The Crags (Monkeyland) to East London
Day 2: Waking-up at Hog Hollow is always a good reason not to leave. An early riser, unfortunately or not, I often set my internal alarm by the first bird-calls of the morning, which in winter sneak through the walls well before the first rays light the leaves. The sky opens in tandem with eyes that have been getting used to the darkness – the bedlight lamp on the headboard is way too effective, a relative floodlight that would wake my road-tripping partner, the little man who doubles as my son. The ceiling-to-floor window reveals the grey-blue outline of the Outeniqua range, the same that first captured me when I visited here over ten years ago; it’s a good way to start a day, in that happy-to-be-alive sense. ‘Ben’ stirs, has the shower he escaped the night before, we pack and head for breakfast. “Y ou sure you don’t want to stay around here?”, I ask over a muffin while he makes friends with Matty-the-cat. “It’s a long drive”.
‘Uhuh’, comes the answer, before he takes a phone-shot of Matty joning me on my lap. Then it’s “shhh, listen !” A drawn out ‘whooooop, whooooooooooop’ is coming from the other side of the forested ravine: Monkeyland. He wants to drive.
It should be five hours from the Crags to East London; our start is slow, with our first stop a little less than a mind-boggling five minutes after departing #Hog Hollow. #Monkeyland is a magnificent free-ranging forest home for abused and damaged monkeys, a few vervets among mostly aliens, like capuchins, gibbons, howler monkeys and lemurs, including what is apparently the highest population of ring-tailed ‘King Julian’ lemurs outside Madagascar.
Run by the irrepressible Lara Mostert and funded by her husband Tony Blignaut, Monkeyland is large, 20 hectares of free-roaming bliss for simeans and lemurs. The guide for our group of five is the well-practised, Congolese Andy. ‘Ben”s own monkey narrative is not a positive one; he’s been told that monkeys aren’t nice, as his 19 yr-old half-brother was given a nip when he was a youngster. A little exposure is needed to allow him to create his own story, and Andy does a good job with a brief education – Ben even walks past a very funny gibbon on the suspension bridge, and a couple vervets lounging around, one of whom tries nsuccessfully to snatch his binoculars. And then it’s on to Birds of Eden, a similar themed home to once-captive birds, from Macaws to parakeets, now in a quite speactacular, free-ranging space. Like the monkeys, unknowingly secure that they won’t ever be sold on again.
Above: My boy’, reassured by guide Birds of Eden guide Meshack, is nevertheless wary of the macaw’s beak, which as he explains to anyone who will listen, isn’t too different to that of a squid.
My share of the holidays with my 7 year-old Benjamin* was approaching, and with telephone communications with him where he lives (mostly) at his mother’s house difficult, I couldn’t really prepare. We don’t really have the spare cash to fly anywhere, but the thought of a 13-hour drive to a best friend and his family – which includes a 9 year-old daughter – is equally daunting.
Many mothers would just insist on the Dad promising he would call with details each night. As it is, with cellphones communications these days are extremely easy. Unless, as can sometimes be the case, it’s more about control than communcation. Anyway, robbing a child of a seminal, impromptu road-tripping adventure with his Dad – or his Mom – would be cruel.
That was my thinking before we started. The trip has been over now for just over a week as I write, and it was a brilliant bonding experience. Here’s a visual precis of how it went.
Day 1. We left a day late because Benjamin’s mother had not released him on his due day for holiday with me. This is not extraneous to the topic, this is what single parenting can be like if you’re unlucky. So I had to readjust my thinking. A first night in Montagu, about two and a half hours from our Cape Town home, followed by a drive down the R62 – a South African roadtrip classic – had been the plan.
This wouldve included the Cango Caves and ostriches of Oudtshoorn, and taken in the Outeniqua Pass to George, Knysna and our 2nd night in the Crags, outside Plett on the southern Cape coast. But him not being releases on the day we were meant to start called for adaptation. So we headed straight for the Crags at about 08h30, and at about 3.30 that afternoon – with food-stops and points of interest not only included, but actively encouraged (otherwise it wouldn’t be a road trip) – and pulled in to our sumptuous, very child-friendly accommodation at Hog Hollow.
We settled in with some Lego games and popcorn (already in the room) for the afternoon, before going out for a walk in the brisk and qiet country freshness. Then went through for the sort of meal that you’d expect of a four-star establishment. The owners are good people, and run a fine establishment that was Fair Trade long before the brand was established out here. And children are so very welcome in this part of the world. The next morning would see us at the quite brilliant #Monkeyland and #Birds of Eden across the ravine, before conitnuing on our journey.
Moneyland is a brilliant facility, built and owned by a caring couple, best place to see lemurs, capuchins etc in their natural habitat.
*Benjamin, a pseudonym