Baboonzled- A Day at Cape Point National Park

Baboonzled- A Day at Cape Point National Park

July 14, 2019 Off By Jovan Markovic

“Don’t forget to read the pamphlet!” said the friendly clerk, handing one to everyone in the car as we entered the park. “Enjoy your visit!” she said to the screech of the pay toll ramp lifting. As our uber drove through the gates, the IEP crew found themselves in the Cape Point National Park, one of the biggest in Cape Town. As we drove through the savannah-like plains leading to the parking lot, I looked through the brochure we were handed. What stuck out to me was the baboon warning in bold print, urging us not to feed them. No one in the group thought much of this, even poking fun at it as we drove through the open brush-covered terrain.

After a few more minutes we arrived at the southernmost tip of the Cape Town peninsula. Not even a couple of steps out of the car and the parking lot already displaying many beautiful sights. To our right, just barely peeking over the shrubs were the cliffs of Dias beach. On a hill ahead of us stood the Cape Point lighthouse, its vantage-point promising far-reaching views. The group reconvened for the hike and just as we began climbing towards the first lookout, a baboon popped out of a bush. It was the size of a small labrador with a pale-brown coat. The animal seemed uninterested in us; as if we were part of the decor it kept walking slowly around us Despite the pamphlet, I assumed they would keep to their business and far away from tourists. Still, there it was, strutting around confidently amongst the humans. We found the behavior of this primate quite unusual, but as we kept walking up the incline more of them started appearing. It quickly became apparent that we were on their territory. However, we got accustomed to their presence and made our way to the first viewpoint at the lighthouse.

The promise of the views was fulfilled as we all leaned over a circular stone wall to look at the waves crashing on the rocks below and a distant mountain range on the horizon. Our minds drifted along with the beautiful Atlantic. We could have stayed there all day. However, this peaceful scene was short lived as we heard a loud scream from behind us. 

Snapping out of our trances, we rushed towards the stairs to see what had happened. A group of hikers were buzzing around a woman after a baboon had snatched her handbag and was now running away with it. The agile thief jumped effortlessly onto a roof and began digging through the woman’s bag. Orbit gum, sunglasses and a wallet went flying as the baboon searched for snacks. While her family was figuring out a course of action, I began laughing – no wonder my bag fell down Lion’s Head. Seemingly encouraged by their brother’s deed, more baboons started grabbing belongings from nearby park-goers. The situation was turning chaotic as more and more monkeys came looking for their loot, flooding the twisting walkways. Soon enough they made their way up to the lighthouse, spooking everyone around and forcing us to give them some ground.

Deciding this issue was best left to the park rangers, we began squeezing through the unhinged horde of wildlings making our way back to the parking lot. When we turned around, we could see park rangers climbing the roof in pursuit of the first culprit. The defiant trickster had already leapt off the roof with a bag of chips. At least the lady got her bag back in the end. When we reached the parking lot the ranger at the bottom explained that this is a common occurrence; visitors who don’t watch their bags routinely get them snatched away. He also took the time to show us the deep scar on his forearm he sustained trying to get between a tourist and an angry baboon; the danger these animals pose now had an image. He kept a long wooden staff in his hand at all times. 

Deciding we definitely need a break from the madness we started the walk toward the beach. Why would there be any baboons at the beach after all? The boardwalk leading to the shore offered a complete view of Dias Beach and the cliffs surrounding it. Even on top of the cliffs, we could hear the barreling waves crashing on the beach below. I hopped off the boardwalk and looked over the edge of the cliff. Since my dangerous liaison with Lion’s Head had forged me into a confident climber, I was already scouting a possible route. While everyone set off using the stairs down the cliff-face, I told them I was going to climb down the mountain side, much to their concern. 

Once again jagged rock was under my feet. Although these cliffs weren’t as steep as my previous venture, the cragged and wet rock was admittedly making me nervous and slowing my descent. By the time I was half way down, the rest of the group had already made their way to the beach and were enjoying walking barefoot in the foamy water. As I kept going down, the cliff was getting steeper. My heart was beating faster sending a rush of adrenaline through my body. Just then, in my peripheral vision I saw something moving. I turned my head to the right, it was another baboon, larger than the others we had seen, jumping down the rocks. The agile beast passed within arm’s reach of me and a moment later had leapt off the cliff onto the stairs and started running towards the beach. I was relieved that the big boy wanted nothing to do with my backpack but a minute later I heard another yell, this time bursting with rage. I stopped on a rock and looked in the direction of the sound. The baboon was now dashing across the beach with yet another bag in its clutches with Rob sprinting after it. Armed with a long piece of kelp the angry Englander was in hot pursuit, screaming his lungs out. “I hope the thing hadn’t stolen his camera” I thought struggling to keep my laughter in. I had already invited bad karma, I might as well enjoy this road runner cartoon.

I safely made my way down to the sand dunes at the foot of the hill and after a tumble or two I was reunited with my dear IEPeeps. While I approaching the group, I could see Ksenia looking panicked. She explained that the bag the baboon had run off with was hers’ and that her passport was inside. What a coincidence, I thought, the IEP crew just can’t keep their vital documents safe. Luckily, a few seconds later we saw Rob triumphantly stumbling back to us, bag held aloft. Ksenia looked like a boulder fell off her chest, a feeling very familiar. While Rob bragged about his encounter and the expert seaweed fling that had sent the money on its way, I began taking in the view of the beach. The long strip of pristine sand stretched out between gigantic cliffs. The barreling waves crashed on rocky formations below them, scattering sea foam everywhere. It was a calming sight.

Sadly there was no time for serenity. The climbing bug had a firm hold on me, and it was time to mildly endanger myself again. Luckily buried in the sand were two towering rock columns. With a quick wave I was off on more climbing escapades. The top of the largest column I scaled rewarded me with another amazing view of the ocean. Before I could fully take in its beauty Lisa and Rob were beckoning me to come down, it was time to leave. I ran across the beach again and we headed for the parking lot.

While we were waiting for our transport back to the hostel, nature decided to pitch us one last curveball. The sun began to dip and the parking lot became overrun with baboons. No area in the park was off limits to the lawless gang lords of Cape Point. They were jumping and sitting on cars and snatching yet more bags, cementing their territorial claim; humans enter at your own risk. The final straw was seeing one of the large males jump into the back seat of a car where three small children were buckled up. Terrified screams rang out as the father, sat in the driver’s seat, attempted to force the baboon out of the car punching it in its back with a thud. The baboon bounded out of the vehicle, leaving the family safe but the kids in tears. That was our breaking point, now we were scared. It was getting darker and the park visitors were decreasing in number leaving us almost alone. More and more monkeys began pacing around us as some made lunges towards us. We stood in a circle facing outwards to anticipate any attacks. Patty, the optimistic champion that she is, worked her way through the group offering pep talks to those who needed it. “Patty, you’re the true MVP” I smiled, as she approached me for a hug. Just then a white Toyota van drove into the parking lot. It was Chris, our local contact, and our ride home. The baboons scattered and we quickly clambered into the van, sprawling over its tan leather seats, utterly relieved to be out of danger. Laughing together at the ridiculousness of it all we sped off towards the park entrance, leaving the beasts behind. This was a turf war we had no problem giving up on.