I can’t tell you just how excited I am to be here. It took about six hours by bus on the R2 to reach Plettenberg Bay or as the locals say “Plet Baai“. The Garden Route is a dramatic, verdant landscape I look forward to exploring: It reminds me a lot of the rugged west coast back home in Canada.
I’m staying in a small cabin in the Hebron Nature Reserve. This is the home of the Darwin Primate Group and their primate sanctuary for rescued, orphaned Chacma baboons and Vervet monkeys. Founder, Karin Saks – known simply as South Africa’s “Baboon Woman” – runs the sanctuary with the help of a small volunteer team. They’ve been having a host of problems – so I’m here to help where I can.
My first hands-on experience with primates is already providing an entertaining learning curve. You wouldn’t believe the astounding amount of personality they exhibit while interacting with the volunteers and the local wild primates who frequent the forest here. The endangered Yellowwood trees and native under-story vegetation are overgrown due to invasive alien species brought in by farmers and industry but it also provides added secure cover for primates hiding from locals who would otherwise shoot, kill and eat them. For the most part these amazing animals are treated like vermin – hard to believe maybe – but in a country with such a violent history towards humans, it’s to be expected that primates should fare no better.
I wake up to baboons staring in my window every morning: I am a zoo exhibit. They watch, laugh and point. Young baboons peer in the windows, their breath fogging up the glass. When I move or look at them they screech in alarm and their small group from the wild troop scatter as if a predator is coming for them. It doesn’t get old, day in and day out. I’m enjoying getting to know their furry faces and fear grins. They’re already teaching me more about what it means to be human and why we do the things we do.
It’s obvious they’re curious about me. So I smile back and go about my day.
I love it here.