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The Foraging Flâneur – The Charm of a Giraffe Named Oscar

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.

 

There was talk of a tall, handsome man about town roaming the wilderness of Epako Safari Lodge in Omaruru, Namibia, where we found ourselves one April afternoon. The man went by the name of Oscar. Oscar Wilde in the wild. Yet, he was in fact not a man, but a giraffe, and not a he, but a she.

Oscar’s name was given to her more in the way of Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue”, than any traditional gender-appropriate naming strategy. And in case we were in any doubt, there was proof. When we arrived at the lodge, Oscar had just given birth. For the second time.

Where her infant was we did not know.

 

 

Just as she was eluding my gaze so was she hiding her new-born in a secret location out in the 11,000 hectare private reserve at Epako, while she went about the duty of the foraging flâneur, eating furiously from every bush that passed her approval, to provide her with the energy, strength and nutrients to breastfeed. Oscar the She made it quite clear: she worked on Oscar time – a sign of her innate wild spirit, in spite of her upbringing.

You see, the story of Oscar’s beginnings is not an ordinary one. In 1996, Oscar’s mother died during labour and little Oscar was found in the bush by caretakers at Epako, here on the border of the Damaraland region, midway between Windhoek, Swakopmund and the Etosha National Park.

 

 

The men took little Oscar in, bottle-raised and cared for her in a small private boma, away from other animals, for her protection.

When she was taller, stronger and able to stand on her own two (four) feet, it was time to reintroduce her into the wild. Because she had become used to humans, this rewilding proved to be a process.

After the lodge tried to release her into the bush, she simply walked back home. She wanted her private deck and landscaped garden.

 

 

This called for a new strategy! Marcelino, the head gardener at the time, began taking Oscar out on frequent walks into the reserve, and leaving her there… A vehicle would meet him and return him to the lodge. This helped Oscar become more and more comfortable with being alone and in the wild, to get in touch with her wildness.

Eventually Oscar would stay out in the wilderness for longer and longer periods, until she made it her true home, visiting the lodge only on occasion – not out of need, but more for a friendly visit, on her forages. It’s clear, from photographs that I had seen before my trip, that she felt quite at home around the lodge still, gleefully accepting snacks from seed-wielding hands and pockets (the best kinds of hands and pockets) of staff and guests.

Still, I had not witnessed this, nor her, for myself. I arrived back at the lodge after a game drive one late morning, and was excitedly told, “Oh, you’ve just missed her!”

 

 

The talk of the foraging flaneur continued! How was I to believe the story without even a glimpse of the protagonist?

And then it happened. One afternoon between adventures, she came to see me at my room. I had put in the request and there she arrived, happily grazing in the garden of indigenous, carefully, lovingly-grown fauna. I stepped out onto the verandah and sidled right up to her. International lady of mystery (her, not me).

In the quiet stillness of a hot Namibian day, we stood across from each other for a minute or two. I held out my own seed-wielding hand (Camelthorn seedpods – Acacia erioloba – are a favourite of giraffes). Her curious snake of a tongue retrieved it and then moved on. I was just another bush to her. But she was so much more to me.

 

 

Now – for baby Oscar! Our search took us deep into the reserve one evening, just before dusk. Driving over the gravel roads, we passed wilder giraffe and their young, but no baby Oscar. Instead, mother Oscar stepped out into our path abruptly as we were searching the expanse through binocular. She stopped, right between us and the setting sun, creating the most regal of silhouettes, a grand portraiture of the protective mother by night, foraging flâneur by day.

 

 

No doubt this was a clever ploy to distract us. Clearly her wild instincts were well-established. But not so stoic was she that she could turn down one more seedpod. Over to us she ambled and licked up our offerings, before turning and walking off into the sunset.

 


Game drives with a giraffe named Oscar…

Take a look at more images below and discover more about Epako Safari Lodge & Spa here.

Thank you, Oscar and the kind people of Epako for sharing your wilderness with us.

 


 

A Wine Gallery Gig with Arno Carstens ~ at Ellerman House

I recently covered the Arno Carstens’ wine gallery gig at Ellerman House for the launch of the hotel’s second year of Ellerman Sessions ~ for the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog published here.

I wish you had seen the way he shook his legs about. I wish I had captured it to show you but I couldn’t look away. No one could. No one did. You’d have seen them, those legs, if you were there with us, up close to the stage, with the wine gallery at Ellerman House behind and below us, a few intimate rows of chairs between us. Arno Carstens and his band: front and centre.

You’d have seen that crazed Elvis leg shaking that powered the night in short bursts with unexpected energy – between the trumpet, guitar, drums, and that iconic voice once belonging to the South African cult rock band, The Springbok Nude Girls.

While you were sleeping
I had a vision
That gently took the pain away
Am I still dreaming
I search for meaning
You turn my world from night to day

 

 

Arno Carstens has been called “the godfather of South African rock,” by Mail & Guardian and “one of the most prolific songwriters and performers of our time,” by the Sunday Times. But no one mentioned the dancing.

At the first Ellerman Sessions at Ellerman House in Cape Town for 2019, Arno led us into another world the second he stepped up to the mic.

A galaxy to explore
Don’t wanna return to a world at war
From the galaxy of blues to a universe we choose
No more crying and just maybe somebody to hold…

 

 

For a few hours, we were held by a power greater than ourselves, the rhythm and beat of songs that many of us South Africans in the audience have shaken and rattled to many times before – at festivals on the lawn, under the stars of our youths. For a beautiful moment, we were back at rock concerts past, or with friends and family listening to the radio on long road trips.

These illusions are just the sweetest dream

 

 

The night began at sunset with Moët on the terrace… with Cape Town’s best sundowner view, Bulgari perfumes, smoking macaroons and Hennesey cocktails, and the tastes of Ellerman House’s Executive Chef, Grant Daniels, assisted by 20 Degres Sud Head Chef, Sanjeev Purahoo, all the way from Mauritius.

Think: canapes like peri peri prawns with roasted pineapple salsa, shiitake mushroom bittenballe with miso aubergine and coconut, Vietnamese duck springrolls with orange siracha. And bowls of Quail Agnolotti; sea bass sashimi; Karoo lamb with mielie pap and pickled spekboom and butternut fondant; halloumi and chorizo stuffed squid.

And it ended with espresso martinis, baked brie with fig compote and raw honey, an olive garden of chocolate, coffee and tonka bean, and sweet rock ‘n roll still ringing in our ears.

 

 

It was the kind of night that manages, in a quick flip of the leg and strum of the guitar strings, to return the thrill and poetry to life, to stir the rattling playful somebody dancing inside of you.

Can you feel it?
It is heaven on earth
And there’s a light around you
You are burning in the rain

 

 

Take a look below at a few images from the night and find out more about the line-up for the next Ellerman Sessions here ~ as the celebration of South African music continues with Prime Circle, Majozi and Zolani.

About Arno Carstens

Platinum selling singer-songwriter and front man for cult rock band Springbok Nude Girls, Arno Carstens has released multiple albums, with a string of successful singles and awards including “Best Rock Album”, “Best Alternative Album” and “Song of the Year”. He has toured with INXS, U2 and the Rolling Stones and performed internationally at Glastonbury, Hard Rock Calling and VFestival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Your Helicopter Has Arrived, Ma’am, Sir…

As published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.


Three Ultimate Helicopter Rides

In even the small events of our lives, the fleeting everyday moments, we are capable of feeling great waves of inspiration, excitement and love. They’re not to be discounted, the simple things. But let’s not deny the overwhelming thrill of the big and grand displays and adventures too.

We can find ourselves overwhelmed by the gentle touch of a child’s hand or the silence of wide open African plains.  But in taking daring leaps – into or out of a plane, into wild Cape seas or a boat through the lower Zambezi rapids – there is a deep exhilaration and sense of pride that takes over us. The kind you might imagine a swashbuckler like Don Diego de la Vega to feel, with his sombrero cordobés, as he swipes a stolen locket from a thief to return to his damsel. Or English archaeologist, Lara Croft as she rope-swings into ancient tombs and ruins around the world.

Image: Royal Chundu guest, Lily Nezarati

 

“A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are,” Lara Croft is quoted as saying. “I’d finally set out to make my mark; to find adventure. But instead adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.”

There are many wild ways to make your mark and find adventure in Africa, but let’s consider the helicopter ride! f

 


Table Mountain

During your stay in Cape Town, at Ellerman House or The Cellars-Hohenort, perhaps, you’re going to want to see Table Mountain, the great natural world wonder that stands out high above the city as a constant reminder of nature’s might and beauty. This unique, flat-topped mountain stretches from the tip at Signal Hill, along the crest to Lion’s Head, across to Devil’s Peak and back all the way past Kirstenbosch Gardens. Flying from the city centre over this vast range gives a genuine glimpse of the city and of man and nature living in harmony, side by side. Swoop over the sea and look out over Robben Island, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the horizon.

While Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Table Mountain itself is not – but rather the magnificent and protected Cape Floral Region that covers it, one of the world’s great centres of biodiversity.

Read more: The Most Romantic Spots in Cape Town 

 


Victoria Falls, Zambia

Heading to Royal Chundu from the Victoria Falls airport, take a helicopter as your transfer with a special ride not only over the Zambezi River, where Zambia and Zimbabwe meet, but over the Victoria Falls and deep into its steep carved-out gorge. This is, simply, the most spectacular way to view the great cascade and to get a true sense of its grandness. Look out the window as you head to the lodge for a chance to spot the elephant, hippo, crocodile and other animals that call the river and its banks home.

 

Read more:

10 Things Victoria Falls Will Teach You About Life

Helicopter Epiphanies Over Victoria Falls

 

Take a glimpse…


Reunion Island

While exploring the Indian Ocean island of Reunion from Blue Margouillat in Saint-Leu, feel the true magnificence of nature in a helicopter flight over the island’s active volcano – Piton de la Fournaise. Perhaps not while its firing and bubbling, but certainly when safety allows.

The volcano makes up a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Pointe de la Table, a hiking trail that follows one of its lava flows, the island’s other volcano, Piton des Neiges and its natural corries ~ all noted for their “outstanding universal value”. The team at Blue Margouillat can assist in organising the adventure; all you need to do is climb aboard with HELILAGON and buckle in for your ride over the Piton and the island’s magnificent peaks, valleys, waterfalls, rivers and shoreline. It is the greatest highlight of many travellers’ trips to Reunion ~ standing out in their memory long after they return home to spin tales of chasing rampant lava.

Read more: 

Réunion ~ One of the Most Unusual Island Paradises on Earth

Chasing volcanoes on Reunion Island


 

Do You Ride? – A Horse Safari in Kenya

First published in the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog >

Do you ride?

People are always asking that. It’s not good enough that we’ve bravely mounted bicycles and game vehicles and slept among roaming lion prides and night-creeping hippos. We need to ride horses too, through the greatest wildernesses in the world.

I’ve witnessed many travellers scoff at such a question. I’ve also witnessed pro-riders leap gallantly at the suggestion, heading out on rides as often as time on their safari allows.

I’m somewhere in between these two types. To the invite to ride, I scoff and leap at the same time.

“Yes, of course I ride! I’ve been on six horses! And I’ve never fallen off! Although I did once contemplate bolting from a spooked horse during his furious downhill dash, one dark and scary night in the countryside.”

The Chyulu Hills in Kenya, at ol Donyo Lodge, is no countryside, though. Nor is the Maasai Mara, at Mara Plains Camp. There are all kinds of marvellous animals hiding and seeking.

At ol Donyo Lodge, as another eager, but much more proficient rider headed out with one guide on our early morning expedition, I joined two other guides (obviously my reply had not been overly convincing) for a slow walk. Atop the great white mare I’d been partnered with, the wildlife did a little less hiding and more seeking.

In the open plains, some distance from camp, we sidled through a tower of six or so giraffe, munching on trees (the giraffes, not us), and then zebra and wildebeest, and I realised just what it is about riding a horse in the wild that makes the challenge worthwhile.

Giraffe and other wildlife view you as just another animal when you’re on the back of a horse, rather than on foot, allowing you to get much closer.

With the one guide in front of me and the other behind, and an animal of great muscle below me, I felt protected. And yet, looking into a giraffe’s eye at almost eye-level, I felt completely open, bare. Barriers dissolved, nothing stood between me and nature. The way nature intended.

I let the quietness of no motor, no voices, settle around us, in us. I heard my thoughts stir, listened to fear rise and sink back down, comforted, like a dog having her head patted.

Peace, that’s what it was all about.

Harmony.

Understanding.

“I could do this all day!” I shouted to the guides.

“Ok,” the fellow behind me, chirped, “so shall we break into a trot then? Maybe a gallop?”

“Always with the pushing! Fine, I choose trot.”

With a tap to our horses’ sides, we took off, up down, up down, up down, and then the thrill sank in and I was ready to catch up with the others, the pros, ready to lose my training-wheels and ride off into the sunset!

But it was still early and oh, look, breakfast was set up under a tree in the distance…

Under the dappled shade, we dismounted and made our way to a chair around the table.

“We’ve come across two cheetah while on a ride before,” said the one guide. “Only a couple of metres from our hooves! We just stood still while the animals slowly walked past us. They acknowledged us with a subtle glance and tilt of the head and then continued on their way.”

“How often in life do you get to experience such an incredible animal up-close like that?” Another guide continued. “And while sharing your perspective of it with another animal? And it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or pro.” He looked at me. “Horses all have different personalities. Just like us. And there’s a right horse for you just as there is a right rider for each horse.”

“And, maybe,” I said, “it’s not about whether you’re a beginner or pro, whether you’re walking, trotting, cantering or galloping, because it’s in being still and silent with the animals on the ride that feels the most special. It’s when you really get to connect with it all.”

“Exactly,” the guide returned.

So yes, I ride. But I do “still and silent” so much better.

“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire.” – Shannon Ralls Lemon

The Art of Embracing Life – and the Sea

Header image: 20 Degres Sud, Mauritius. First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.

North Island, Seychelles

The Indian Ocean… it sinks beneath your skin and starts to alter the very ways you define yourself, the way you see life. I’ve never considered myself much of a sea person, opting for the mountains and forests instead, but perhaps the things we love most are simply the things we’ve given more of our attention to.

In the name of embracing life, in all its intricacies and dimensions, my mission has been to learn more about that which I don’t know, that which I sometimes even fear.  For instance, the ocean.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

There have been a few muses on my escapade. The first was an ocean unlike any I was used to. One much warmer and with several islands to hop to and from. The Indian Ocean. Starting with Madagascar…

At Anjajavy le Lodge on the north-west coast of the island, a new world of sea life I’d never before glimpsed showed itself to me. And, beside my guide, heading down, down, down with our flippers and snorkels, I felt safe, protected, excited by the unfamiliar rather than daunted.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

Hanli Prinsloo, an experienced freediver and ocean lover, talks about this new world and the feeling of merging with it in a piece entitled, “What freediving can teach you about your body’s potential.”

It is insight that has inspired my own journey, because, as she writes, “it’s when you’ve discovered your inner aquatic animal that you can experience the ocean as just another creature, not an interloper with a big, bubbling gas tank. The beauty of our oceans … becomes yours to explore.”

North Island, Seychelles

She continues: “On one breath I leave the surface and kick my way down to where the liquid turns black. The sun is only a memory. Water presses in on me from all sides squeezing me harder than I think I can survive. But it’s still only water. Kicking, I fall deeper and deeper. Down there, the ocean feels like my private ocean. I’m reminded: I am water.

North Island, Seychelles

“To freedive is to feel the deep ancestry of our species—and to know that our species is still adapted to life under water.” The sea is “the place where we came from, and where we can return at least temporarily.” Read more from her here.

20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

I returned to the ocean for further practice at mammalian diving on a trip to Mauritius, at 20 Degres Sud. For several hours, we snorkelled off the side of an old pirogue, in a sea so blue, soft pastel in its hue. We played in the warmth and freedom, the silence and solitude, for so long that I started to feel the shift.

No mermaid tail grew, but I understood, then, how surfers spend every waking hour in the waves, how a wet-suit or surfboard might replace running shoes or Nordic poles.

Blue Margouillat, Reunion Island

Flying over the island of Reunion in a helicopter, starting at Blue Margouillat, I saw the bigger picture: ocean surrounding land, connecting each island to the next; and around Reunion: the warm waters of the lagoon lapping the sand, ocean waves beating against cliffs. Down below, in the island’s clear blue, other divers would be gliding over coral that is described as twisted like ancient trees, with stalactites and large-leaved marine plants. Trunkfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish: friends whose names I was starting to remember.

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa

On the east coast of Zanzibar, at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, the same warm sea flowed in and out, in and out, on shore. But deeper in the turquoise, and with new sea legs, I found the peace again. Surrounded by sea like my own personal island, society and its restraints, rules and responsibilities were mere imaginings. Around me, others experienced the wilder side of ocean life, windsurfing, stand-up-paddleboarding, kayaking.

North Island, Seychelles

In the Seychelles, I sat on the sandy beach of a private island – North Island – and let the transformation take place. I pondered pre-human existence and the rich life I’d witnessed in the deep big blue. I watched a hatchback turtle lay her eggs in a nest on land and then return to the sea.

How much easier her travels appeared once the waves had taken her! On shore, she braked after each tiring step, lugging her heavy shell along with her. Her flippers could let go of the burden once in those crystal waters. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a weightless hatchling swimming beside her, to trace her journey into the great unknown – a land where no maps detail each road and highway, because there simply are none.

North Island, Seychelles

There is still much more to learn, but as I write this there is a snorkelling mask beside me – and a wetsuit that has finally made it out of the wardrobe. Which is a glide in the right direction – one out of fear, toward understanding. And maybe even love…

Grin, Bear and Other Mountain Creatures – Ziplining in Africa

Some chuckles were recently had at my expense.

I’m not blaming anyone. In fact, I encourage chuckles. Chuckling is good for everyone – even the butts of the chuckles. It only helps to break down our egos. And our self-esteem. But who needs self-esteem?

I would just like to remind the chucklers, but mostly myself, of if not my bravery, then at least my potential for bravery.

The source of the scoffing was a quote I posted on Instagram… a quote from trailrunning god, Kilian Jornet.

“The secret isn’t in your legs,” Kilian writes in his book, Run or Die, “but in your strength of mind. You need to go for a run when it is raining, windy, and snowing, when lightning sets trees on fire as you pass them, when snowflakes or hailstones strike your legs and body in the storm and make you weep, and in order to keep running, you have to wipe away the tears to see the stones, walls, or sky.”

The scoffing followed me having a (if you ever repeat that I uttered this word I will deny it, even though it will be written here for all to see, I will still deny it, in the way my President and probably your President has taught me) fanny-wobble on our hike to find the shipwreck along the coast of Sandy Bay.

I do not like the sea. Unless I’m in Madagascar. I do not like tides. I don’t like it when they come in and I don’t trust them when they go out. This tide was coming in and our time to clamber over the slippery rocks to see the first shipwreck and still return to land before the tide covered said slippery rocks – our only entrance and exit – well, time was ticking. I don’t know how fast or slowly, but it was ticking. And I was scared. I had already slipped and ripped off part of a nail and bruised my right arse cheek. Also, walking over the rusty metal skeleton of a ship long gone is just asking for a severed leg or a metal rod through an eyeball.

So when I posted Kilian’s words of courage, the sentiment seemed out of place. For a person like me. Laughable, clearly. I’ll admit, I’m more likely to hide in the corner of a crowded children’s jumping castle than head out on a trail in snow or lightning. In fact, please see previous blog where lightning strikes my guide while out on a trail.

Which brings me to the next point…

In spite of that harrowing encounter – the lightning striking our zipline while high up in the mountains of Elgin, I still returned. To zipline. In Elgin. Because I’m brave like that. Yes, my eyes might have told a different story as we began sliding down thin wires through the craggy Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve.

My smile might have appeared as more of a grimace than a show of sweet, brave bliss.

But I didn’t chicken out. I went the whole nine yards, or rather, 13 platforms, 11 slides and a swing bridge. And I did it, eventually, with new-found, yes, unexpected, joy. I braved the snow, lightning and butterflies in my stomach, and wiped away the tears to see the stones, walls and sky. I don’t think Kilian would scoff at that.

Granted, there was a family of five with three small children along with us on the ride past waterfalls and through tortuous valleys. I had no choice but to grin and bear it. Those kids will never know what they did for me. My courage might have begun as a pretense, but soon, I can almost promise you, I was ready to do it with my eyes open.

Find out more about the Cape Canopy Tours in Elgin here.

The Land of Mountainous Mountains

I wouldn’t say that I led us astray on purpose, but I’m sure that, in the realm of Freudian slips, I directed us to Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle winery instead of the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (Land of Mountainous Mountains) in Franschhoek, accidentally, unconsciously. Not because I wasn’t up to hill training, and not because I like wine. But because I just like vineyards. Obviously.

The thing about fathers, though, is that they’re very forgiving, and very quick to turn the wheel back en route to the intended daunting destination. They’re helpful like that.

For my father and I, one of the best things in the world is to arrive at a new mountain – the quieter the better – with hours ahead to explore. (Seriously, I do like hills.)

We’ve become better at this hiking thing with age. When before we would take nothing but our uncharged cellphones and the car key, these days we carry backpacks packed with cameras, lenses, sunglasses, reading glasses, prescription glasses, powerbanks, toilet paper, pepper spray, hot water in a flask with tea and coffee in a wee Tupperware container, xylitol, spoons, mugs… It’s lighter than it sounds. And more fun.

Perhaps the most important item among these, though, is The Hanky.

I only overcame a nose-blowing fear in my mid-20s, so how quickly I (now 30) took to The Hanky is testament to the dire need for this underrated throwback when hit with icy air while pacing up or down a rugged slope. The need hits me in the ocean too. It’s the cold air, we think, but it seems it’s also just us. I have never spotted another male or female on a mountain with a Hanky. Perhaps they’re going the tissue route, but I doubt it. Mountain air calls for something much tougher.

As we tested our own robustness along the Uitkyk trail in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (not a vine in sight), a stream flowed like fine wine alongside us, fair ice patted the wooden railings, and the path wound its way to a lookout so grand that it called for the ceremonious opening of the flask.

As we sat on jagged rocks poking into our (my) fleshy rears, our legs dangling over the edge, Father pulled out another throwback to a time past – The Map. What a peculiarity, what a rarity, to have paper between the fingers, eyes scanning the little plan of the rather immense scene before us. And what a scene it was…

To the right lay mountain edge after mountain edge, like a row of hardbacks on a bookshelf, each one drawn out a little further than the one before. To the left was a dam, down in the valley, a shadow of its former self but still casting the reflection of the towering peak beside it, like a mirage calling us to explore never-ending hills. Between left and right, in the bright blue sky, a tiny swallow dive-bombed two crows three times its size.

Time has changed something else too, I noticed… not the mountains themselves, but how we see them. I can’t speak for Father; he has always been a mountain creature, his fire only burns more fiercely now. As a little-legged tomboy, I simply followed Dad, like a pup in a wolf pack. Now, the fire is something that is very much my own.

Even when I try steer us to the land of deep red grapes and cheese platters.

Even though it means carrying damp polka-dot or tartan cloths around.

And especially because of the very real way the mountain brings me back to nature, back to basics, and back to myself, with each hike.

For Your Information

Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is part of the UNESCO declared Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve. Situated in the Franschhoek Mountains, the reserve offers spectacular views of the Franschhoek Valley, diverse plant life and over 30km of safe, well-maintained hiking trails (ranging from 2 hour walks to day hikes).

Discover more about the trail we took here.

Web: http://www.montrochellehiking.co.za

The Infinite Intrigue of Bushman Rock Art

Bushmans Kloof rock art 5

Once a year, do something you’ve never done before, people will tell you. Just as good, though, is doing something you’ve done many times, but with people who haven’t.

Because just when you think you have seen, thought, felt and captured all there is to see, think, feel and capture about a place, a young girl or a grown man come along and offer you a world through different eyes.

When it comes to viewing rock art in the ancient caves of the Cederberg, there is no end to new and contrary views…

Bushmans Kloof rock art 9

Pointing to a series of painted dots winding across the rock face of the cave we were gathered in, in the heart of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, the girl excitedly shouted, “It’s a snake! A looong snake!” Her voice echoed in the enclosure. She frowned and interrupted herself, revealing the difficulty of the task at hand, “Or it’s a whole lot of people standing in a line…”

I had never noticed it before – the snake or the queue. (Or was it a necklace of ostrich beads? A spirit on a journey?) On a previous expedition to this particular Bushman rock art site in the reserve, my attention had been called exclusively to the elephant and the long-armed man. I remember them most. Through the girl’s fresh, first-time gaze, the other details came to life.

Bushmans Kloof rock art 11

“That looks like Captain Hook!” Her hand shot out to direct our attention to the outline of what quite rightly resembled a hook at the end of an arm. “And those are Halloween ghosts!” She continued. Her imagination was rampant and it was thrilling.

The gentleman of our party was taking the silent, serious approach. He was not of the “gaze and guess” school of thought. I wanted, badly, to know how the scene looked through his eyes.

When I cornered him, he fessed up: whereas the girl had only answers, he had only questions. Too many, each new one just perplexing the last, until silence seemed liked the best riposte.

Bushmans Kloof rock art 13

He continued listening to our guide for greater clarification. Taking us back 10,000 years, to when some of the over 130 rock art sites in the Cederberg were created, the guide painted the picture for us so vividly that silence fell over us all. In front of my eyes, the Bushman tribe’s everyday life materialised, and then their spiritual practices – the shamans, the trance dance, the mystical spirit world.

“But how do they do it? The painting?” The girl asked. “With their fingers?”

Sometimes the right questions to ask are the simple ones.

Bushmans Kloof rock art 1

Our guide presented her with an example of the reeds used as paintbrushes, rolling them between his fingers, and then moved on to explain the pigments, all mineral in origin: the reds, browns and yellows made from ochres; whites from silica, china clay and gypsum; blacks from specularite or other manganese minerals.

When he added that blood and egg albumin were sometimes used as paint binders, the girl’s expression shot from wide eyes to “Eeeew” to more frowning, as she tried to figure out the intricacies of the Bushmen paintings, of this strange other world she’d never heard of before now.

Bushmans Kloof rock art 14

She grew quiet as the guide explained that the Bushmen were mankind’s oldest nation. That they lived in these mountains for 120,000 years. And that, as hunter-gatherers, they had something we have lost as a society: a deep and profound connection with the land, not only an intimate knowledge of the natural world, but a genuine state of harmony with it too.

I guessed that the magic was hitting her – the significance of being cheek-to-cheek with some of the oldest art in the world, of standing on land once trodden by “the first people”. I remembered, while watching her, the moment it had all hit me as a young girl and I knew then that she too would be back. Called by the infinite intrigue of Bushman rock art.

Bushmans Kloof rock art 6

Read more: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat here, with Relais & Châteaux.

A Safari Morning

In the early morning, mine is the only voice I hear.

You might think this odd. You’ll think, ok, this girl talks to herself. But it also has to do with reflexes. Tap my elbow and see my arm shoot out. Stand on my toe and hear me shout.
Show me a sunrise from a treehouse in the wild, the sound of elephants and that coo coo of a distant dove and listen for my woahs and wows. My unbelievables and you’re kidding me’s.

There’s the voice inside my head too, when the peace and quiet feels too good to disturb.
This is how a morning in my villa at Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa begins. This is a morning in Africa, the wilderness.

Without anyone around, my hands dance from white duvet to coffee cup, slipper to nightgown, as I slip out through the sliding doors, closing them to keep the monkeys out (I’d much rather they played in the trees). I take my place in the moving gold light as it spreads over the entire deck, reminding me of the passing of time and seasons, even though I feel worlds away from these concepts.

There is more coffee and then the move from slippers to shoes, gown to jersey, inside voice to outside voice. I follow the trail through the trees to our game vehicle, our ranger and tracker, other guests, cameras and binoculars adorning our necks like ancient Egyptian wesekhs.

The scent of promise is in the air. The engine turns on and beanies are slipped over ears, scarves around noses, smiles across faces.

I do that talking to myself thing again (the outside peace still holding) and bet myself I’ll see an elephant first. Lots of them. Babies, curling through the legs of their mothers. A great troupe with trunks in the air.

I heard them first, at the villa, and I hear them again now, like clockwork, as they say. You owe me tea, I tell myself. The whole herd swims across our view as though floating in a deep river.

In that moment, I remember being on top of one of these greats, at an elephant sanctuary in South Africa, one of the humane few. I remember that inimitable slow sidling of their amble, like a wild lullaby. I remember the feeling of the elephant tickling my ear after our ride, back on terra firma, its hairy trunk, how its physical touch connected me to it, it to me, for life, in my mind at least.

But in the wild at Londolozi, even without touching, this morning family mesmerises us all.

We climb out of the vehicle and stand around the front while the ranger hands us more coffee, steaming like our hot breaths in the cold air, champagne, biscuits, Amarula… Sharing the same ground now as the wild things, feeling the earth beneath us, part of us, I wave to the last elephant. Safari njema, inside voice announces.

And this I promise you, as though hearing me and my heart’s fastening beat, the elephant waves back and then trumpets the final note in our morning song.

Read more about Relais & Châteaux in Africa and the Indian Ocean islands here >