Percival Gordon, King of the Howlers

In praise of the jungle guide. And a warning: From Miami, you can be in Monkey River, Belize, in three hours. The return trip may take much longer.

  1. “Listen, mon! Listen!” he said. “You hear them?”

    Percival Gordon cut the outboard motor, and we drifted between green barricades of wild cane. Beyond that tangled picket line, from somewhere miles up Monkey River, deep within the jungle, came distant dinosaurian roars.

    “Sounds like Godzilla on fire,” I started to say, coughing out clouds of smoke and passing the mighty Mayan spliff back to Percival. The Maya grow all the best herb in Belize, the guide had told me, and their smoke was good for conjuring all the apparitions of the jungle, real and imaginary.

    “Listen,” Percy Gordon said, holding up a hand.

    The river burbled under the boat, and the harsh, guttural shrieks came again and again, regular as a bombardment. Black howler monkeys, maybe several troops, sounding their morning territorial bellowings from the treetops. Alouatta pigra, just twenty-five pounds max, is the earth’s loudest land creature; the alpha-male monkey’s high-decibel kiss-my-asses can be heard from as far as three miles away. The monkeys called again, and Percival chuckled, probably because he had just then figured out the monkeys’ true tree address, somewhere in the seemingly limitless bush of the Toledo district of southern Belize. “Ya, mon, what I tell you, we find lots of monkeys, for true.” He tugged the starter cord and the Honda 50 grumbled to life, and we sped off in pursuit of the outrageous roars.

    Seated on the bow with his arm slung over the throttle, Percival Gordon assumed a heroic pos...

Originally published in Esquire, November 2000