A group of travellers head into a wilderness at the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains. 270 km from Cape Town, from home, they are on a road trip from coast (Ellerman House), to vineyard (Delaire Graff Estate), to mountain (Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat), to secret garden (The Cellars-Hohenort) and have just reached their third destination. While some of the travellers have ventured to this faraway landscape where wildlife roam freely once before, many are strangers to this new land.
It is a land imbued with red – the red-brown sandstone of its gravel roads, rocky outcrops and mountain peaks, ridges and cliffs that call on the world’s finest, boldest hikers, runners, rock climbers and photographers. Images of Mars come to mind. But then you view the life of this otherworldly habitat and you realise that this is simply a fragment of Earth, an unusual, remarkable fragment, but Earth nonetheless. The first wild thing to greet our explorers is a small herd of klipspringer – the antelopes’ reddy-orange coat looks even redder in the glow of the setting sun.
The group – of travellers, not klipspringers – have arrived in time to see the changing of the Cederberg. Like that of the guards at Buckingham Palace, this change sees the daytime creatures handing over the duty of mountain watch to the animals of the night. Nocturnal beings such as the aardwolf, aardvark and African porcupine. The deep blue sky hanging over the red earth turns over to rest its head on the cushion of another day well-lived.
Other animals you might see at Bushmans Kloof include Cape and bat-eared foxes, Cape clawless otter, caracal and African wild cat, grey rhebok, red hartebeest and bontebok.
Bushmans Kloof protects one of the largest private herds of Cape Mountain Zebra in the world, an animal saved from the brink of extinction, as well as the rare and secretive Cape leopard.
The travellers change too… Their clothes first. They don their outside outfits, jackets and boots for warmth. And then their vehicles – from their road companions on this trip, the BMW X3 and BMW530 D, to an open-sided LandCruiser, that takes them to a lone shepherd’s cottage on an open clearing. Known as The Homestead, the cottage, as far as looks express, has lived a good, long life. It is protected by tall shapes the travellers discern as trees – night is falling fast – and the spark and crackle of a campfire already made.
The travellers’ grip on time relaxes. Mountain Time governs life here, while the spirits of shepherds past and the sparkle of starlight guides the way forward. Inside the cottage, with a fire in the hearth and 100 candles for light, the walls of unfamiliarity that separate the travellers from each other – for they are all, mostly, new to each other – fade. Wine redder, deeper and darker than the earth beneath them, flows – from bottle to glass, glass to lips, even glass to floor, in moments of uncontained ardour.
Meal after meal keeps the party around one long table, together with talk of lives past, present and future. The conversation swims between the candlesticks from one person to another. If their words carried their own light, a photograph of the scene would show an interwoven figure of eight upon figure of eight upon figure of eight.
This is the first day of the travellers’ adventure and it ends with stars. Chief of this new tribe, Guide Nicholas, takes the clan further into the veld, dimming the lights of the 4×4 and, with a laser of Zeus-like strength, he points at, seemingly touches, several stars of interest. The starry formations paint the night sky like the rock art the travellers will glimpse the next morning.
But before then, before the bush breakfasts and morning walks to secret rock caves, the group scatters. Each traveller retreats to a room of her own, to a freestanding tub of her own with hot water to wash off the dust of the day, before the whiteness of their beds and the blackness of that pre-dream phase of slumber takes over.
Of course, they know, the day will never truly, completely, wash off. It has found its way deep into the crevices of their minds, where memories worth holding onto go for safekeeping.
Part two to follow shortly…