On the morning of my last day in South Africa, I drove from Simon’s Town towards the Cape of Good Hope, praying I had enough time to catch the sunrise. That meant, I’d need to reach the entrance, drive through the nature reserve, park, and begin climbing what was rumored to be an infinite number of steps to Cape Point’s lighthouse in less than an hour.
Anytime I travel, I make sure to ask locals about the best places to watch the sunrise, and this time I was told that watching from the Cape of Good Hope would be worth the effort. They were right. I did not care about the bitter wind or the never-ending climb because the 360-degree views were breathtaking. I soaked up those moments, bathing in the streams of sunlight climbing up the cliff in front of the lighthouse.
What a privilege. I felt happy and grateful to witness that kind of beauty. But I also felt sadness in knowing I would be leaving it all behind in a matter of hours. I snapped some pictures, sat a while, explored the remains of a secret World War II radar station below the lighthouse, and finally decided to begin the climb down.
The locals praised Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope’s sanctuary for protecting endangered wildlife. They raved about South African National Parks and were so proud to have made protecting penguins a priority.
I was the only tourist in the area. The shops were not yet open. The cable car used for going up the steep hill leading to the lighthouse was not yet operating. Everything was asleep, or so I thought.
Then, I heard a loud crunching sound. It sounded like those wonderful people I love to hate who chew and smack their lips unashamedly. I finally spotted the culprit: a Chacma baboon enjoying some succulents for breakfast. When it heard the “ding” from the record button on my phone, it turned towards me and began its approach. I stopped recording and calmly walked away.
Another few flights of steps later, I came to a landing with another lookout, a closed restaurant, a set of trash bins, a locked restroom, and a baby baboon. I had not yet realized that these ingenious creatures were obviously baiting me with a little fluffy ball of deceiving innocence. Clutching my purse somewhat tighter and pocketing my cell phone, I tried to walk by without paying any mind, but the cute baby followed me, repeatedly stepping in front of me for attention. After realizing defeat, it ran to the restaurant doors and began to jerk the handles, becoming more vocal. Breakfast was not yet ready, so it darted to the padlocked trash bins and started to stick its arms inside the lids.
The only way past the screaming baby baboon was if I went by the huge troop of family members approaching the restaurant first. Positioning myself so that I could monitor what was around me and avoid something approaching me from behind, I began to weigh my options:
Option One: I could hop the stone wall beside me and Forrest Gump my way back to the car. Option Two: I could offer clementine cake as Walter Mitty did to the Afghani Warlords in the Himalayas. Option Three: I could stop, drop, and roll. Option Four: I could surrender, burn my possessions, master the art of manipulation, and eventually become their leader.
It wasn’t enough though. Three more adult baboons were waiting for me at the end of the walkway, but there was a large enough opening for me. I dared not look behind me.
Maybe it was the fear. Maybe it was the will to live. Maybe it was the motivation not to become the next Jungle Book legend. I just kept running, trying not to bust a lung. It seemed as if every baboon on the reserve had been sent some signal because they began flocking to the grass lines the further I ran. I’m not sure when they decided I was not worthy, but they eventually stopped tracking me.
Literally. There were warning signs about the aggression and thievery nature of Chacma baboons and the danger of feeding them. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Read every single sign you see, everywhere, all the time. Because you may or may not be abducted by baboons if you don’t.