Wily baboons share beauty of Cape Town

The baboons are getting too close for comfort in Cape Town, South Africa, with plans for ‘fewer negative human/baboon interactions’.
My heart races a little faster as I read in the morning’s Cape Times about a bitter row over who is liable for damage to people and property caused by the baboons. I wonder what the city’s officials mean by wanting urgent funding to produce ‘visible results’ in regard to the ‘negative interactions’.
This is particularly concerning considering I’m booked on a day tour that leaves shortly for the home of these highly intelligent creatures in the Table Mountain National Park and Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
The up-close-with-a-baboon pic is on my list to take home along with the dramatic landscape of Table Mountain, the tip of Africa where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean and Robben Island, the prison home of Nelson Mandela during apartheid. All mandatory experiences for any visit to the Mother City of Cape Town. So called because it is a world in one city being home to people from many parts of the globe.
They did not all arrive by choice. Slaves from Africa and Asia in the 17th and 18th Century, political and religious exiles from the Dutch colonies of the East Indies, along with Portuguese and British colonialists.
The day tour is a great way to sample this rich culture and the region’s wonderful scenery, but our guide looks horrified when I ask what my chances are of getting the baboon photo.
“No one gets outside this bus, but you’re welcome to take photos through the window,” she says before recounting that much of the trouble has been caused by visitors feeding the baboons.
She recounts that the baboons are smart enough to open doors and enter homes where they riffle kitchens. They also seem to know the bedroom is sacricant for humans, and love to mark their territory by leaving a calling card on the sheets.
If that’s not enough to flip residents over the edge, they will also eat fruit and veggies in the kitchen and garden. Homeowners are forced to baboon proof their rubbish bins with special locks, but some of the intruders have already worked out how to open them.
I’m not sure whether she’s happy or sad about one aggressive male baboon who was shot a few days earlier because he outwitted the park rangers after working out the noise of the remote car locks going off meant he had access into parked vehicles, and the chance to rummage through purses and wallets while their owners looked on helplessly.
She laughs as she says: “Baboons taking a sandwich off a tourist is considered a mugging in Cape Town’’.
These baboons love the taste of seafood. They are the only ones in Africa that roam the beaches feeding on sand hoppers and shellfish at low tide. Maybe the ‘brain food’ is why they are so smart.
Reluctantly ‘intimate’, or for that matter any, experiences with baboons is crossed off the list as we head down one of the world’s most scenic drives via Chapman’s Peak to the Cape of Good Hope.
This is the most southwesterly point on the African continent, originally named by the Portuguese explorers Cabo Tormentosa (Cape of Storms). This was a prelude to what has become one of the great marine graveyards with more than 650 shipwrecks over the past 400 years. Navigators had to contend with the infamous Roaring 40s, treacherous currents and hidden rocks to safely sail pass the Cape.
In what was probably the first bit of spin doctoring, the King decided to rename this rocky headland Cabo de Boa Esperanca (Cape of Good Hope) as he wisely thought it would encourage more people to settle in the colony and promote the opportunities for traders in the Far East.
The area is a nature reserve covering over 7750 hectares of rich and varied flora and fauna.
The cold Benguela current on the West Coast and the warm Agulhas current on the East Coast mix at the dividing point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The water being a few degrees warmer on the eastern side, but still normally only between 12C and 17C.
The nearby cliffs tower 200 metres above the sea, and it’s a wild and woolly walk to the top of the nearby Cape Point to see the lighthouse that is often blurred by dense sea mists and experiences around 100 days per year of gale force winds.
The drive back to Cape Town on the east side of the Cape is just as spectacular with its rugged shoreline, scenic bays and quaint villages.
The historic navy base of Simon’s Town, near a penguin colony, and Fish Hoek, with one of the most beautiful beaches on the South African coastline, are popular for a stopover.
The original land owner of Fish Hoek stipulated there be no alcohol sold there, and the local council has ensured this was the case as the area developed. A large retirement community lives here attracted by the apparent peace and quiet that the alcohol ban encourages.
However, the good news for thisty visitors is that alcohol is now available in restaurants and bars, but there are no bottle shops.
Wherever you drive around Cape Town, the looming backdrop of Table Mountain is never too far away. It’s a majestic site rearing up from the waterfront.
The taxi ride from the city to the cableway takes about 15 minutes, and the journey up the 1000-metre sheer cliffs less than five minutes offering stunning views from all angles as the floor rotates.
You certainly feel on top of the world with ocean and mountain views to the horizon. Maclear’s Beacon is the highest point at 1086 metres. Sir Thomas Maclear built the three-metre cairn in 1844 as part of his efforts to measure the arc of meridian of the earth.
The flat walking trials are extensive and many have lookouts over geographical and historical points of interest.
Visiting the top of Table Mountain is weather dependent with cloud and strong winds closing down the cable car.
Usually by mid-morning a southeasterly wind picks up that forces the warm air over the shear sides of the mountain forming a ‘table cloth’, before it is funnelled down into the city. The Cape Doctor, as it is known, can reach speeds up to 130 km/h. It’s an eerie site watching the chilly, cloudy mist blow in before your eyes and swirl around those still exploring the rugged terrain.
The panoramic views, peace and tranquillity on top of Table Mountain is a never-to-be-forgotten experience and best enjoyed as early as possible during your trip, just in case the weather causes any delay.
Try the Table Mountain breakfast at the small restaurant near the cable car exit and keep an eye out for the ‘dassie’, meaning badger in Dutch and Afrikaans. The agama is a small lizard that cleverly blends into the rock face.
Just before you board the cable car for the descent, have a rest on the wooden bench donated by grateful heart transplant recipients in recognition of the skills of South African surgeons Professor Chris Bernard and Dr Susan Vosloo.
Such is the dominating presence of Table Mountain that we are told the world soccer authorities are insisting Cape Town’s new stadium, to host matches during the 2010 World Cup, be designed to ensure a clear view of this giant monolith. Not a sod has so far been turned on this site that is currently public parkland. Hopefully the preferred location, without such good views, in one of Cape Town’s underprivileged areas will prevail.
On the waterfront, the Victoria and Alfred precinct (V & A) is the hub for diverse restaurants and cafes, shopping at major South African chain stores or the chic designer fashion boutiques.
The Portuguese steak at Tasca De Belem is an unusual and flavoursome offering. A range of meat dishes are also served up on giant skewers for diners to carve into juicy mouthfuls.
Emily’s offers local food such as the traditional Bobotie (beef pie) served with rice, poppadom, banana and chutney.
The historic clock tower is the centrepiece of the V & A built in 1882 for the port captain. The area continues to be a dynamic working harbour and houses the ferry terminal for Robben Island tours.
The Island is 11 kilometres away and best known for its incarceration of political prisoners. Former president Nelson Mandela was an inmate from 1964 to 1982 before he was transferred to a prison on the mainland and finally released in 1990.
His small grey cell is part of a guided tour that often includes commentary by a former political prisoner about the brutal labour forced on inmates in the limestone quarry, and other horrific hardships.
The 13 square kilometre island is now a World Heritage Site with the museum tour designed to tell the story about the victory over apartheid. Robert Sobukwe House is a testimonial to the founding leader of the Pan African Congress who was kept there in solitary confinement.
The World War two defences remain intact with the 9.2 inch guns, never fired, still in excellent condition.
The leper graveyard is also a reminder of this barren island’s grim past.
These days the only permanent inhabitants are rabbits and around 24,000 penguins, the largest colony outside the arctic.
The old church is a popular venue for marriage ceremonies on St Valentine’s Day.
Our guide tells us only one person has every successfully escaped Robben Island by stealing a small boat and rowing it to shore.
The Dutch were astounded that anyone could survive such a treacherous crossing.
Perhaps it’s something that the City bureaucrats should consider for any of their wayward baboons.

On the waterfront: When the ‘table cloth’ covers the mountain it’s time to hit Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred precinct for shopping and dining.
On the waterfront: When the ‘table cloth’ covers the mountain it’s time to hit Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred precinct for shopping and dining.
Beware baboons: Taking a sandwich off a tourist is considered a mugging in Cape Town.
Beware baboons: Taking a sandwich off a tourist is considered a mugging in Cape Town.

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