I slammed the hotel room door shut and leaned against it, every pound of my frame securing it closed. I half-squealed, half-screamed something indecipherable at Caroline and Jolene. Just then, the monster outside pushed hard at the door. Twice. And budged it at least several inches.
This was no horror movie. This was my first 15 minutes at Mole National Park.
As it turns out, Ghana has allowed me to face my two biggest fears. Number one: heights. Looking at an uninterrupted expanse down has always given me vertigo. As a pre-teen I tried to be brave and jump off the high dive at a pool. The attempt ended with me crying at the top, stuck, unable to leap or climb down the ladder. But in Kakum National Park last month, I haltingly made my way across four hanging bridges spanning a rainforest canopy 100 feet below.
My second greatest fear? Baboons.
After an eight-hour bus ride over washboard red-dirt roads, we had arrived in Mole. The group was thrilled at the expectation of spotting an elephant. I was too, but I was preoccupied with another animal native to the park. I tried to let the rational part of my brain convince the panicky part that the chances of encountering that stern-faced primate were slim. And if I did see one, it’d be far away, and I’d be safe and protected. After all, what are the odds?
When we stopped at the hotel, we had a few minutes to drop off our luggage, change and be ready for an afternoon walking safari. I stepped outside to DEET myself, figuring that mosquitoes would be the most aggressive creature on the day’s patrol. I had just finished coating myself when I saw, from the corner of my eye, an approaching hairy shape about knee-height.
I credit my reptilian brain with propelling me through the open door in less time it took me to register what I had seen. By the time I closed the door shut, though, I knew what was on the other side of 2 inches of wood.
As I screeched and pushed against the door, my roomies, Caroline and Jolene, were still convinced that I was pulling off a well acted practical joke. Until, that is, Caroline peeked through the slats of our bathroom window. She saw the baboon. It was sitting directly in front of the door.
She also saw a second baboon. The bastard had brought a friend.
Up close, the things were as horrifying as I’d imagined. Their beady eyes are set under a perpetual scowl. Their fingers and toes look like creepy dummy hands. And the teeth. Oh, the teeth.
After a few minutes, they wandered off, likely in search of another tourist to terrorize. Their red butts swayed as they walked back into the bush. Tears had welled in my eyes and my hands shook, but I was laughing at what my body perceived as a near-death experience.
The rest of the stay in Mole, I let others scout the area before I ventured outside. I looked over my shoulder, especially at night, every 20 feet to make sure they weren’t sneaking up on me. And I quizzed Isa, our guide, on what to do should another baboon be so bold.
His advice: Pick up a rock or stick. Wind back your arm as if you were about to hit the baboon.
(Or actually hit it, I added in my head. I imagine that’s pretty effective too.)