The strange tale of the Cederberg’s caffeinated baboon

2016-06-23 21:00 - Nadia Krige
Post a comment 0

Somewhere in the Cederberg lives a baboon with a caffeine addiction. And we’re to blame. Now, before you get all hot under the collar over the generalising use of ‘we’, relax. You’re off the hook. This time round ‘we’ is not an accusatory finger pointed at humanity as a whole, rather the four fingers pointing back to myself and my boyfriend.

This story starts as most of my travel tales do. We’d set out on a camping trip, only to have it rain out halfway through. I guess – in this case - we’d been tempting fate: heading out along the West Coast and on into the Cederberg just a few days before the winter solstice.

So, there we were in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, two lonely campers taking up the tiniest corner of Stand 18 in Algeria campsite, while the rest of the area remained delightfully deserted. Dressed in +/- 10 layers of our warmest gear, we built a huge fire and cracked some local craft beers – stars twinkling above. It was chilly, but we were cheerful.

Then somewhere just after midnight the pitter-pattering started. It was soft, gentle and continuous - a blessing for the parched earth, but not so much for a pair of mid-winter campers. In the morning, we checked our weather apps, confirming a most inconvenient truth – the weather wasn’t going to let up till Thursday.

It was only Tuesday. We knew there were decisions to be made, but first… coffee!

With a 100% chance of short circuits and/or electrocution at the campsite power box, I stayed on the safe side and plugged our camping kettle into the hairdryer socket in the ladies’ bathrooms. We sipped our blissfully hot and fragrant French-press coffee huddled under roof in the washing-up area behind the ablution block and watched the mist swirling over the peaks towering unseen above us. Had we known the fate of our beloved packet of medium-roast then, we’d probably have savoured that moment for just a little bit longer. But, alas. Regret always comes too late.

Warm and energised, we sprang into action, heading to reception to try to secure ourselves two nights’ accommodation somewhere a little more solid. Henry, CapeNature’s fatherly tourism officer gave us one look and booked us into the ‘Rietdak huisie’ without question.

We settled in gratefully, watching the Rondegat River steadily swell over the low-water bridge that connects the campsite to the outside world, and did a little happy dance in front of the indoor fireplace.

It was about an hour later that the shadow passed swiftly and silently over the half-open stable-style kitchen door. To be quite honest, I didn’t even see it and only noticed that something was amiss when Guillaume jumped up, ripping the blanket from our cosy stronghold on the couch, let out a primal ‘Hey!’ and stormed down the passage.

By the time I reached the kitchen – two seconds later – both boyfriend and baboon were out the door. I found the former crouching in the rain, scooping scattered roast beef flavoured chips out of the mire and back into the packet from which they had been rudely ripped. The latter presumably lurking somewhere out of sight.

“I’m not eating any of those,” was the most sensible response I could muster as Guillaume ascended the stairs with a dazed expression, clutching his salvaged goods. We conducted a quick survey of the kitchen and found that the big guy – who was now strutting about the outside braai place with bulging cheeks as round as tennis balls – had fled with only the two packets of chips we had stupidly left on the counter earlier while stashing all other temptatious, tasty treats away from prying primate eyes.

The full blow of the attack only became evident the next morning when we woke up to a house devoid of coffee. Of course, however, it took a while to make the connection. We searched high and low, unpacked and repacked ammo boxes, scoured the cupboards, looked in the bathroom, shook out our laundry bags… but nothing.  

We sipped our cups of rooibos tea in devastated silence.

“I don’t understand. I clearly remembering putting it right there,” I said, pointing to the corner where the torn bag of chips now sat. I heard myself go “Ooooooh” just as Guillaume uttered a similar expression of enlightenment.

Somewhere in the Cederberg a baboon was coming down from the mother of all caffeine trips. Or maybe he was a secret agent, specially trained to seek and destroy all traces of java blends, in order to keep the heartland of rooibos tea caffeine-free.

The ridiculousness of these thoughts soon had us in fits of guilt-infused giggles, helping take the edge off the dismal truth of our own situation: two rainy days stretched ahead of us without the prospect of a comforting cup of joe. So, here’s a heads up - if you’re heading that way anytime soon, keep your coffee on special lock down. It’s a red hot item out there.    

On a serious note: The clever baboons living around Algeria in the Cederberg are opportunistic feeders and special care should be taken by guests not to entice them with any food (or items that may look like tasty snacks) on display in cottages or campsites. CapeNature has information boards and notices throughout the area detailing appropriate measures to be taken. We learned a hard lesson – nothing that remotely resembles food should be left out in the open.   

Nadia Krige is a freelance writer based in Cape Town. She’s also an unlucky camper, an occasional hiker and enjoys catching tiny waves in the whitewash of Muizenberg whenever she can. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram     

What to read next on Traveller24:

Autumn is for adventure

Cederberg rock art trail upgraded + 5 things to make you pack your bags and go
- PICS: CapeNature’s 6 new Cederberg cottages are gorgeous

WATCH: The art of climbing according to Mountain Club SA