My family and I were driving along the Garden Route in South Africa, one of the country’s many scenic wine routes, when we ran into some trouble with highway baboons.
I was on a road trip with my parents and sister, and the car showed signs that we had been driving for five days: the seats were sprinkled with crumbs from all the snacks we had enjoyed, and the contents of our bags — iPods, books, magazines — had spilled everywhere.
The particular stretch of highway we were on, which led into Capetown, was bordered by cliffs. There were signs every few miles warning cars not to stop, and most importantly, not to open any doors or windows because of lurking baboons.
However, being curious tourists — and because it’s physically impossible for my father to turn down a chance for a little adventure — we pulled over.
That was our first mistake.
Then we opened our doors.
That was our second mistake.
My dad, mum, and sister were already out of the car when I was still sitting in the back seat with the door open. Before I could get out, a baby baboon scurried over to our car, jumped inside, and plopped itself down onto my lap.
I was thrilled.
My sister was horrified.
My mum was slightly worried, but still smiling at that point.
My dad advised me to just stay calm and not move.
So that’s what I did. I sat there and stared at my new friend as he/she looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings. Eventually the little baboon climbed off my lap, which is when my dad told me to slowly leave the car.
Meanwhile, mother baboon — who was a lot larger and more menacing-looking than baby baboon — had joined her baby baboon.
That’s when things started to get bad.
The baboons along this South African highway might as well be humans. They know how to open car doors (yes, they know how to use the handle), and they know just how to sift through your belongings so that they find what they’re ultimately looking for: food.
After finding and demolishing a pack of cookies in the back seat, mother baboon — who I think at this point had been joined by one or two other baboons — decided to take on my sister’s travel bag. We all watched as the baboons sat on the side of the highway and carefully took out every single item in that bag. They tried her toothpaste, took her camera out of its case, but once they found out it wasn’t food, they simply put it back in the bag or left it on the ground.
It was somewhat fascinating to watch, but I couldn’t really concentrate amid the loud sounds of my sister sobbing in the background. Not that I blamed her; her possessions were in the hands of baboons and we weren’t exactly sure if or when we were going to get them back.
After an exhaustive search, and having found no more food, the baboons abandoned my sister’s bag — which one of us, probably my dad, quickly snagged back — but they didn’t abandon our rental car. In fact, one of the baboons had pretty much declared the car its own by climbing onto the roof.
By now, since the family was all safe, my dad had started to brainstorm how we were going to get our car back unscathed. Baboons may have their human tendencies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their animalistic ones too. Coming into direct contact with adult baboons would be dangerous.
We had flagged down some fellow drivers who said they would help us out. The plan was that my dad would make a run for our car, hop into the driver’s seat, speed off (which would force the baboon to jump off the roof), and then my mum, sister, and I (with my sister’s bag) would follow in the other car. Once we caught up to our rental car, the three of us would transfer cars and both would then drive off.
Miraculously, the plan worked just like that, and all of us managed to escape the attack of the highway baboons safely. Although I think our rental car took a little bit of a beating.
My parents spent the next few hours coaxing my sister out of the horror coma she had slipped into during the incident, while I just reflected on how cool it was that a baboon had sat on my lap.
Needless to say, we didn’t make any more pit stops along the highway.
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