Sunday, 3 August 2014

Cederberg and the Sevilla Trail: Capturing Imagination

I wondered why they used so many clicks in their language. I once heard someone speak in Bushman language: it was at some occasion in Southern Namibia, or South West Africa at the time. Interestingly enough it was a Lebanese man who was brought up among the descendants of Bushmen.

These were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I walked along the Sevilla Trail in the Cederberg mountains, close to Clanwilliam today. Perfect weather for this trail: we wondered if it wasn't going to be too cold, but as we walked, layers of clothing came off. In summer months, we might well have swum in the river.

To get to the Sevilla Trail, you drive about twenty minutes to the east, over the Pakhuis Pass. During the drive, you'll get a good taste of what these robust mountains are about: stark, unexpectedly shaped, randomly balanced: there's something special at work here that did its work millenia ago, and still hovers with presence.

I wondered if you ever heard them from afar, singing, talking. Maybe they were as silent as the plants, but if their paintings are anything to go by, they made all kinds of impressions on their environment.

They have been exterminated. Hunted, shot, killed on purpose, you will find not a real one anymore, yet their legacy is imprinted on the rocks, and their lives still echo from the Brandewyns Rivier.

The starting point is Travellers Rest. There you buy your permit to enter a protected area:ZAR 40 for each of us today. Not too much for locals, nothing for international travellers whose currency laughs at the rand, these days.

We began at the gate made of a sawn-off bakkie railing.

You follow the white footprints. Apparently one year they faded, and a lot of direction was lost. However, today they were clear and bright.

If you are prepared to look for these markers, prepare to lose contact with the present, and to enter a timeless space where ecology, impressions and imagination interact and overlap.

The Sevilla Trail has nine sites of rock art spread over four and a half kilometers. You don't have to walk the whole route. Today we had time only for the first five sites.

The first bit is beside the river, the presence of which resounds much of the trail. No wonder they made home here.

A huge amount of water washed and moved this area millenia ago. The rock formations and sediment attest to this.

After about a kilometer, Site One is well marked. Follow the white footsteps, into pockets of exotica, rock. pond-life and conscious caves where images laugh back at you, defying interpretation.

What were they thinking, following these paths of painting?

On the one hand you have the mystique of rock-framed entrances to another universe, and paths of plants bursting with life.

Then, on the other, the paintings reflect something that brings a more distant past right ino the present focus.

What were they thinking? How did they experience thet magic that moved through the place?

The thing is, walk the trail, enter a world that isn't your normal pattern of knowing and feeling, and come away with with something powerful that an imagination beyond your's has engendered.

That's what makes the difference.

My impression is that the river they heard still runs. No doubt they gave it another name which has long been lost. Nevertheless the sound is similar, no matter the time that has passed.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

On the way: Spring 2014 at Saint du Barrys, Clanwilliam

The weather has been coming and going. The rain means that the fields and pockets of flowers are going to be there, but no-one can predict exactly where. Guests are reminded to have the sun behind them when they look at flowers to get the full benefit. Warmer days like today bring out the flowers, which are remarkable already.

This was taken in the late morning, on our usual walk.

Not bad for a winter's morning. This is a farm dam at the vineyards that surround the cemetery where we walk our dogs. At this time, the vines are bare and pruned, and the town is visible in the background.

The daily maximum temperatures are fluctuating between 13 and 22C, combined with rain or sunshine, as the case may be. The dam is full, and today the Jan Dissels river is running in full spate as well.

And the flowers are out.

These were taken around town today, no further than about one kilometer from Saint du Barrys. At home, the following are shots of our naartjie tree, outdoor detail, and the custodian of conversation at Saint du Barrys, our African Grey known as Ramius the Red October. He is looking forward to hearing from guests, who need to be aware that if he hears the word "Polly" he has been known to shout out "Say something intelligent!"

It promises to be an outstanding spring.

Guests are once again advised that coming from either north or south, there are roadworks from Citrusdal to Clanwilliam and from Klawer to Clanwilliam. The N7 is usually closed on a Tuesday and Thursday between three and four in the afternoon for blasting. It's a good idea to check with the Tourism Office (027 4822024) to be sure of what's happening on these days.

Looking forward to meeting you!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Winter sun in the Cederberg and at Saint du Barrys

For the past few years, we have been travelling in the UK at this time. Not this year. We have had to adjust dthe shape of our year because of additional family members arriving. I have just taken a short walk in the garden and right now have checked the temperature outside. 25C. I still have on a jersey and a jacket because I have been at the computer for much of the morning, and the office is colder than outside because, being a thoroughfare, we don't ligh the fire until we have settled down for the day.

Today is a good day for being outside, for enjoying the warmth and for noticing how nature is replenishing her growth.

Yesterday we decided to pop into the Dam Bistro just fifty meters away for a late breakfast. Sitting in the sun at a warm table was a good idea, but then we had to move to a table in the shade. It was too hot. The winter sun is a wrestler. Clouds, mist and rain contend, and contend well, dominating part of the season, especially when snow on the Cederberg joins in. But when the sun comes out, the other contestants are dazzled while the audience is warmed.

Give it just a couple of weeks, and the flowers will begin to respond, too. Some rain is forecast this coming Friday, a good sign of a floral explosion soon after.

Generally, May, June and July are the quieter months for tourism in the Cederberg area. Yet there is much to be said for turning this way during our winter: you will find very affordable prices, more sunlight than you would have in Europe, good quality of dining if you know where to look, a experience of nature that penetrates (the cold mornings) and pacifies (the later sunlight. The temperature will not drop to freezing. The height above sea-level in Saint du Barys parking area is 52 meters above sea-level.

While you are driving around in the sunshine, there are always the vineyards and the wine route to follow. More information on these will come later.

I recommend a visit at this time, if only for the sake of tasting a flavour of the Cederberg air that our more usual visitors don't. Because there is less fervour and clamour for a yet more vivid experience of the spring flowers, there is more space and intensity, and if you have or make friends amongst the locals, another dimension of social experience can be added. A restaurant that is not abuzz is often deemed to be boring. My experience is that this is when the most curious conversations occur: where people open up not because of the general atmosphere, but because something special is recognized.

Taking the season less travelled can be remarkably rewarding.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The coming winter solstice at Saint du Barrys

Each year at this time, I begin to tell Joan that summer's almost here. The solstice on 21 June is important to me. In the past I have tried to write a poem every solstice and equinox to mark the season. We've had snow, cold days, dull days and sunny days thus far, this winter. Today we noticed daisies in the late morning sun. But it's far too early for flowers yet. This spring should see good flowers; we've had enough rain to raise expectations. The Jan Dissels River has risen a number of times, water is flowing into the Clanwilliam Dam as I write,quite a bit of it from melted snow that we observed a morning or two ago, on the Cederberg peaks to the east of Saint du Barrys, and the town.

 It is our thirteeenth year of living in Clanwilliam and owning Saint du Barrys Country Lodge, and at the risk of nostalgia, I think of all the seasons we have experienced here. If there's one thing that I've come to feel because of living here, it's the ebb and flow of life according to seasons rather than any strict measurement of hours and minutes.The body has a limited memory when it comes to being in the centre of a season. It barely remembers the inertia brought on by February's soaring temperatures when mid-winter throws down its icy stare. The local people like to remark on the particular characteristics of each season.

Sitting in the afternoon sun, at a comfortable temperature of around 20C, I found my gaze settling on a point where air and matter seemed to merge: I could see so much movement of particles in the light, creating spiralling bridges between plants, earth and air-swirls. Yes, one is fortunate to experience life in this way, sitting on the patio, enjoying the left-overs of chilli con carne, naan bread and cold Blanc de Blanc, musing on the details of this season.

Saint du Barrys has seen growth of many kinds: increase in occupancy, staff stability, greater internet presence, family increase, family travel, favourable exchange rates for guests, town developments.

The last elections came and went peacefully, and the most noticeable thing happening around Clanwilliam is the road construction.We lived through construction between Piketberg and the Piekenierskloof Pass, we lived through construction over the pass itself, now we're living and waiting while the section of the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam is being rebuilt. At the same time, the N7 north of Clanwilliam is also being reconstructed. It's a nuisance but when everything is complete, Cape Town should be no more than two hours away, even less if you ignore the speed cameras at your own peril.

The next construction is to be the dam wall, which has been expected and delayed for years. Once that begins, the value of property on the dam and in the town should increase. New, big changes tend to inspire interest, especially when large areas of water are involved. New playgrounds are always welcome.

Thus, Clanwilliam's climate goes beyond weather. So many little Karoo towns to the east and north-east in the interior have died off. Clanwilliam's heart beats on, quite loudly, when busy days make the main road more like a daring computer game than a traffic thoroughfare. On days like these, tourists are advised to take the main road slowly and carefully, as movement across the road can be more evident than progress up and down the road. The right of way belongs to whoever gets there first. But once the shopping is done, things quiten down, and it's easy to stroll rather than dodge your way while you see what the town has to offer.

Visitors right now are the boulderers, who have waited for the colder weather so that they can grip the rock surface more firmly with finger-tips. Recently we had the dare-devil sport of slack-lining, the one-upmanship that goes beyond the tight-rope.

If you want to see spring flowers, it isn't necessary to wait for August and September. From the first warmer days in July, the flowers make an appearance.

So while we wait to see what happens, we light the fire in our office hearth, choose between a Merlot, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, and dream about tomorrow's meal.

 Five hundred pieces of wood were delivered a few days ago.  They are going down quite rapidly. The height of the pile is a good thermometer to go by.