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.

The Art of The Road Trip

The Cellars-Hohenort

The art of the road trip is not merely about the car.

But we’d be fibbing if we denied that it mattered at all. The car can, in truth, make or break the journey, depending on your strength of mind. The most progressed traveller is of course unperturbed by any slight of comfort, unbreakable no matter the carriage… Mini, tuk tuk, LandRover. But it transforms the journey substantially when you have a car like the brand new BMW 640i Gran Coupé and 750i Sedan. With iPad-size TV screens on the back of the seats and a holograph projection of the speedometre on the driver’s window. Even the rain on our own road trip last Friday, which threatened to shake our travellers’ resolve, was forgivable in the seat of such a vehicle.

The art of the road trip is also not merely about the people.

While not the be-all and end-all, however, the company you choose is important. As Dan Eldon, the late photojournalist who was well-known for his journals documenting his travels through Africa, said: “Select your team with care.”

dan-about-hero

The team we selected for our adventure combined business and pleasure, our Director, AC, and familiar faces from the media – from Culinary Artist and Chef Magazine, Real Estate Magazine, iafrica Travel, and Premier and Slow Magazine. People like us. People with a taste for the finer things in life.

This is surely the main crux of The Road Trip – the search for those finer things, the little pleasures in life that call on each of your senses. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells… For us, it is this sensory journey of the Route du Bonheur, as we call it, that excites us. Route du Bonheur… the Road to Happiness. A road paved with good food and wine, inspiring art and conversation.

The Cellars-Hohenort

Some road trips are an amble of spontaneity, the destinations decided on a whim en route. In locales such as the Western Cape of South Africa, this is particularly rewarding; there are unique sights every which way. This Friday, ours was a little more planned. We set the nose of our BMW convoy toward the Winelands, starting with lunch at The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, moving on to Delaire Graff Estate between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, for a wine tasting, and ending at Ellerman House on the coast in Bantry Bay, Cape Town, for a guided art tour and dinner. Below is a glimpse into our sensory journey.

6

Above: Michael Deg of Delaire Graff

The Five Senses of the Road Trip

1. Touch

Ah, mon chéri! The touch of the BMW 640i Gran Coupé and 750i Sedan, the sweet cushion to our adventure…

BMW


2. Taste

The dining experience at both The Conservatory at The Cellars-Hohenort and at Ellerman House is very much a journey in itself. Beyond merely having a beginning and end, it veers right and then left, winds with the changes in flavour and surprises in the same way a road trip does. Discover more about the tastes of South Africa in our video interview about the Inspirational Chefs of Relais & Châteaux with Peter Tempelhoff, Executive Chef of The Collection by Liz McGrath, which includes The Cellars-Hohenort. Below is a glimpse into our lunch at The Conservatory, compliments of Chef Delia Harbottle.

3

The Cellars-Hohenort

4

The Cellars-Hohenort 1

Above, top to bottom: Linguine Nero, with seared and crispy calamari, tomato fondue, spring onion, squid ink sauce; butternut soup of the day and Pan Seared Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Broccoli, peas, deep fried halloumi, hon shimejii mushrooms, pea sauce; Grilled Springbok Rump; Pineapple tarte tatin with salted caramel sauce and chai ice-cream | Nougat ice-cream with crushed macaroons and strawberry jelly

3. Smell

The first swirl and whiff of wine is always what gets me. At our wine tasting at Delaire Graff, accomplished South African winemaker, Morné Vrey, who has been at the estate for nine years now, guided our noses through the reds and whites, and Delaire Graff’s very first Méthode Cap Classique – the Delaire Graff Sunrise Brut, in a wine experience paired with oysters from the kitchen of Chef Michael Deg.

Ellerman House

Delaire Graff

5

Discover more about the wines of South Africa in our video interview with Relais & Châteaux Somellier at Ellerman House, Manuel Cabello.

The aromas of nature are just as powerful – aromas that the gardens of The Cellars-Hohenort provide in abundance.

The Gardeners Cottage

Cellars-Hohenort

The Cellars-Hohenort 1

Hound


4. Sights

The men behind Delaire Graff and Ellerman House, the owners, Lawrence Graff and Paul Harris respectively, are two of South Africa’s most established and envied art collectors. Works from their private art collections sit on the walls of their hotels. At Delaire Graff The Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff welcomes you in the entrance, along with works by artists you’ll find in the halls and gallery of Ellerman House as well (like minds…). Names such as William Kentridge, Angus Taylor, Dylan Lewis, John Meyer and Lionel Smit.

Margaret Slabbert, Paul Harris’ favoured art curator, guided us through the works of Ellerman House, our road trip’s final destination, shedding light on the deeper meaning behind the art.

Below: An art tour with Margaret Slabbert at Ellerman House

Ellerman House

Artwork

John Meyer

Art at Ellerman

Below: Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff Estate

Delaire Graff Indochine Restaurant

Delaire Graff Indochine


5. Sounds

The chorus of the road… Barry White, the chosen soundtrack of our road trip (chosen by whom in our team, I’m not quite sure, but there he was, singing over the CD player…); the rain falling on the roof of our golf cart around Delaire Graff; the constant quack of the mother duck protecting her new hatchlings at The Cellars-Hohenort; the clink of wine glasses and the sound of our own voices making new friends at Ellerman House; and the comforting joy of silence when the trip is over. Such are the sounds of the art we call The Road Trip.

Quackers


Take a look at our other Routes Du Bonheur for more inspiration for your tour of happiness through South Africa and further into the African continent.

The Secret Garden of Ellerman House

Ellerman House

As an outsider looking in, it’s a simple thing you see. A garden. But for the insider, it’s not simple at all. They see purpose in every corner, life in every dab of shade. It is the library lonely children retreat to, the playground for overactive imaginations, the church to marvel in, the remote island to find quiet in the storm.

The garden of Ellerman House is no different, whatever age you enter as, 18 or 81. Last year, we at Relais & Châteaux turned 60. And we chose to celebrate it in this very garden at Ellerman House beside the Atlantic Ocean.

Assisting us was one Paul Odendaal. A well-known name in the landscaping and gardening fraternity, Paul planted 60 roses dedicated to Relais & Chateâux in the estate’s indigenous garden for the occasion. We knew our roses were in good hands (or greenfingers) as Paul, together with Keith Kirsten and Raymond Hudson, was also part of the team that created the magnificent gardens at Delaire Graff in Stellenbosch.

Roses at Ellerman House

In the spirit of the Chelsea Flower Show in London this week, we wanted to bring you a special feature from one of our own gardens, on the coast of South Africa. Britta Dahms from Ellerman House shadowed Paul through the green corners of the hotel to find out what he’s currently up to…

“When we caught up with Paul, he was busy planting Agapanthus in the garden next to the bottom terrace. He has chosen Agapanthus Blue Bayou and states that the indigenous plant will compliment the panoramic ocean views and not grow too tall and obstruct the view. He added Dierama (fishermen’s bells) and Wild Garlic to name a few to the mix and noted that it will provide the section with flowers all year round and provide some variety on the terrace.

Paul draws his inspiration from the surroundings as well as the climate and noted that he simply loves the Mediterranean climate in Cape Town as it provides opportunity to plant a variety of species. The brief he received for the garden at Ellerman House was to use only indigenous flora, including fynbos and incorporation some plant material that are sometime forgotten like Belladona lilies.

Fynbos grows in a 150km to 200km belt along the coast of South Africa and forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom that is part of only 6 floral kingdoms in the world. Paul mentioned that working with Fynbos could be quite tricky as a fynbos garden can quickly look like a veld or grow in all directions at once. His aim at Ellerman House is to make the space look like a landscaped garden and make the Fynbos work with him in creating the beautiful garden.

We are very excited to see how the garden at Ellerman House evolves into a beautiful landscaped replica of the indigenous plants we find all over Cape Town and the surrounds. We will also be keeping a close eye on the Relais & Châteaux roses after the winter so be sure to watch this space.”

Roses

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”

― Michael Pollan
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education