It’s time to tell you what I was doing in the Western Cape last week, besides bumming around Bo-Kaap. The real purpose of my trip was to visit the Cederberg Wilderness, 240 kilometers northwest of Cape Town, and participate in a hiking adventure called the Cederberg Heritage Route.
The Cederberg Heritage Route is a partnership among a bunch of organizations that want to show the world what the Cederberg has to offer, while empowering local Cederberg communities to profit from responsible tourism. The Cederberg Wilderness is a nature-lover’s paradise, with beautiful mountains, animals, and plants. The area is awash with wildflowers every spring — we caught the tail end of the flower explosion and I’ll do a separate post about that eventually.
The Cederberg also has a unique cultural heritage. It’s filled with ancient rock art, painted nearly 2,000 years ago by the San people, who are believed to be the world’s first humans. Today, the Cederberg is populated by traditional farmers clustered in small Moravian mission villages. The Cederberg Heritage Route offers tourists like me the chance to experience a natural and cultural environment that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
I drove up to the Cederberg from Cape Town last Tuesday, with my two friends Michelle and Nina. (Shout-out to Michelle and Nina, who are the best travel companions ever.) We arrived in Clanwilliam, the jumping-off point for hiking trips in the Cederberg, and settled into our quaint guesthouse, the Yellow Aloe. We explored the town a bit and then met up with Michelle Truter, a representative from Cedarberg African Travel who organized our trip. Michelle briefly explained the itinerary for our journey.
The itinerary was quite complicated, involving a web of hand-offs between various drivers, tour guides, and members of the local community, many of whom speak little English. (The native language in the Cederberg is Afrikaans.) This patchwork approach caused us some confusion and frustration along the way, but it was also part of the charm of the experience.
We were up early the next morning for the first leg of our route: a tour of the Sevilla Rock Art Trail. Gert, our driver, apologized for his silence along the way — he spoke only a little bit of English. He drove us about half an hour to a guest farm called Traveller’s Rest, which is adjacent to the rock art trail, and wandered off down the road. We settled down at a picnic table.
We waited some time for Anne-Lise, our rock art guide, to show up. Turns out she had the dates mixed up, but fortunately someone at Traveller’s Rest had her number. We were a little annoyed when she arrived an hour late but all was quickly forgiven. We fell in love with Anne-Lise the moment we met her. Who knew rock art could be so much fun?
We learned many interesting facts about San rock art. The paintings were created with porcupine quills and twigs, using paint made from egg-yoke, plant dyes, blood, and eland fat. Some of the paint has been eaten away by lichen over the centuries.
Here is the most interesting fact we learned about the rock art: The paintings were created by San shamans, who painted what they saw when they went into a trance state. While trancing, the shamans saw themselves as abnormally large, with giant calf muscles and, uh…members. So that’s what they painted.
It was time to say goodbye to Anne-Lise. After some confusion with Gert about when and where to eat lunch, we gulped down our cheese-and-butter sandwiches outside Traveller’s Rest and then drove to our next date with destiny: the Donkey Cart Adventure.
This is the part of the trip I looked forward to the most. We would travel 12 kilometers from the top of Pakhuis Pass to the village of Heuningvlei, riding/walking with donkey carts — the traditional mode of transport for people living in the Cederberg. We arrived at the top of the pass and met Devon and Johannes, the donkey cart drivers. They loaded our luggage onto the carts and motioned for us to climb aboard.
I had envisioned a small cart pulled by one or two donkeys, who would amble along at human walking speed. In reality, each cart is pulled by a team of five donkeys. And the donkeys run. Fast.
“Haaii!” Johannes cracked his whip. And we were off.
We hurtled down Pakhuis Pass, bouncing about and ducking branches. “Haaii!” Johannes called again. The whip danced above our heads.
“I want to WALK,” yelled Michelle. Johannes seemed not to hear. Perhaps the wind and my guffaws of laughter were drowning out Michelle’s voice. Or maybe Johannes was having too much fun to stop.
Johannes eventually let us off the cart. We were confused about whether or not we should walk ahead or stay behind the carts (language barrier), but it turned out to be a combination of the two — a kind of leap-frog arrangement.
Eventually we all boarded the carts again for the final approach into Heuningvlei. As we galloped into town, a baby donkey came shooting out from behind a house. He ran alongside us and pressed himself up against one of the donkeys pulling the cart. It was his mama! He began to nurse, literally, while we were still moving. It was so precious that I forgot to take pictures.
Luckily though, I had my camera ready for the children who where there to greet us.
End of Part 1. The story continues tomorrow (or maybe the next day).