monkey eating a banana

Strangers Along the Way: Richard (Part II)

When Richard answered the door in his boxer shorts glaring at me, I immediately regretted agreeing to meet with him. The man was impossible! (If you haven’t yet, read “Richard (Part I)” to understand). But, I was there and I had a few things to say to Richard, so I stayed. Sitting outside on his…

swinging monkey tulum mexico

When Richard answered the door in his boxer shorts glaring at me, I immediately regretted agreeing to meet with him. The man was impossible! (If you haven’t yet, read “Richard (Part I)” to understand). But, I was there and I had a few things to say to Richard, so I stayed. Sitting outside on his beautiful patio overlooking a waterfall, Richard started telling me about the monkey sanctuary.  It turns out he wasn’t rude to me because he disliked the volunteers who came to help; he  was struggling with what to do with the sanctuary and how to keep it running.  Up until a few years ago, the sanctuary was just his private “collection” of displaced spider monkeys.

It began with great intentions. Following a storm that devastated his property and left the wild monkey population in danger of starving, Richard turned to local produce vendors asking for donations of the fruit that could no longer be sold. He became known around Tulum as that gringo that saves monkeys. Shortly, thereafter, Richard got a call from town officials asking for his help in capturing a monkey that was terrorizing the town. Diego was a spider monkey who was wrenched from his mother’s arms after poachers had killed his entire family just so that they could capture a baby to sell as a “pet.” As to be expected, Diego grew up and when he reached sexual maturity began acting like a wild monkey.  No longer the charming pet, he was tossed to the street. It took Richard over two weeks to finally capture Diego.  He took him home with the idea of caring for him until he could be acclimated back into the wild. Richard continued receiving calls for help and his population of untame, but not wild, monkeys and other castaway creatures grew. Shortly before I arrived to volunteer at the monkey sanctuary, Richard had agreed to take in a camel from a traveling petting zoo or circus of sorts.

Monkey at Tulum sanctuary Me and the camel 2

For many years, Richard managed to fund the care for the animals on his own. But a series of financial woes led him to bringing on someone who had the idea of turning the sanctuary into a self-supporting tourism destination staffed by volunteers. The idea was a good one; but, unfortunately, the project was being managed by an individual with a great heart, but no experience with monkeys.

Pacing on his porch, Richard explained that he and his partner were at odds about the direction for the sanctuary. Richard was out of money and wanted to sell the land to developers with plans to invest millions into turning the sanctuary into a full-fledged tourism mecca complete with rides and treetop walkways for viewing the wild monkeys. The partner wanted to keep things small and focus on attracting nature lovers and those interested in sustainable agriculture, like aquaponics. Richard was torn because he needed the money that selling the land would bring; but, he also knew that once the deal was done, the developers might not keep their promise to care for the rescued monkeys. In short, Richard had acted like a jerk because he was stressed out.

An hour into our conversation,  Richard suddenly asked me if I wanted to go visit the Gulf of Mexico. Always up for an adventure, and having realized I’d misjudged him as a meanie, I said, “Sure!” Since Richard had a few beers under his belt, he asked me to drive for the first hour or so.  Woo-hoo! About 45 minutes down the road, we came to a road block. “I know you fancy yourself a Spanish speaker,” Richard said, “but don’t.  Just roll down your window, smile, say ‘H!’ and they’ll let us go right on by.”  Now the stressed out one was me! What was I thinking jumping into a perfect stranger’s car and driving in Mexico? I have no idea what might be in the car! Oh, god, what if there are drugs, or a weapon? I started to sweat watching the cop circle the car in front of me and, then, ask the driver to open the trunk.

Shit. Damn. F#*%! What have I gotten myself into?!  When it was our turn I slowly eased up, rolled down the window, smiled at the cop, and gave a cheery “Hi!” just like Richard advised.

The cop waved us right on by.

Well, I’ll be damned.  Richard started cracking up laughing. “See! See! I told you!” he chortled.  Unfortunately, Richard’s bladder was not as effective as his ability to predict the behavior of the policia.  The trip to El Cuyo took us a little over 3 hours, and Richard insisted on pulling over about every 30 minutes. The first time we pulled over I assumed he was going to jump out and find a bush. Nope. Richard just swung one leg out the door and relieved himself right there. Okay, then…I’ll just look out my window for a minute, Richard.


Toileting skills aside, the most remarkable thing I discovered about Richard during the drive was that, despite my first impression, he was actually a really sweet, kind and charming man. Like it does most people, overwhelming stress had affected his personality. As we got further from Tulum and all its associated problems, Richard began to really open up. We talked at length about his options for the sanctuary; then, about his family, his friends and his love life. Richard wasn’t just stressed out. Richard was lonely.

We made it to El Cuyo around 10 p.m. When Richard opened the door to his house – a one room kind of bungalow, my heart skipped a beat.  There was only one bed and no couch. Frick. “Uh, Richard…where are you sleeping?” I inquired. The house had other issues, too. One being a lack of running water. There was a shower area, but no water. I was exhausted, sticky hot, and covered in monkey residue. This road trip was suddenly seeming like a really bad idea. “Let’s just take a walk by the sea and then figure everything out,” cajoled Richard. “It’s peaceful there.”

He was right. I sat by the water’s edge letting the soft waves of warm water roll gently over me as I gazed at the starry night sky.  Who cares if there is no running water?  Who cares if there is only one bed? Everything is going to be just fine.

The next morning I woke up after Richard.  The dear man had already gone to the store and picked up coffee, pastries, and 20 gallons of fresh water.   Half the water was in a massive pail into which he’d inserted some kind of water heating device.  “This is your bath water,” he explained with a smile. “The only problem is that there is no bathtub.  So, you’ll have to scoop up the water with this mug and take a shower that way.”  The things I get myself into…

“Oh, by the way,” he said with a sly grin. “I touched you last night.”  WHAT!? Before I could start screaming, he giggled, “yep, my big toe touched your heel!”  And, then, he ran out the door before I could throw something at him.

Richard Facebook

Two and a half months later Richard was dead. News reports say that the sanctuary’s camel escaped from its enclosure and reacted violently when Richard came upon it while walking up the lane.  I had expressed my concerns to Richard regarding the safety of the volunteers and the visitors at the sanctuary, but my concerns were focused on the half wild monkeys that sometimes charged at you.  Not the camel. News reports say that the camel became enraged when Richard didn’t produce a soda that the camel was accustomed to getting. But, that doesn’t make any sense to me. We do know, though, that for whatever reason, the camel bit, kicked and battered Richard until he fell down. At which point, the camel sat on him. Workers heard Richard’s screams and came running; but, it was too late.  Richard died before they could get him to the hospital.

Once a stranger, then a friend. R.I.P. Richard. I won’t forget you.

Have you ever known someone for just a day or two that you’ll never forget? I’d love to hear about it.

One response to “Strangers Along the Way: Richard (Part II)”

  1. crlynj Avatar

    Your stories bring your readers on your trip with you. Bravo!

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