Here’s the text to a Toastmaster speech I gave in February. The project involves using visual aids, and you can see the photos from my PowerPoint.
The title is Monkey Business, and it’s about the wild animals I encountered during a year-long trip through Central America in the late 70’s.
I only had five to seven minutes for my speech, so I limited my animal stories to encounters with vampire bats, giant land crabs, and monkeys.
Left out because of time constraints are sharks, tree sloths, snakes, assorted nasty insects, and raccoons.
Please let me know what you think!
We’re all familiar with the animals that live with us—dogs and cats and such–but what’s it like when we live with wild animals?
I had the opportunity to find out when I was a young man and went on a yearlong trip to Central America.
Along with two friends — who were both also named Steve: we were the Three Steves — we traveled to remote areas… in the mountains, rain forests, and tropical beaches where the only footprints in the sand were the ones we made.
That’s me, more than 30 years ago, on top of one of the pyramids at the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala. Tired, hungry, hot. One of the other Three Steves, Steve Rankin, is loading his camera a few steps down. Steve Call snapped this shot.
We surfed, fished, explored ancient Mayan ruins—and we lived outdoors, where there were very few people, and lots of wildlife.
A few adventures will show what it’s like when your neighbors are snakes and scorpions, parrots and monkeys.
We camped in a field in Costa Rica. There was a herd of cattle. And when we got in our hammocks at night, the cattle came over and bedded down with us. I could reach out and pat a steer. But in the morning, we saw trickles of blood running down the necks of some of them. Vampire bats. The next night I slept with a towel wrapped around my neck.
Vampire bats do millions of dollars of damage to the cattle industry in Central America.
That was a nervous night, but it wasn’t the most frightening. That happened one rainy night and we were in our tent sleeping on cots. You don’t sleep on the ground in the rain forest, for reasons that you’ll soon learn. We were awakened by clicking noises…CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK CLICK.
We lit the lantern and into the tent marched a dozen or so giant land crabs, some as big as my hand. They were clicking their claws at us and tried to climb up onto the cots.
I think they wanted to eat us! A battle raged and in the morning their broken shells littered the floor.
And we cooked and ate some of them.
Some of the land crabs had shells as big as my hand. With their vibrant purple shells, they looked imported from outer space.
We ate the crabs because food was scarce. Animals spend all their time looking for food. And when our supplies ran low, so did we.
The rule in the rain forest is Kill and Eat. Kill and Eat. Or, in the case of monkeys, Steal and Eat.
Monkeys believe in sharing: What is monkey’s is yours; what is yours is monkey’s. Monkeys not having anything, you can see how that works.
Spider monkeys like sharing… your stuff!
We stayed several weeks on a lonely tropical beach where the rain forest came right up to the sand.
As our supplies gave out, the only thing we had to eat, if we couldn’t catch a fish, was rice and beans.
While the other two Steves were fishing, I went into the rain forest. I found a banana tree, with a big bunch of green bananas. I carried the bananas triumphantly back to camp.
We strung the bananas from a tree to ripen. But when we were away fishing, the monkeys came and got them. They left us two or three bananas. Because monkeys believe in sharing.
One monkey befriended us. Chiquita, as we called her, must have been someone’s pet, and when she got big and stinky, they released her back in the jungle.
Chiquita invited herself into our camp one day for lunch. Then she moved in. Every morning when I climbed out of my hammock, there was Chiquita sitting on Steve Rankin’s lap, sharing a cup of coffee.
But Chiquita was the exception. People and wild animals don’t mix. We don’t understand them, nor they us.
We take it personal when they try to suck our blood, or eat us, or take our property.
But the animals, like some Mafia hit man, will tell you, “Hey, nothing personal. It’s just business.”
The Three Steves. From left, Steve Rankin, Steve Call and me, Steve Blaszcak. Known to locals as “Los Tres Borracios” or “Gringos Perdido” and once, “Los Tres Insectos” — The Three Drunks, Lost Gringos, and The Three Bugs. Photo taken in 1978 at remote “restaurant” on east coast of Costa Rica, near where monkeys stole our bananas.