Friday, June 17, 2011

San Rock Art and Sublimely Sensuous Spa Treatment at Bushmans Kloof

One of the paintings we saw in the cave we visited. Some of the detail has been lost through the ages, but what has been preserved through time and careful management of these sites, is still remarkable. I'm sure you can all recognise the large shapes as elephant and the narrow forms as depictions of men with bows and arrows.

On the morning of our second day at Bushmans Kloof, we were collected by Jaco bright and early at our appointed meeting place, in order to participate in one of the highlights of any visit to the Cederberg...that of being able to view the ancient Rock Art painting in the numerous sandstone caves found throughout this vast region. The Lodge itself has several caves on site over which it serves as custodian. These are frequently visited by archeologists and students from locally and from abroad and can only be accessed for everyone else, provided you are a guest at Bushmans Kloof. As my guest, you're able to accompany me to the cave we visited. Sadly, we were not able to join the group on our last day, as we had to leave early to head back to the terminal at Cape Town International, where Carol (my sister) was to connect with her fowarding flight to rejoin her husband in Johannesburg before leaving South Africa the next day. 

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Each day, Jaco takes the guest paty assigned to him (a maximum of 8 guests per Guide) to one of the several caves. Due to our time constraints, we only managed to visit one site, but it was incredibly special, nevertheless.
 It was the first time either Carol or I had viewed these paintings up close and personal...

I'd seen many examples in books and copies sold as framed paintings. This particular example is housed in the Resources Centre of the Homestead at Bushmans Kloof...a painting of a painting from one of the caves on site.

However...nothing equates to seeing them in person! I have to admit to having felt unprepared for the feeling I got from being in such close proximity to the real thing, knowing that I was sitting in a low hanging cave that was seated in by the small San people who had generated these fascinating works of art, eons upon eons ago. It felt quite overwhelming. It made me feel quite insignificant, weighing myself through the vast passages of time. A speck of matter in the universe, another particle of dust.

Some of the paintings were executed using finely pointed sticks...others, using fingers...others still, were handprints. Incredibly, the more detailed and finer examples are dated to be the oldest. The rougher and less detailed are younger and this is probably due to the ancestors of the earliest painters having 'lost' the skill through 'intermarrying' with the Khoi when they moved into the San territory and disrupted the traditional way of life of those earliest hunter-gatherers. The Khoi were early farmers and had domesticated herds to support, while the San had survived for eons living solely off the proceeds of the land.

For every theory as to why the San produced these paintings and what their meaning is, there is another to contradict it. Also, because of the materials used (some of the materials have survived the passage of time, other substances have not), there is no single, accurate way to determine the actual datings of these paintings. So much of what we see here, remains shrouded in mystery. The modern Khoisan descendents are not able to shed any light on these questions. This in no way diminishes the impact these paintings have when viewing them for the first, second or even hundredth time and archeologists are still trying to learn their secrets.

We walked across this terrain to reach the cave. Jaco stopped often to point out various spoor, identifying what animal had passed both from its tracks and scat (faeces). He gave us a lesson in geology and botany and pointed out the various bird species we espied along the way.

This is where we'd stopped to enjoy our early morning, pre-breakfast of delicious rusks, muffins and coffee. It was still very cold at that time of the morning and we'd heartily tucked into these goodies in anticipation of our walk to the caves, to view the Bushmen Paintings once we'd finished...

The early morning colours were vivid...a fairly strong breeze was blowing across the water, which chilled the already cool air even more...rain was purportedly headed our way and would arrive with storm force in the late afternoon/evening...which it did!

This ruin was the remains of what was once a farm building...the land was extensively farmed for 50 years, after which it was sold and has since been undergoing intensive rehabilitation. Incredibly, while this land was farmed, it supported extensive fields of beans, onions and other vegetables all heavily fertilised with chemical fertilisers as was the common practice in those days and which ultimately led to the 'death' of the soil (a good case study for poor farming practices, I guess!).

The African bush is, of course, synonymous with thorn trees.

Debbie keeping warm beneath layers of poncho, scarf and hat...this is the life, she seems to be saying!

Gardening enthusiasts will be interested (and possibly as surprised as I was!) to know that here you are viewing the original Mother plant of all modern species and hybrids of the geranium and pelargonium! This is the original parent plant offspring of the whole gamut of modern, colourful, double-flowered, large-leafed, floriferous geraniums and pelargoniums which are grown and prized, worldwide and whose origins are right here, in the incredulous as that may seem, since it looks nothing like the geraniums and pelargoniums we know today. It silvery green leaves are tiny and highly fragranced. It was not flowering at the time we viewed it.

Our cave up ahead :) Excitement is mounting!

I thought I'd give you a well-earned break back at the Spa now...after all that trudging through the bush, up and over and down rocky paths...

View out the back of the Spa...

Yes, you may come out here and relax on this terrace after you've had your treatment...

Just first allow me to show you the Recovery Lounge where you can sit back and sip iced Rooibos tea and nibble on pieces of dried mango and's going to be a toss up to decide which spot holds the most appeal...

An intricately carved African mask table adds interest to the minimalist, white decor of the lounge...

Large gilt-framed mirrors hang opposite each other giving the illusion of depth to the not insubstantial, yet cosy, room.

A peek out of the large glass doors offers another look at those inviting loungers ready placed on the sun drenched lawn...

We do need to announce our arrival at the reception desk...and admire this exquisite orchid (yes, it's real!)...before we go to the nicely appointed changing rooms to ready ourselves for our respective treatments with our prebooked therapists...

This huge mosaic wall mural was specially commissioned by a South African mural artist...each of the pieces of pottery incorporated into the design was specially made...

I have not been able to successfully capture all the details and delicate truly is gorgeous when you view it in person! Really VERY striking and lovely!
 You're now meant to be enjoying your treatments...don't forget to breathe deeply and allow yourself to succumb fully to the deft and gentle hands of the therapist (I had Arina) as she massages your feet and follows this up with a wonderful hot stone massage on legs, back, neck and arms using a fragrant mix of lavender, eucalyptus and geranium aromatherapy oils. Once you've almost fallen asleep, she'll gently wake you alerting you to the fact that she'll now be doing your facial. Ah, Bliss!  When it's over, you want so much for it to begin again...but, you bravely put that thought aside, step outdoors, refreshed and light-headed and stoop to smell the flowers in the garden before you slump down on your recliner.
The blue of this agapanthus seems more vivid than any you've seen before...such is the magic of this place!

The roses are protected under a shade awning...

The perfume from this rose seems sweeter than any you've smelt before...somehow, Bushmans Kloof succeeds in heightening each of your really do wish you never had to leave (or at least, that you could return again, very soon!)

This is, sadly, our last evening...but there's time for one more Game Drive, afterwhich we'll be taken to the Shepherd's Cottage (see earlier post), our designated locale for this evening's buffet dinner! Wrap up warmly in your ponchos, as it is growing decidedly chilly and there are distinct signs that we are in for a wonderful storm...out in the bush! What could be more thrilling and heightening for a rush of adrenalin!

It was incredible watching how rapidly the clouds built up and seeing how soon the storm moved considerately waited until we arrived at the Shepherd's Cottage before it 'let rip!'

We saw a lot more game this second was as if the impending storm had gathered them together. I really needed a good wide-angled lens here!

The light before the storm set in was incredible...luminous, glowing, alive, electric...all the colours were amplified by it!

Once again, the contrasts every-which-way were was as if someone was playing around with a huge torch, flitting the light here, there and everywhere. As with the animals, our own senses were alert, magnified by the gathering storm.

Foreboding clouds setting in...distant rumbles of thunder audibly making themselves known to us out here on the plains...quick flashes of lightning...was it? wasn't it?...followed by a rumble to acknowledge that it was, indeed!  We could smell the damp, earthiness preceding the rain...the animals noses, ears and tails were twitching and raised in expectation.

This was when I needed a more powerful zoom! We could see a double rainbow, but I was unable to capture it with my camera...I was fumbling and battling to steady myself as the wind was really strong and buffetting us and the Landrover.

The animals knew it was going to rain...they were exceedingly skittish and would suddenly break out into a canter (do buck and antelope 'canter?') while the young males (all bachelors) would strut their stuff, trying to impress each other and the disinterested ladies peacefully grazing at a safe distance from them.

A strong wind was blowing and I remember the sky being darker than it seems here...

Shortly after this picture was taken, my battery decided it had had enough! Not 10 minutes later, the heavens opened and we all rushed inside the Shepherd's Cottage to be met by the most beautiful scene...lots and lots of candles, a huge roaring fire in the open grate and a beautifully set table (linen, silver, crystal). What a perfect way to end the day!
Had we been San hunter-gatherers of old, we'd have had our Ostrich shell flasks at the ready, to fill them with the first, generous rains of the season.  This area only receives 200 plus mms of rain per annum...we'd then bury our filled flasks in the soft sand, in strategic places, to be recovered when needed during the dry summer season, when temperatures regularly climb above 40 degrees C and often as high as 47 degrees.

Authentic Ostrich shell flask...a fine specimen of those life-saving water carriers that helped the San peoples survive the long, hot, dry summers when they were off hunting.  How times have changed!

A visit to Bushmans Kloof merges the ancient with the modern, in perfect reconnects you to the earliest times and reminds you that we are all part and parcel of the great circle of life. 

In conclusion, I wish to share this Native American Prayer with you, as I feel the words are applicable to everyone, everywhere, any time...

Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.


  1. All amazing photos, but especially the ancient ones are so impressive! Thank you for sharing them with us!

  2. Oh *sigh* Desiree. What a lovely visit through the caves, (what a heritage those Bushman paintings are), across the African plains, past the farm ruins, through the spa (bliss, I enjoyed this part especially, thanks!) and viewing the handsome buck. Thanks for inviting along! Have a wonderful weekend. Jo

  3. So much history and beauty. We were truly blessed seeing that awesome region. It's a shame your hubby couldn't be there with you to enjoy it. Have a marvelous weekend.

  4. I'm in such awe of the San rock paintings. Thank you for the in-depth descriptions and photos you included of them. I'd have had a lot of questions otherwise :D)

    How very interesting to learn about the mother species of the pelargonium and geranium plant. They're known the world over and we were able to see where they started!

    What a fantastic and wonderful holiday the three of you had - a unique experience no doubt.
    I was so thrilled to just read about it, so have a small understanding of what it must have felt like to have actually been there.
    Your enjoyment of it all was quite infectious - thank you for the way you've shared it with us :D)

  5. What a lot of beautiful pictures again !!.. i really like to come here everey

  6. Good morning, Desiree. Even though I am experiencing Bushmans Kloof through your eyes and words it was a lovely way to start the day. I have seen many pictures created by the San people, but to see them up close and personal would have been a real thrill for me. Thanks for taking me on the tour....kt

  7. Hi Desiree. I love that Native American Prayer at the end of today's post, and what a post it was for us! Stunning photos, as they have been all the way through. It must have been really humbling to be so close up to those cave paintings. The Spa was incredible, and i'm sure that we would all have loved to have been there with you. Such an awesome journey my friend, and thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  8. You have much clearer poictures of San art than we took. Mind you we were dangling out of a helicopter to see the art. As always it's great to be here. Now, I am so behind if you'll excuse me I need some peace and quiet to catch up here with your wonderful posts.
    I also owe you a massive amount of gratitude for the exceptional review you gave me on my first chapter. Will you be my agent?
    Desiree you are a star. XOXO

  9. Just from the pictures and your words I feel as though I have been there! And had a treatment! What a beautiful place! Stunning actually!

    I was fascinated by the cave paintings! To see those in real life must have been tremendous!

    Now that I'm all peace-filled and calm from your marvelous post, I guess further housework will be forgotten! Thanks for that too! LOL

  10. I have so enjoyed my virtual stay :)
    It is a pleasure to have added your button to my blogroll page, thanks so much for returning the gesture.

  11. what amazing pictures the colours beautiful Africa

  12. Thank you again for your generosity in sharing this outstanding story of South Africa's natural beauty!

  13. Once again I am breathless! Fantastic pictures!

  14. The problem is I am not ready to leave this place. Must you make your virtual tours sooooo alluring???
    I ask you!!

    Now to go outside look at the sand and pick up dog gifts...

    Beautiful post as always. Have a wonderful day!

  15. I remember taking a class that introduced me to the ancient cave paintings in France. I would have been thrilled to see these up close. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience with us! I love the story you tell of your adventure. How exiting to experience that storm and then return to candle and firelight. I hope you have many more wonderful adventures like these in your lifetime.

  16. I read through all the posts about the Bushmans Kloof in one go. I'm still fascinated at all the information and the photos. The mountains and natural landscapes are beautiful and you captured a few breathtaking sunsets.

    I will admit, the interior of your room was shocking, in a good way. You would never find anything like this here. I'm sure they really mean it when they say "make yourself at home".

    The old paintings are intriguing themselves. You sit there, looking at something made hundreds of years ago, wondering about its purpose.

    Thank you for taking us on such a lovely trip! I for one would love to go there in person too.

  17. wow...again...thanks for the continued journey...
    of course i love the ancient cave art...but all your pictures...of the landscape, animals, flowers, the rainbow...beautiful! oh and the stop over for a massage...very nice.

  18. Hi Desiree, thanks for your lovely comment, I have just been having a wee blog break, feel much refreshed now:) What a beautiful post, thanks so much for those glorious photos, brightened up a very grey day here:)

  19. What a wonderful visit this has been -- beautiful pictures and such amazing contrasts. I loved seeing the cave art!

  20. Hi Desiree: Thank you for becoming one of my followers but most importantly for your wonderful views and commentary of your trip. I felt like I was there. I wished I had of been. What a wonderful trip.
    I loved the cave paintings I think the best.A time in history we would never known existed except for these paintings. Incredible.
    I am looking forward to reading more of your blog. This will be a great trip for me. Thanks to Susan we will explore things together. B

  21. Everyone who tagged along with me for the ride...

    Thank you all for coming...I LOVED being able to share this incredible experience with you...once again, I must thank my sister, Carol who made it all possible! or two of my followers asked if you'd care to adopt a second sister!

    Big hug,
    Des xoxo

  22. I was finally able to catch up on your trip and read through all 4 posts. WOW, Fantastic pampering in beautiful lodgings with wonderful food, and that doesn't even cover the splendid gardens and outdoor trips~ I really NEED a vacation like this! Thanks for inviting us along~

  23. Hi Desiree, I had to scroll back to see this last post on your fabulous trip. Thanks for taking us all along!


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