After my first few nights at Chan Chich, I quickly learned that the jungle activity changes a bit in the night time. Bats swoop through the air, the sounds of howler monkeys reverberate off of the trees, and cane toads hop across my path.
So of course, when the opportunity arose to go on a night ride I was eager to see what would be in store for me. While I knew it would be foolish to hope for a jaguar sighting, I set out taking comfort in the fact that at least my chances would be higher than if I had stayed in for the night. What I didn’t count on, however, was my inherently poor ability to spot wildlife in the darkness.
The first creature we encountered was a crocodile. I spent about a good five minutes skeptically staring at a pile of leaves that I thought had the potential to resemble a crocodile as my guide, Reuben, and fellow riders discussed the beauty of the real thing. When it suddenly moved about 6 feet away from where I had been looking, I was able to finally appreciate the sighting.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as lucky at our next two stops. Even as I followed the beam of my guide’s search with binoculars, I wasn’t able to find the birds that were able to camouflage in with the surrounding trees.
However, over the hour and a half we spent cruising through Gallon Jug, I slowly became adapted to the landscape at night. I witnessed a fawn lying in alone in the center of an open field, which, according to Reuben, was safer than staying with its mother who is a more conspicuous target for jaguars. Once, I even spotted a pair of parrots before Reuben had to identify them for me. With their bright green feathers, they stood out slightly against the duller foliage they sat in.
While I didn’t see any big cats, I was delighted to have one last sighting as we climbed up the drive to Chan Chich: a kinkajou. More commonly known as a honey bear, the kinkajou is a relative of the raccoon and enjoys exploring the tree tops of the jungle. As it passed in and out of the branches, it gave us a curious look as it surveyed us in the truck below.
Despite my slow start to the evening, the fact that even this somewhat visually impaired wildlife enthusiast could still have such a positive experience is a testament to both the quality of the guiding and the sheer level of conservation at Gallon Jug and Chan Chich. It is reassuring to know that the wildlife is preserved here so well that these animals can be observed with great frequency and at close range. Because of this, I know that these night sightings won’t be my last, and that others will be able to have authentic night time wildlife interactions for years to come.