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Animal magic

Recently we've been waking up to the sound of monkeys. Strange? Maybe, but the island of Barbados is actually home to a species known as green monkeys which came to the Caribbean from west Africa on slave vessels in the 16th century.

Even though we live in a touristy part of the island surrounded by hotels and apartment buildings, we'd often seen them in our back garden. Families walking along the fence and heading up into the mango trees. A large male, followed by a female, baby clinging to her mother's tummy, two or three young monkeys trailing behind. But we'd never heard them.

For months, their unmistakable loud squawk was a mystery to us. Often, in the garden in the afternoon, we'd hear this sound and puzzle over it. It seemed to be coming from the row of tall hard wood trees behind our garden but we could never manage to see anything. I thought it might be a tropical bird. Alex didn't agree. Too loud.

Then it started in the mornings. Always around 6am. So the next time I heard it, I got out of bed, stood at the window and saw, right at the very top of the tallest mahogany tree, the imposing outline of an adult monkey, head tipped back, balanced on a branch, making an incredible coo coo coo coo ka ka ka ka sound. I understood now that it was a loud morning call to mark his territory.

The sun was rising and, as Alex, Lila, Oscar and Iris had just woken up, we all went out onto the back steps to watch the scene unfold in the trees above us. The largest monkey, the male, was at the very top, maybe 100 feet high, flanked by another big primate. And below them was the black outline of a smaller monkey, repeating their calls.

We stood, amazed that the loud call, so familiar to us, now had a source. The concert echoed on and on as child monkeys leapt from branch to branch and the leaves shook in the morning light, pale, with a dim orange glow. Until finally, they made their way down, branch by branch, to the lower bushes and trees. And were gone.

We still see them. We still hear them most days. Gone are the squirrels and foxes and robins of our UK home. We are surrounded by a different brand of wildlife here. Tropical. Other worldly. When I see a small green lizard stop and fix its small beady eyes on me, then dart up the wall. When I notice a tiny humingbird hovering over a cluster of blossom, or remember the giant tortoise who came up from under our house and wandered around the garden for a few days before disapearing. Then I remember that this is an adventure. And even within the walls of our back garden, if we are willing to look for it, we get to experience a bit of magic.

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