The weather in Germany, with rain showers daily, hasn’t been ideal for touring. Try standing at a bus station with a soaking wet toddler and explaining that the bus still won’t be here for 20 minutes and you’ll understand. When I saw Affenberg Salem, a trail that leads through the home area of about 200 monkeys, on our schedule, I almost skipped it. I wasn’t sure if the train and bus ride would be worth the zoo-like experience, especially in the heavy rain that we were getting that morning. How naive was I? Affenberg Salem is nothing like a zoo and more like being in the Planet of the Apes. It was the best toddler, and mommy, experience of the trip. Having hands-on opportunities like this one give more meaning to travel and are well-worth a few uncomfortable minutes in the rain.
The Barbary apes live freely in a 20 acre wooded area called Monkey Mountain in Affenberg Salem. The home of the Barbary apes is Morocco and Algeria where they live in mountainous areas at altitudes of 2000 meters. The climatic conditions on Monkey Mountain are very similar so that the Barbary apes are able to live outdoors all year round.
We were not only able to see the apes in their natural environment, but we could also observe their natural behavior. We even witnessed mommy apes carrying babies on their backs and caring for them.
The most unbelievable part of the experience was hand feeding the apes. Athena stood a few feet away from apes and reached out without fear to feed them. I watched her put the specially-brewed popcorn in her hand and place it before the ape to eat. When the ape reached out and picked up the popcorn, Athena watched without flinching. She smiled and asked for more.
We are teaching Athena that there is more to life than video games and cell phones or even classrooms. While I respect what she’ll learn from teachers at pre-school and eventually school, first-hand experiences like this have a way of shaping a child’s memory and life. She is gaining both education and experience and reaching out eagerly for it.