Monday, 6 June 2011

The Dragon Mountains, a baboon and some throat sweets

This weekend, we went away on a family trip to the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains (nicknamed by locals, "The Berg"). It was an unusual trip, since we don't usually go away for just a weekend during term time (the rest of my family are not yet on holiday), and also because it was not just my immediate family going. My mother's eldest sister and her husband, who now reside even further South -  in Australia - are currently visiting South Africa. So we made the trip with them and another one of my mother's sisters and family (she has three in total).

We stayed at the Drakensville resort, with its beautifully kept gardens, wedding chapel and (joy of joys) heated indoor swimming pool! Since those are fairly rare around here, the swimming pool was a welcome novelty. I can safely say that it was the first time in my life that I swam in June - and not only that but in June and in the icy Drakensberg.

We arrived there on Friday afternoon. On Saturday we took the short drive to The Royal Natal Gardens Reserve. We were going to have a picnic beside the dams where my cousins were fishing. While the rest of the family went for a walk to the other side of the dam, my brother and I stayed to look after the bags. We had not locked up our car, or even shut the windows, since we were soon to unpack the picnic things, and my family had not been planning to leave the site - they were called away to see the view from the top of a small hill.

My uncle then came back and said that my brother and I were wanted for photographs. We were reluctant to leave the bags, but I eventually I went on, when my sister returned to the picnic site. As I walked along, a very considerate duck, made a beautiful pose, so I was able to take some photos of it.

When I climbed the small hill, I realised why they had wanted us to come. There was not much of a view from the picnic site itself, as it was in a hollow and had tall grass behind it. But when we climbed the hill, there was the most magnificent view of the part of the Berg known as The Amphitheatre. We stood there for a while, enjoying the view and taking photos.

Suddenly my Uncle shouted, "Your family are being attacked by a baboon!" My dad and I ran back to the picnic site to where my brother and sister were watching the stuff.

While they were sitting there, a baboon had come up to our car (which was just behind them). They heard a noise coming from the car, and turned around to see a baboon jumping out of the window with a pack of Halls throat lozenges in its mouth. It then snatched up the packet of salt-and-vinegar chips which my siblings were eating and ran off. By the time we got there, it had vanished.

The Halls lozenges had come out of my handbag which I'd left in the car. I'm not sure whether I had zipped it up properly before leaving it, but he had managed to get into my handbag and remove two sets of lozenges. I had two sweets loose in a plastic packet. He had torn them out and left the plastic packet in the car along with one wrapper. Then he had also taken my new, unopened pack, which he had in his mouth when my brother saw him. What mystifies me the most, is that he succeeded in doing all this without removing anything else from my bag!

My hope is that, on eating the lozenges, the poor creature will not know what hit him, and will never steal from humans again. I'm also hoping that he was not too impressed by the vinegar on the chips. Someone in our party joked that the baboon would be barking very loudly that night, after having such a clear throat!

We are often warned not to feed baboons, as they become unafraid of humans and therefore dangerous (in some cases the rangers are forced to shoot them because of the threat they become). My prayer is that this baboon will not suffer such a fate.

When this incident occurred, a game ranger came to see what had happened. We were able to eat our picnic in safety under the watchful eye of the ranger.

That afternoon we had a party for my sister, whose birthday fell on that day (complete with the cake that she and I had baked and was, after all, not a flop). In evening we had, according to South African holidaying tradition, a braai (uh, barbeque). There was even some fresh fish my cousins had caught, though we were already full by the time they had finished gutting and preparing it.

It was on all a short but enjoyable holiday. It was a little tense at times (as tends to happen when family gets together), but we all survived and made it safely home. That was my last trip to the Berg before I leave the country for two years, I'm glad I had the chance to see it one last time.

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