The Sunday Monkey Bird Walk

Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike

Squirell Monkey

It was mid morning and I had to force myself not to sleep anymore, hard work on a Sunday. I looked out my window and another great day lay before me. I had no plan for the day but plenty of time to think about it. A cup of coffee later and I was onto something. I felt like taking a walk, with shoes on. Another cup of coffee down the hatch and I decided to take a walk, with shoes on, to see some animals.

I thought it would be the perfect day to visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I arrived at the gates of Monkeyland where a friendly monkey ushered me to the reception area where I paid a very special price of R200 to visit both sites. A bargain some might say. The monkey behind the till gladly took my money and directed me to the waiting area where Neil, the monkey guide, was to start the monkey tour. In the near distance of the forest, I could hear my fellow primates swearing at each other, quite a freaky racket to bear witness to, but amusing nonetheless.

Within a few minutes, a troop of monkey tourists gathered and Neil, the monkey guide, arrived to start the hour-long monkey tour. Welcome to Monkeyland, the world’s first multi-species free roaming primate sanctuary. The main focus of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, is to rehabilitate and release previously caged monkeys, apes, lemurs and birds into a free-roaming environment, some of which originating from many parts of the world.

Monkey feeding

The monkey tour began and we soon reached the first feeding point, an elevated tray laden with fresh fruit. Within seconds all kinds of monkeys, apes and lemurs were making their way from the canopy above to feed on the fruit buffet below. It was a primate feeding frenzy like I have never seen before. I was very tempted to join in the feast but resisted for obvious reasons. In the distance, I could hear my primate friends swearing at each other again. I chuckled to myself as monkey chaos ensued around me. It was a remarkable moment in time and a remarkably sad one too.

We continued with the monkey tour, spotting the odd Vervet here and a Lemur there and then the forest fell quiet, not a sound to be heard. Neil, our monkey guide, was indecisive as to what route to take next. He then shared some interesting facts about monkeys, answered some monkey questions and soon we were back on the monkey trail. It wasn’t long before a bridge lay before us, suspended in the canopy, offering a scenic view of the beautiful forest surrounding us. We crossed it carefully and upon reaching the other side, the monkey tour ended and Monkeyland was but a fleeting monkey memory.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden was next on my hit list. I have never been an avid birder but I saw the value in the experience. In the car park, I looked upon this mammoth bird sanctuary before me and thoughts of Jurassic Park filled my monkey brain. I proceeded to enter Birds of Eden, but with caution, as a good monkey should. In the first five minutes, a big white Cockatoo flew straight towards my head, I ducked just in time and it perched right beside me to feed on some seed. That Cockatoo freaked me out.

Welcome to Birds of Eden, a beautiful place indeed. I decided to really proceed with caution now. There were birds flying everywhere, it felt like every bird was after me as I entered their maze. I had to watch my back, often. This was a birder’s paradise, a surreal experience, really amazing. About half an hour into my walk, a large Blue and Gold Mawcaw got sight of me and flew swiftly towards me and tried to perch on my shoulder, I quickly ducked, denying it the pleasure. These birds were really freaking me out now. I laughed out loud and taunted them to leave me alone.

I looked up and saw my friend, a large male Chacma Baboon patrolling the top of the sanctuary, it was defending me, obviously. I walked a little faster, with the end of my Jurassic Park experience almost in sight. With a sigh of relief, I made it, I was free again. Free?

I took a moment to ponder on my day. Although the experience of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden was fun and informative, a deeper concern was pecking at my monkey brain. Why are these sanctuaries here, I asked myself? I thought about it and soon my monkey brain came up with the answer. We live in a sick and twisted society. Humans cage wild animals as pets and these animals lose their ability to survive in the wild. So, we build sanctuaries for them, to save them from doom, where they spend the rest of their lives slowly re-learning what they already knew before they met us, how to be wild… For all these animals, these sanctuaries and all those around the world, at least provide a taste of the freedom they once knew. As human beings, it’s the least we can do for them, for we live in cages of our own and freedom we know not.

I got into my car and drove away and in a field nearby I saw my friends again, a troop of foraging baboons. I waved goodbye. They smiled and waved hello. Finally, it dawned on me. I’m just a monkey too and so are you.

If you ever happen to be driving through The Crags or if you are on holiday in Plettenberg Bay and are in need of some rehabilitation from the outside world, stop over at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and support them, for they are doing a sterling job for the conservation of our beautiful wildlife. It’s a great experience your monkey brain won’t forget.

For more information, contact +27 (044) 534 8906 or visit their websites at http://www.monkeyland.co.za / http://www.birdsofeden.co.za

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Published in the Saturday Star on 2 June 2007

Written by Gero Lilleike

We snuck away from Johannesburg under the cover of night. Our destination was a small town on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast, where we were to rendezvous with the ocean and the waves that had beckoned us for so long. We were desperate…

The drive to Durban was short and painless. We pushed south to Scottburgh and then to Kelso, where we settled for a much needed rest.

The onshore wind was strong, leaving the ocean puckered with waves breaking unevenly all along the coast. We drifted into a relaxing sleep, with the breeze soothing our dreams.

The afternoon faded and so too did the wind, a clue of what was to come.

A train passed with empty carriages and the driver blew his horn, sending Vervet monkeys scurrying into the surrounding bush before disappearing into the distance. There are 10 of us and we all live and work in Johannesburg. We are all different but have one thing in common – our love for the ocean. We spend most of our time talking about surfing and the waves that provide us with so much pleasure.

We are simply by consumed by it, taking every opportunity to pack our bags and head off to the coast to do what we love, to do what makes us happy. For us it’s the ‘Great Escape’, an adventure unlike any other. Although we’re from Johannesburg, A land-locked city in the middle of nowhere, we surf, or at least try to. Our time has finally come.

The rising sun pierces through our cabin, waking us to a beautiful day. John screams “Hey, get up”. He taunts us from our slumber. It’s 7 am. There’s no wind. The air is fresh. The waves have arrived.

Standing on our porch with toast and coffee in hand, we ogle the waves wrapping around the point. Our camp is chaos as we prepare our equipment and make our way to the beach where fishermen line the shore in hope of a bite.

The sea is clear and warm. We paddle out and with much pain reach the waves that we’ve dreamt of for so long. We peer through the water and see fish swimming beneath us.

The bottom is rocky. Not too long ago, the coast of KwaZulu Natal was pounded by the biggest swells recorded in 23 years. Apart from doing massive damage to seaside properties along the coast, the massive swells also washed away many of the sandbanks, exposing rocks. It’s really scary looking down and seeing rocks , especially when you plan on riding a wave over them. There are about seven to ten waves in a set, with the last being the biggest and breaking a little further out to sea.

This is the wave you want to catch, and it’s called ‘the outside’. Fear strikes when this wave arrives. Just as we are talking about the rocks and the damage they could inflict, a sizeable wave pitches on the horizon.

I yell “outside” and panic sets in. Everyone scratches the water to get over it. The beast approaches and I just make it. I look down at those who are too late and shout “goodbye”. The wave crashes down, spraying shards of water into the air.

I chuckle to myself. Some make it, some don’t. Who cares? It’s all part of the fun.

As the morning progresses, more surfers flock to the break for a piece of the action. One of them fascinates me. He’s a grey-haired man in his mid-seventies carrying a longboard. He paddles into the sea greeting everyone on his way.

He is fit and before long everyone witnesses him yodelling into some of the best waves of the day. We all smile, knowing that hopefully we will be doing the same when we are his age.

After a few hours in the water, hunger sets it and we are forced to retreat to our cabin for lunch. There’s not a moment of silence as we tell stories of our experiences in the waves.

Our faces are beaming, rejuvenated by the energy of the sea. We’re happy. Everyday should be like this. The sea is a strange thing; it toys with your emotions, your fears, but when you embrace these emotions, the sea can truly liberate your soul. When you come from a fast-paced environment such as Joburg, there is simply nothing better than lying in the ocean and thinking about nothing.

It’s therapeutic and it’s not surprising that so many people choose the sea as their favourite holiday destination. It’s a great place to unwind. And so the days went by, in and out of the sea, surfing, eating and sleeping.

If life were that simple, we would never leave. In the distance of our minds, Joburg was calling, pulling us back to reality. We have jobs and we need to make money, but I know we will escape again.

We stayed in Kelso, south of Scottburgh, in a camp called Vulamanzi, the “place of open water”. For more details go to http://www.wheretostay.co.za/vulamanzi