featuring the monkeys, so we walked a little further down the walkway, pausing to see if other thieving little bastards would show themselves. They did. In abundance. At least a dozen monkeys made themselves known to us, either swinging in the trees or walking along the swamp floor, looking for crabs. Some were more brazen than others, getting closer and closer or walking under the elevated walk way just meters from where we stood.
Sheila shot another One Minute Memories video -- this time with mucho monkeys -- and then went in total photog mode, swapping out lenses, trying out different angles, and eventually dropping her camera bag so she had more mobility. I went in total photographer-assistant mode, watching our six to make sure an army of monkeys didn't sneak up on us, conspiring to steal her hastily-deposited camera bag. Did I mention they are thieving bastards? I also went into sound-engineer mode, thinking that maybe with all this activity, we might pick up some monkey sounds. I pulled out my Zoom H4n and set it on one of the supports, pointed roughly at the biggest mass of monkeys. The thieving bastards.
One of the monkeys was acting more than a little aggressive, so Sheila returned to me, gathered her camera bag, and wisely suggested we walk a little further down the path to give them some space. We were the only apes in the vicinity, and we didn't want to get ganged up on by a literal gang of monkeys in search of some tasty food we might be carrying. Feeding the monkeys is forbidden to discourage this behavior, but we didn't know how closely those rules had been followed by our predecessors, so we opted not to risk it. Move along, humans, move along.
Minutes went by. Six minutes and thirty-one seconds, to be exact. I turned around to find a monkey sitting in the middle of the path right were we had been. Just what I'd been waiting for! I pulled out my phone and set it on the walkway hoping to get a steady shot, because I'd have to zoom up to see him. As I positioned my shot, I noticed he wasn't looking at us. He seemed to be fixated on the top of one of the support beams. The very same support beam where I had, six minutes and thirty-one seconds before, left my Zoom H4n recording ambient audio. The Zoom H4n recorder that was now in the hands of a second monkey!
Time seemed to stop, as various parts of my brain furiously turned over possibilities.
"I suppose there's a chance that some other podcaster was here before you and left his Zoom H4n on one of the support poles. Because you're not stupid enough to have done that, are you?"
"If he drops it to his left, will it survive the 1.5 meter drop to the concrete walkway?"
"If he drops it to his left, there's no way in hell it will survive the 3 meter plunge and subsequent submersion in icky mangrove swamp goo!"
"If he doesn't drop it, what kind of podcast will he produce? And will it be better than yours?"
"What the fuck are you doing standing here thinking about that shit WHEN A MONKEY HAS YOUR RECORDING DEVICE, YOU DOLT?!"
That last voice obviously won out, and I ran. Hard. That thieving bastard had my recording device. The single most important piece of equipment we own. That's the device that makes our show each week. Without it, we'd be forced to narrate into our crappy earbuds, and that shit wasn't going to fly, no thank you. Not today. So... I ran directly at the little thieving bastard, hoping against hope that his tiny primate brain would act on instinct, abandoning his newfound toy and seeking shelter.
(As I was running towards the little thieving bastard, I recalled a documentary on monkey hunting in Africa I'd seen years before. It showed hunters using a stick just as wide and long as a monkey's arm to create a small tunnel and small cavity into an abandoned termite mound. Into this hole, in full view of the monkeys safely out of harms way, they'd put some food, and then walk away into the jungle. Within a few minutes, an adventurous monkey would investigate to see what the humans had put into the hole. Cats, it turns out, ain't got nothing on the curiosity of a monkey. He'd slowly walk up to the hole, and gingerly reach is little simian arm inside the hole, until his fingers -- quite sensitive and good at detecting substances by touch alone -- would find the food in the slightly larger cavity. He's then take the food in his fist ... only to discover his clenched fist too big to fit through the tunnel. Frustrated but stubborn, the monkey tried -- in vain -- to get his arm and tasty treat out of the hole. Shortly thereafter, the hunters emerged from the trees, converging on the self-trapped monkey. Panicking, but too stupid to relax his fist, the hunters simply walked up to the now freaking-the-shit-out monkey and slipped a lead around his neck. Or bashed his head in. I don't remember witch. But if that little thieving bastard didn't give up my recorder, head-bashing was not off the table.)
Luckily for him and my continued un-incarceration (even though the Royal Thai Police like us enough to chauffeur us to our ferry, they'd probably frown on me beating a monkey to death with a broken Zoom H4n), the sight of an enraged human charging as fast as his Chacos would allow caused him to scamper down the support on the the walkway, where he took a few scrambling steps before releasing his prize and taking his lookout buddy to the safety of the mangrove roots below. There lay my Zoom, squarely in the middle of the path. A little banged up and the condom (fuzzy thing that goes over the microphones) covered in disgusting monkey spit (didn't taste very good did it, you thieving little bastard?)... but functioning. Sadly, the shock of the drop caused the audio to stop recording, so my barbaric yawp of victory will have to be imagined. But it was epic.
Only when those things put their damned dirty paws on my recording device, Dr. Zaius. Then it's go time. Little thieving bastards.
We're in Thailand for three months, so expect to have lots more stories like this. Hopefully with less profanity and death-threats. But hey, it makes for an entertaining show, right? And yes, this will probably make it to a podcast episode soon. So if you're not subscribed... what are you waiting for?