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.