Escape to Monkey Island
By Stuart Baum
Illustrations by Camilla Baum
Dedicated to the young girl on the
The brown girl with the blue dress.
First you have to know that I am no
storyteller. Second you have to know that I am a monkey. A
Rhesus monkey named RS4-19. The monkeys in the nearby cages
all called me Leo, short for leopard, because of the spots
on my side.
learned to read and write in the laboratory. I also heard
about Monkey Island there. Monkey Island is a small island
only for monkeys. There is plenty to eat and, when there is
not, people — human people
— bring more food. And instead of
giving you medicine that turns you from well to sick, they
give you medicine that turns you from sick to well. Imagine
None of us monkeys really believed in
Monkey Island. We hoped for it. We dreamt about it. But, if
you had asked us, not one of us would have said we really
believe in it. Even if it were true, none of us expected to
That was before I met the girl on the
bus. The brown one with the blue dress. She had been there,
she said. Not to me, but to her friend. A white girl in a
green shirt and blue pants. She had taken a boat there and
watched the monkeys from the boat. Then she put on a mask
and something else and dove into the water and watched the
I was already on my way to Monkey
Island when I overheard her on the bus, even though I didn’t
believe it really existed. Even though I didn’t really
believe in Monkey Island, I had nowhere else to go, since I
was not going back to my cage where the researchers gave me
medicine that made me sick.
The brown girl with the blue dress was
telling her friend about her vacation.
“An island full of monkeys?” the white
girl in the green shirt and blue pants asked. “Are you for
real?” She did not give the brown girl in the blue dress a
chance to answer either question before asking a third, “Did
you get to touch one?”
“No,” answered the brown girl in the
blue dress. “People aren’t allowed on Monkey Island. Only
monkeys and researchers.”
I was hiding in the luggage rack and
had to stop myself from jumping up and down with happiness.
Monkey Island was real! I knew what I had to do next. I had
to go to Monkey Island.
The two girls kept talking and I
learned that the brown girl in the blue dress had visited
Monkey Island on her trip to visit her grandmother in Puerto
Rico. So Monkey Island was in Puerto Rico!
Just then the bus was stopped and a
policeman came on board. He spoke to the driver. The driver
then spoke to all the passengers. The driver told all the
passengers that they had to leave the bus and take all their
belongings with them. “The police are looking for a missing
item. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Then I saw two of the men from the
laboratory. They were looking for me!
quietly opened the suitcase next to me on the luggage rack,
slipped in, and locked myself inside. I was careful not to
make a sound, even when the suitcase was dropped to the
Soon we were all back on the bus and
the policeman had said ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ and
many people asked ‘what were they looking for?’ but no one
knew and we were on our way. Only problem was, I was stuck
inside the suitcase! I tried to figure out how to open the
suitcase from the inside without making too much noise but,
soon, the bump-bump-bump of the bus made me tired and before
I knew it I was dreaming of Monkey Island.
The brown girl in the blue dress was
waving to me from a boat and I was waving back from the
shore. There were many other monkeys there, as well. Some of
us were in trees eating bananas and some of us were on the
shore eating loaves of bread. There were researchers on the
shore with us. They were smiling, handing out loaves of
bread and patting us monkeys on the heads. The water was
clear blue, fish were jumping from it and you could see the
reflection of the banana trees in the water!
When I woke up, I was still in the
suitcase. It was quiet. I felt my hand on the edge of the
suitcase and found the inside of a zipper. Slowly, gently, I
edged the zipper open just a little bit – just enough so I
could look outside. It was dark. We were no longer on the
bus. I was in a room with many posters of horses and
butterflies. This must where the brown girl in the blue
I opened the suitcase zipper and
slipped out. It was night and the brown girl in the blue
dress was asleep in a very comfortable-looking bed. Next to
her were a small horse, a bear, and another animal I did not
recognize. They were not real, but I did not think it
mattered, so I curled up next to the little girl and went
back to sleep.
When I woke up, the brown girl in the
blue dress was gone and I had a chance to look around the
room in the daylight. There were all sorts of fake animals
in the room … even a fake monkey. This gave me an idea.
I wrote on a piece of paper the
I want to go to Monkey Island. Draw me
a map from here to there.
Then I left the paper and the pencil
next to the fake monkey, so the brown girl in the blue dress
would think he wrote it.
When she came home, the brown girl in
the blue dress was now wearing a white shirt and a blue
skirt. She saw the note, looked around the room curiously,
and then said out loud, “Is there a real monkey in my room?”
I kept quiet.
“I know there is a real monkey in my
room,” the brown girl in the blue dress said. “Stuffed
monkeys cannot write.”
I kept quiet.
the brown girl in the blue dress said. “I will draw you a
map to Monkey Island, but first answer a question. Okay?
Okay? Were the police looking for you on the bus?”
I kept quiet.
The brown girl in the blue dress
laughed. “You are one smart monkey,” she said. “I thought
for sure you would fall for that trick.”
The brown girl in the blue dress went
over to her desk and turned on her computer. “You come
behind me. I promise I will not turn around, but you need to
look over my shoulder at the screen.”
I quietly snuck up behind her and
climbed up onto the back of her chair.
The brown girl in the blue dress typed
‘Puerto Rico Monkey Island’ into the computer. Click. Click.
And there on the screen was a picture of a small island in
the middle of the water!
“This is Monkey Island,” the brown
girl in the blue dress said. “It is just off the Eastern
coast of Puerto Rico.” Click, click, click. And there was a
map of Puerto Rico. The brown girl in the blue dress pressed
her finger to the screen, just to the right side of Puerto
Rico. “Right here. You have to take a boat. We took a boat
to get there. Captain Paco let my brother steer the boat. It
is not that far away from shore, but far too far to swim, so
you will have to take a boat.”
I was ready to go, but the brown girl
in the blue dress quickly said, “Wait! There is some bad
news. You are in Illinois. Chicago. You have to take a plane
to Puerto Rico. And then a car from the airport to the
Click, click, click, click.
“Here is a map of North America. You
are here.” The brown girl in the blue dress pointed to
Chicago. “You need to get to here.” The brown girl in the
blue dress moved her finger down, down, down, down, into the
blue places, which I knew was water, past a number of other
islands and to an island on the very side of the map. “This
is Puerto Rico. It is a long plane ride away.”
The brown girl in the blue dress
reached her hand backwards without looking. “But you are a
smart monkey and I am sure you will find it.”
I put my paw in her hand.
“Wait,” she said. “Did you escape from
the zoo? Tap my hand once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no.’” I
tapped twice. “Did you escape from a testing center?” I
She typed ‘monkey escape testing
center’ into the computer. On her screen appeared a picture
of a Rhesus monkey. It was my picture!
“You had better hurry,” the brown girl
in the blue dress said. “They are still looking for you.”
The brown girl in the blue dress was
right. The plane ride was long. I fell asleep and dreamed
about Monkey Island.
The brown girl in the blue dress was
yelling, “Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Men in white lab coats were
chasing me and I was running towards the water. I was
running as fast as I could, but the water was so far away.
The brown girl in the blue dress yelled, “Hurry, hurry,
hurry!” again. The men in the lab coats were getting closer
and closer and just when I felt their hands on my fur, I
heard the brown girl in the blue dress yell, ‘Jump!’ So I
jumped and I flew through the air, over the heads of the men
in lab coats and across the water to Monkey Island. But a
large bird landed on my back and said, ‘Monkeys cannot fly.’
He was so heavy, I started to fall. I flapped my arms but it
was no use. I am a monkey, not a bird. I fell faster and
faster and down below there was a boat. Inside the boat were
men with lab coats and they held a cage open in just the
spot I would land! I tried to avoid the cage but it was no
use. I was falling right into it! Just when I was about to
land in the cage, I woke up.
I was in Puerto Rico! If you think it
is amazing that a Rhesus monkey could sneak onto a plane to
Puerto Rico, you should remember that Rhesus monkeys flew
space ships before humans did. This is true.*
The brown girl in the blue dress said
I needed to take a car from the airport to the Eastern side
of Puerto Rico. She forgot that I was a monkey and that
Puerto Rico is a tropical island. I traveled at night, from
tree to tree. I did not want the men in lab coats to catch
long nights after I landed I found myself in a
forest**. It was beautiful! There were waterfalls from which
to drink and fruit trees from which to eat. Mangos and
guavas and bananas! There were people here, of course, but
they mainly stayed on the trails so they were easy to avoid.
I knew this was not Monkey Island, but I was so tired from
traveling that I decided to stay here for a few days to
rest. This was a big mistake!
My dream of men chasing me quickly
came true. They were not wearing white lab coats; they were
wearing blue shirts. And they were not trying to catch me
with their hands; they were shooting darts at me! One hit
the tree right next to me.
The good news is that I am a monkey. I
can jump from tree to tree and the humans have to run below.
Soon I got away from them, but it was clear I could not stay
in the rain forest. I had to get to Monkey Island. And
Once I made it to the shore, finding
Monkey Island was easy. I followed the shoreline, at night
of course, staying in the trees the whole way. Actually, I
smelled the island before I even saw it. Now you might not
think that the smell of hundreds of monkeys would be a good
smell, but to me, it was the best smell in the whole, wide
And then I saw it! Out there in the
water. Just like the picture on the computer. Monkey Island.
It was real. Can you imagine! I reached my paw out and made
as if to touch it.
Just one problem left. How to get
across the water to the island?
I knew I couldn’t swim that far.
Monkeys are not fish.
Then I remembered about the boat that
the brown girl in the blue dress took to the island. If I
could find the boat, I could sneak on board and then, I was
shaking to think of it … I would be on Monkey Island.
If you are worried that I would be
stopped so close to my journey’s end ... don’t be. The boat
was bright red, yellow and blue. It was easy to find. I saw
a few people get on board, go to Monkey Island, swim around
right near the shore (with monkeys watching their every
move) and then come back. That very night I snuck on board,
climbed on top of the canvas covering, and waited until the
boat took me to Monkey Island!
I was too excited to sleep. And,
anyway, I no longer needed to dream about Monkey Island. I
was only one short boat ride away!
That was a couple years ago.
Every day I go down to the shore and
wait for the bright red, yellow and blue boat to arrive. I
watch the people crowd to the edge of the boat, pointing
excitedly towards us monkeys. Of course I am looking for the
brown girl with the blue dress. She would be older now and
would not be wearing the blue dress, I know. I will
recognize her when I see her. I am sure of it.
Here comes the boat now, so I have to
end my story. I hope the brown girl with the blue dress is
on the boat today. Or another day. If not, I hope she reads
this story and realizes that she made my dream come true.
A couple years ago I was in a cage
being fed medicine that made me sick. Now I am on an island
just for monkeys where people take good care of me and feed
me all that I can eat.
Can you imagine that?
Notes: Monkey Island (Cayo Santiago)
really exists. It’s just offshore from Naguabo, on the
Eastern side of Puerto Rico. The island has a free ranging
population of about 1,000 Rhesus monkeys. Only researchers
are allowed onto the island, but anyone can charter a boat
that will take you close enough to see the monkeys on the
shore. If you charter La Paseadora, say hello to Captain
Paco for me.
||This is an actual picture of ‘Monkey Island.’
*The first American monkey in space was named Albert II.
This was in 1949. He was a Rhesus monkey. I was told that
Albert II originally came from Monkey Island, though I could
not confirm this.
** The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical
rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System.
Last, but not least … This story is
really dedicated to
Camilla on her 10th birthday.
© 2008 Stuart B Baum