Ruth recently enjoyed a wonderful weekend stay at Bambelela Guest Farm & Wildlife Care Farm in Bela-Bela with her family.
It is still. The sun is high above the hills. The bush is silent in the valley, as a trio of warthogs trot past. Suddenly, I feel a movement of air and a soft, padded weight drops onto my shoulders and climbs onto my head; turns its face to study me.
It is a young vervet monkey, only a few months old, and I am sitting in an enclosure at Bambelela Vervet Monkey Rehabilitation Centre. I am here with my husband and two sons (aged 2 and 5) for a weekend away from the activity of Jo’burg. We arrived yesterday as night was falling, and chased the sun as we descended into the valley. It was an easy 2-hour drive, and we were ready for a break. But if you are looking for a break with a twist, then this is the place for you.
Dean met us and showed us to our 2-bedroomed chalet, one of three on the farm. After he had explained about some of the work they do at the centre, and helpfully given us some information about the area, we set about lighting the log fire, perfect for the cool winter evenings. The chalet also has a large fire pit outside with a braai, which we used on our second evening. Here, you can experience the seclusion of bush camping, with the comforts of a self-catering chalet.
After a good night’s sleep and watching the children play on the grass from the veranda (there is plenty of space for them to run around, explore, and ride their bikes), we were offered a guided tour of the rehabilitation centre. This lasted about 2 hours, and was informatively conducted by Sue, who was quite relaxed about our young ones and made every effort to engage with them and spark their interest in the monkeys. You can also come along on one of these tours as a day visitor.
We were able to see the monkeys at play in their gigantic rehabilitation areas, with plenty of space to leap and jump around. The passion of the staff is evident in everything that they do at Bambelela. They take orphaned, injured or abandoned monkeys, and care for them until they are ready to be released back into the wild. In the afternoon, we took the children to interact and play with a few young monkeys, under the supervision of Dean, and it was a fantastic experience to be able to hold and stroke them. We were with them for over an hour, and the boys loved it. So much so, that, when Dean offered us another chance to play with the monkeys the following day, we jumped at the chance. Nothing seems like too much trouble for the staff here, and again we stayed for about an hour and chatted about the monkeys as they played on and around us.
The chalets are serviced here twice a day, and this is done extremely discretely (we returned from the tour and the monkey interaction to find the place cleaned and tidied). You will need to bring your food and drink from home (or pick it up in Bela-Bela, which is just under 30 minutes away), but there is a small shop on site which stocks snacks, firewood, ice, and souvenirs.
What else did we do during our stay? There was plenty of time for exploring and relaxing: ‘adventure’ walks with the boys up the track, looking for animals and other ‘treasures’; running up to the crest of the hill and then back down again as the sun dipped towards evening; sitting outside the chalet, watching the visiting peacock, cats, warthogs; sipping wine in front of the fire (once the boys had gone to bed). A true break with a difference.
It is worth knowing that the revenue from the chalet rentals directly funds the work of the sanctuary, so you can be certain that you are supporting a good cause while enjoying your stay. There are other ways that you might also choose to get involved; Bambelela has, for example, a monkey adoption programme, as well as various donation packages to help support their work. They also welcome volunteers to spend time at the sanctuary.
Our boys had such an incredible time that they did not want to leave, and have been begging us ever since to take them back. There are baby monkeys at Bambelela between October and May each year and, if you visit during that season, you will get the opportunity to play with and feed them. So, we are planning to go back by the end of the year. We cannot wait to return.