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In Foreign Territory, Wondering: Who is the Alpha Monkey?

Illustration by Rebekka Dunlap

Leigh Shulman | Longreads | August 2017 | 20 minutes (4,962 words)


Still breathless from dragging our heavy bag down the hill and through the mud, I never expected to be turned away on arrival. “No children allowed here,” he tells me.

“But Rafael,” I explain after introductions, “Monica knows we’re coming. Por favor ask her.”

What Rafael doesn’t tell me is that Monica, the owner of this magnificent animal sanctuary in the middle-of-nowhere jungle, left two days earlier for La Paz to tend to her sick father. She neglected to inform anyone that my nine-year-old daughter Lila and I would be landing on their doorstep. It’s a 20 km walk to the nearest town and no more buses for the day. How did I get us into this mess?

Thirty-six hours earlier, we locked the door of our house in Argentina, cabbed to the terminal and hopped a late bus headed for Bolivia. Lila snuggled against my shoulder, attempting to sleep through her excitement over our first night away. The driver rolled to a halt in every tiny dirt-pathed town, belching passengers into the cool Andean night. We touched the border before dawn.

Four hours and two passport stamps later, an unrelenting Bolivian sun burned our skin as we breakfasted on buttery rolls and coffee.

“How long is the next ride?” my little one asked.

“Twenty hours from here to La Paz.”
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