I love to travel. I look forward to encountering the unexpected because it opens my eyes to things in this world that I had no idea existed. When I travel I love the trip as much as the destination - driving through unknown territory in a far-off country is when I stumble upon the most memorable experiences of any trip. In my opinion, the less you plan in advance, the better off you are. The culture you've dropped into will sweep you away, like a twig on a river, into its best and worst.
Sadly, this kind of travel, which I've grown accustomed to, is not an option right now. My wife, who is also the best travel partner in the world, is currently 7 months pregnant and she isn't really up for the more adventurous mode of traveling right now. We wanted to go on one last trip before we get pinned down by parenthood so we decided to take a kind of trip we've never tried before - an all-inclusive resort holiday!?
Normally the idea of travelling to a far-flung destination and then just staying in one spot for 7 days would feel like a total waste of time. But given our circumstances and the fact the there were 8 inches of snow on the ground outside our house in Toronto, this all-inclusive idea didn't sound so bad. The decision was made and we booked a last minute trip to warmer temperatures.
So off to Costa Rica we went. I had read that the area we would be staying in was home to a large population of capuchin monkeys. I was not sure if these impossibly cute little guys would make much noise, or how hard it would be to get close to them but I figured I might not be around a capuchin again any time soon so I might as well try to record any sounds they might make. As we headed for the airport I had my regular suitcase full of clothes as well as a second one full of recording gear.
Bringing a shotgun microphone onto a plane is always a bit of a pain. There is no way I am going to check a $2000+ microphone, so I take it as carry-on. The interest of security staff is always piqued when the mic goes through the x-ray machine. A long skinny metal tube sends up a red flag in these days of heightened airport security. So I am always pulled aside and made to jump through a couple of hoops to prove I am not carrying a pipe bomb or something equally dangerous. After I explain what they are looking at I am always waved through.
Once we arrived at the resort I became aware of what a different environment I was entering compared to my other travels. It turns out that enjoying quiet is the last possible thing you can do at an all-inclusive resort. Recording the capuchins, or anything at all besides maybe 'obnoxious resort ambience' would be tricky. Noise was coming from many sources:
- music in the bar and around the pool
- waves rolling in from the ocean
- wound-up guests living it up all around the resort
- cooking and eating sounds from the buffet restaurant
- diesel engines from the shuttle vans that transport patrons around the area
- constant bird song
- announcers on the P.A. calling bingo/aquafit/dance classes, etc.
At various times, some or all of these noises were present and inescapable. With some trial and error I narrowed down when the quietest time could be to record the monkeys. Afternoons and evenings were out because of the pumping reggae and dance music audible all over the resort, but before 9 AM the music was only playing inside the buffet restaurant area. Also in the morning most guests were still groggy and relatively quiet as they recovered from the previous evening's adventures. The waves were quite light in the mornings as the tide was 50 meters further out than it was in the afternoon and the shuttle vans ran less frequently while most guests were still sleeping. On the negative side though was that the buffet was in full swing with lots of dish rattling and people chatting. All the birds in the area were also engaged in their morning conversations.
The monkeys come in towards the resort from deeper in the forest around 8 AM so from then until around 9 AM when the music really kicked in with the bass thumping pop remixes seemed to be my window. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to get something.
Whether I'd be able to get close enough to the capuchins to record them was my next unknown. This turned out to be no problem at all. These monkeys have been around the resort all their lives and were not afraid of people at all. All it took to attract their attention was a bit of fruit.
I woke up nice and early, got my gear all ready, and headed down to a spot near the beach where the monkeys like to hang out. I guess I don't really think like a monkey because I made a faux pas right off the bat. With a nice chunk of fruit in one hand and my microphone in a rycote windshield covered with a furry windjammer in the other, I moved in on a monkey. The poor little guy took one look at me and backed off and started barking at the mic in a fairly aggressive manner. I had no idea a monkey could bark like this. This was not a sound I was expecting at all. It took a minute to dawn on me that the monkeys were alarmed by the furry cover on my microphone - it was convincingly imitating a threatening predator. I took the furry off and put it out of sight and they were immediately comfy and playful again. Here is a clip of the monkey barks:
These may not sound too menacing. Keep in mind that these capuchin monkeys are very small animals, so their barks sound more like a chihuahua then a big roar like you hear in Hollywood movies like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
I made another pass at recording once the the furry was off and the monkeys were more than willing to come right up to the rycote. They patted it down and tried to figure out what it was. One of the monkeys even tried to bite into the rycote to see if it was some new kind of fruit.
Here is what they sounded like as they contentedly wandered about in the trees and ate fruit while overlooking tourists setting up their towels on the beach.
Well, I have to admit that these little guys were possibly the cutest things I have ever been around. The sounds they make sound very very close to human vocalizations. I imagine it would even be fairly easy to replicate these types of noises with an actor. Like willing interview subjects, they were very good about camping out in front of the microphone for a while and just squeaking away. Then they would get bored and scamper off to another tree branch along the beach. Aside from the birdsong in the background I was able to get fairly clean recordings of capuchin chatter. It worked out pretty well.
Here is a video I captured with the capuchins in Costa Rica. This video is of them running around in the trees and grabbing fruit. The video and audio were not shot together so they are not in sync, but it will give you an idea of the environment. All the recordings were made with a Sanken CSS5 feeding a Sound Devices 702.
Here are a bunch of photos taken by my wife while I was recording the capuchins.
This final picture is of an animal called a Coati. It's in the same family as the racoon. These guys rest in the trees and the monkeys mess with them and generally annoy them.