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Chapter 1: Vervet Monkey Foundation, Tzaneen, South Africa


03 March 2004

The flight from NY turned out to be pleasant. Flew Boeing 747. Largest plane I’ve ever been on, I believe. The flight landed in Dakar, Senegal one hour early, and passengers traveling on to Johannesburg were not allowed to deplane, so we sat on the tarmac for roughly 2.5 hours while passengers got off or on. Five AM when we landed, so still dark out. The airport was little more than one landing strip with a few parking spots for planes and buses to transfer passengers to an unseen terminal. At 6:30 am as we taxied down the runway, I watched the sun rise over the city of Dakar. Beautiful white stucco 2 or 3 story luxury buildings were what I imagine Tuscany or Greece might look like.

At the end of the runway, we turned around for takeoff. I saw the view on the west side of the landing strip and instead of a paradise, saw poverty. So close geographically, so far apart economically. The plane lifted off and flew out over the Atlantic again before circling around. Before we were too high, I saw just the stunningly beautiful villas on the shoreline.

05 March 2004

After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa and spending a short night, I took a long distance bus from Jo’Burg to Tzaneen. 7.5 hours. Arrived at the Vervet Monkey Foundation after working hours were over, but in time for dinner – beans and salad. The group seems nice enough. Tried to put off using the long-drop toilet, but that only works so long. It’s 7:30 pm and pouring rain. “Tent Village” really is simply tents. You lay out your sleeping bag on a foam pad and that’s it. We are provided a Rubbermaid bin to keep some clothes dry. From my tent, the monkey enclosures are 12 feet away. “Bandit” monkeys are those monkeys that are roaming free or break into Tent Village. I have only had instructions to carry a large stick and don’t look them in the eye or raise my eyebrows at them, as it will antagonize them. The pathways are simple dirt trails between the tents.

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