Day Ten: Birds and Monkeys!
This was my absolute favorite day of the trip so far. This morning we continued along the Garden Route on our way to Tsitsikamma National Park. First, however, we had some stops planned: two spectacular animal sanctuaries where birds and monkeys who were rescued from dangerous or unhealthy situations can live again in their natural environments. The parks feed them but only because the animals are used to humans feeding them and wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild. They do not have cages and roam freely.
The first sanctuary was called Birds of Eden, which is the world’s largest free flying aviary. It covers over two hectares and the netting is so high you can barely see it. Basically, although I don’t really know how much a hectare is, the birds have a lot of room to fly around. It was absolutely spectacular. Whoever came up with the idea of putting all of the world’s most stunning bird species together in this giant aviary is a genius! I basically walked around the walkways for several hours with my mouth wide open.
It was hard to move quickly through the park because you didn’t want to miss one of the exotic and unusual birds sitting on the railing, hiding in the bushes, or perched directly above your head on a branch. We were so close to so many rare birds eating seeds off the birdfeeders near the path and frolicking around on the forest floor.
I had never really taken much notice in birds, but after our trip to the Pantanal two years ago, I really gained an appreciation for their beautiful colors and sounds. A highlight for me at the aviary happened as I was walking around a pathway in the forest all by myself. Jon had gone on to photograph something or other. A giant blue heron, taller than me, passed me going around the corner, strutting down the path. I gasped at his size and beauty and how close he was to me. He was amazing! I loved my visit to Birds of Eden, and even though it wasn’t the wild, it really felt like it because the birds were in their natural habitat enjoying their lives.
We also had planned to visit the monkey sanctuary, owned by the same people as the aviary. However, we really needed to take a break first (Animal Overload) so we headed to a small winery nearby for lunch. South Africa has over 350 wineries in total so there always seems to be a convenient location of one nearby… Bramon Wine Estate was interesting because they serve a bunch of different small tapas type dishes and we chose some good ones including the fig, goat cheese, and walnut salad, as well as the sweet and sticky chicken wings, and the melted brie cheese in phylo dough. Although we didn’t quite love their “award winning” Chenin Blanc, in fact, we had the server come back out because we thought the bottle had gone bad… the food was yummy and the atmosphere was great. Each picnic table is set amongst its own row of vines so you get a sense of seclusion.
After lunch we geared up to see some monkeys. Although I didn’t really care for the name of the monkey sanctuary, Monkeyland, because it sounds a bit like a theme park, I really did love my visit there as well. The beginning was a little frightening though. It took a while for us to get used to being close to all those monkeys. In order to get to the furry creatures, you have to walk through several different fences and gates because they don’t want the monkeys escaping. At the café inside the gates, I noticed no one was sitting outside, and then I also noticed the giant sign that said “Beware of monkeys stealing food.” Well, we waited for our guide outside the café with another family of tourists from Scandinavia and watched the scene around us. Suddenly we heard this loud squealing and all the monkeys swung themselves over to the corner of the picnic area where a monkey had successfully stolen a bag of potato chips from a little girl and was now attempting to flee back into the forest with the chips and what seemed like all the monkeys in the sanctuary were in hot pursuit.
The scene was comical. I was holding onto my water bottle and I spied a vervet monkey eyeing the bottle. He scampered up to me and I could tell from the look in his eye what he was going to do. I grabbed onto the bottle tightly with both hands and closed my eyes. The monkey jumped up on me and tried to pry the bottle away. The tourists next to me screamed and jumped away. I managed to hold onto the bottle, but quickly put it, along with any shiny objects on my person, in Jon’s camera bag. I kept waiting for the monkeys to steal my hat or my neighbor’s Iphone 6, but luckily they didn’t.
The guide finally opened the last swinging gate to let us into the sanctuary and it was a little calmer inside the forest. But the monkeys were everywhere! There were lemurs, and gibbons, and spectacled monkeys. Cappucins, vervets, and Howler monkeys too, all living together and playing in the trees and on the ground. It was a photographer’s paradise. Lemurs only live in Madagascar and are almost extinct, but it seemed like Monkeyland had successfully saved enough lemurs and helped them breed successfully to repopulate the whole island of Madagascar. Unfortunately, the habitat of the lemurs is quickly diminishing and they will soon probably go extinct.
The visit lasted about an hour, which was plenty of time to be right next to all the monkeys you ever wanted to see (TRUST ME!). Towards the end of the tour, we had to cross a tall suspension bridge over a canopy of trees and when we got to the end of the bridge we saw some families of vervet monkeys with tiny babies. This one baby monkey was walking along with a group of monkeys when suddenly another monkey reached out and grabbed the baby. She started squeezing it very tightly, so at first we just thought it was the mother trying to hug her baby. After about 30 seconds though, the baby started shrieking and looking like it was in pain. It seemed as though the female monkey was trying to strangle it to death. Pepe and I frantically tried to get the guide’s attention because the behavior did not seem normal. The guide, however, did not hear us. The baby tried to get away but the female monkey grabbed its tail and started pulling on it so that it couldn’t run anywhere. Luckily, the baby broke free and ran to its actual mother. The guide finally made his way back and explained that the other female couldn’t have babies so was trying to kidnap this one. It was crazy! And I decided it was time for me to leave Monkeyland.
We headed on down the Garden Route to Tsitsikamma National Park, which is supposedly a beautiful park with amazing views of the ocean, the cliffs nearby, and hikes through the forest. It’s Pepe’s favorite stop on the route. We were staying in the Honeymoon cabin, which was very large and right next to the ocean. Unfortunately, though, it was so foggy the whole time we stayed at Tsitsikamma that we never got to see the view of the water from our cabin. We did, however, see a whole lot of baboons roaming around which made us lock the doors so they wouldn’t be able to get in. The park amazingly also had a steak restaurant on its property, so the three of us ate a great dinner by the light of the moonlight and took some pictures of the patch of coastline that we could actually see. It was a great day and as the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep, visions of birds and monkeys danced in my head.