South Africa 2009, my Wife, her Brother and I spent 2 weeks backpacking the ‘Garden Route’ and trying every stupid, adrenaline fuelled activity we could find.
There was the world’s highest bungee jump off Bloukrans bridge (216m), the fastest zip wire (known to South Africans as a Foefie slide?) between the pillars of the bridge, treetop adventures in the ‘Tsitsikamma’ Forest, Cage diving with Great White Sharks in the imaginatively named ‘Shark Alley’ and the scariest of them all; riding an angry Ostrich (seriously those things are mental & fast).
At the end of our trip we met up with my wife’s parents for a week in and around Cape Town.
Begrudgingly I agreed to go with them all for a drive out on the Cape Peninsula to see the most southern point, i.e. A pile of rocks and large crashing waves. As you can probably tell I wasn’t really all that interested in this particular landmark but if they had told me what else I’d see on the drive I would have been first in the car.
Unbeknown to me the Cape Peninsula is home to a large population of Baboons. Now I love a good primate encounter and I’d heard that Baboons have been known to be rather bad tempered with humans, they certainly look the part. Powerfully built with big jaws and massive teeth.
During our drive, we had passed a couple of troops (yes, I bothered to find out what the term for a group of Baboons is). They were sitting in grasslands near the edge of the woods but you could still get a photo from the car. I was fascinated by them and wanted to get closer but there were lots of warning signs and we even saw a guy with a very professional looking long lens set up on the side of the road until a local woman stopped her car to berate him for being so stupid as apparently lots of tourists had been attacked by the Baboons in the area.
I really wanted to get closer but the sheer number in the area and their distance from the road made it too risky.
As we continued our way back we came across a smaller troop literally sitting on the side of the road. We pulled up on the opposite side of the road and got some amazing photographs of the troop which included some very young ones.
After a short while I noticed that there was a lone male on our side of the road. He was about 20ft away from our car and was just staring across at the troop.
I watched him for a while, I was sure it was male (I wouldn’t have gone near a female or juvenile incase it angered the others) and he seemed very calm.
That’s when my stupid gene kicked in. I don’t think anyone else had seen the male as they were concentrating on the troop across the road. I convinced them I would be safe standing outside next to our car and would get back in if the troop moved towards us.
So out I got and whilst they were busy looking across the road I was happily taking photos of my new friend who had obligingly come to sit right next to the car about 5ft from me.
He was big probably up to my waist but appeared very calm and didn’t spare more than a side ways glance at me. Generally, in my experience even the most dangerous animals won’t attack you if your bigger than them and you don’t pose a threat it’s just common sense survival.
My camera was on silent, I had positioned myself near the front of the car so if he started to take an interest in me I could get around the front using the car as cover to get back in. I was moving slowly and being as quiet as possible and things were going swimmingly, that’s until my mother in law looked back to check on me and saw that I was facing in the opposite direction to them. I was too busy taking photos to notice her suddenly surprise as she saw there was a baboon sitting right next to her on the other side of the car door.
Worried for my safety, I presume she thought I hadn’t noticed him she proceeded to bang very loudly on the car window pointing hysterically at my personal baboon model.
It was a lovely thought of course, trying to protect me from harm but the loud banging startled my furry friend who took one look at the woman waving about inside a tin can and then his gazed settled upon me. He had a look on his face like he had just pissed on a nettle whilst chewing on a family of angry wasps. I’ll never forget that moment, he raised himself up to full height, eyes staring right at mine and his gums pulled back exposing his long sharp teeth. I thought it was awesome and was just about to take another photo of Rambo the baboon when my shit your pants gene kicked in so I quickly dodged around the front of the car to the other side followed a flurry of fangs, fur and loud grunts. I got myself back in the car quicker than the Dukes of Hazard ever did and whilst I was being told off for being too close I saw Robo-Baboon fly past the car heading straight for the troop causing them to turn into a frenzied mob of screening banshees.
Luckily for us they were too busy shouting at each other to noticed us driving away at speed.
To this day, I can’t help but think that if I’d managed to get that last photo of the angry baboon it would have ended up in National Geographic. On the other hand, I’d probably be unable to turn the pages of the magazine to find my photo due to having had my arms ripped off by a Baboon.
The moral of this story? It’s a toss up between;
- Don’t get out of the car and play with potentially dangerous animals.
- Don’t take your mother-in-law with you when looking for Baboons.