Warmth. Nothing better. The sun is slowly climbing and washing the red sand and carved rocks in its golden warmth as it chases away the lingering cool remnants of the night . I lie on a rock luxuriating in the warmth as slowly energy seeps into my languid body. I notice a movement and suddenly a shadow drapes across my rock. I remain still. Moving is out of the question. I've only just started to recharge. The shadow passes and I'm pleased I chose not to move. Aah…sun…
At about 3pm local time we leave our current base in the picturesque village of Franschhoek and head out to our next destination, Kagga Kamma Park in the Cedarberg mountains. Soon we are winding past beautiful wine farms before dipping into the scenic Ceres valley – the home of the world’s best fruit juices. We then begin to ascend into the Cedarberg mountains and are welcomed by a gravel road. On and on we drive yet we do not see another human for nearly an hour. It's as though we are driving on some deserted Martian landscape with beautiful sculpted rock formations painted rich earthy colors seemingly positioned by a giant alien race.
With still not a single living being in sight we begin to question. Are we heading in the right direction? Have we been transmorphlocated to another planet? Has everyone on earth been evaporated by a meteor impact and we are all that is left? At this stage all options seem equally viable.
Just as we are leaning towards the meteor impact theory we arrive at the Kagga Kamma gate where a lone sentinel hands us a form to sign thereby granting us access to the desolate realm beyond. “Maybe he’s an alien,” we muse as he hardly speaks to us. Immediately we are welcomed by a sign saying the reception is still another 4km away. We are glad that we have Pajey for this trip as he is enjoying the rugged terrain and corrugated road as the four wheel drive grips firmly to the rugged road. Soon all our fillings have fallen out of our teeth and our milk is now cream, but at least the car’s having fun.
We are almost on top of the office before we see it, it is so well blended into the giant rocks strewn artfully across the landscape. We discover that our timeshare, like all things in this vast space, is a good bounce and drive away from the reception – just enough to pry lose those last few resilient fillings. I see some poor guy who has done this trip in his little Toyota Etios. He is staring blankly into space, a pallid facial expression and a single twitching eye, all telltale signs of PDT syndrome – Post Dirt Track Syndrome. I'm glad our Etios is snoozing at home as Pajey loved the roads.
“What do you mean there’s no Internet,” the girls shout out in unison. They have a similar look to the poor guy with PDT syndrome, yet theirs is worse. Their wide eyes, sweaty brows and twitching thumbs are all classic signs of SIC syndrome – Sudden Internet Cessation syndrome - a terrible infliction to see a teenager suffer. “Yep, you heard right?” I say. “There is no cell phone signal,” I say enunciating each word for effect while enjoying witnessing the onset of SIC syndrome. “We are off the grid. No cell phone. No Internet. No Facebook. No Instagram. No…thing.” As the shocking news sets in and they turn from pale white to deathly shades of grey I quickly try and give them hope. “However, there is an Internet connection up at the pub. It's just a 2km hike through the desert.” This is going to test their love.
Our accommodation is beautiful, a thatched chalet which is cool inside and welcomes us with the wonderful smell of stone floors and thatched roof that shout “holiday!” As the sun dips over the distant mountains the rocks are painted a rust color while the nearly full moon rises in the deep purple sky behind us. The silence is deafening as the evening stretches over this vast place - a place where you can truly disconnect (literally) and refuel. As I doze off in the absolute silence of the night I'm thinking how our unplugging will be an interesting social experiment.
Nothing…that is the overwhelming sense out here in the Cederberg mountains. A beautiful sense of nothing. Just quiet, open spaces and beautiful tranquil scenes. We begin the day at sunrise, standing on a rock outside our chalet watching as the sun cracks the horizon with its golden rays, sending streaks of light lancing skyward. The amazing rock formations create incredible shapes as they are slowly brought back to life and colour.
It's time to explore the rugged terrain that stretches out before our chalet towards the distant mountains. We choose the 4km walk that winds down into a valley passing between towering rocks carved by a divine artist and overhanging caves with incredible ancient bushmen paintings. I see a cave that looks like it might have paintings and make my way towards it. As I near I notice a lizard lying on a rock watching me approach. It seems unconcerned, simply fixing me with its beedy eyes as I pass by it by. I’m in it’s home now, and a beautiful home it is.
The walk is a visual feast but soon the sun makes itself felt even more so as we lose the path - something we are particularly good at. It’s still a wonder we did not get lost on the Shipwreck Trail earlier in the year. Charting our own course over the rocky terrain we eventually find our way back and head straight for the pool. Set between huge rocks and next to more bushman paintings this is a perfect place to relax and cool down while a swarm of dassies look pensively down at us.
I'm not sure who breaks first, the kids or me, but this e-disconnect experiment is not working. We all clamber into the car and bounce our way up to the pub. We need to get online just to check if the world is OK. It's been nearly 18 hours! Surely that’s a long enough techno-fast? The connection is akin to sucking double-thick milkshake through a toothpick-size straw, but at least we have touched the outside world, even if only a few bytes of it. After a couple of hours of patience-inducing e-drip feeding we return to relax off the grid once more at our cottage. “I think we are A-D-D I Dicted,” Hannah says sagely…and I think she is right. I feel my forehead for the telltale SIC symptoms. “I have to blog don’t I? I need to be online….I think?”
The plan is to have sundowners out in the wild, so we leap into Pajey and head out to explore the wilds. The roads which are a combination of thick sand and rock wind through stunning vistas until finally we find what looks like an undiscovered Stonehenge. Huge rocks balancing on one another, seemingly positioned by some super ancient race, are clustered together. It's breathtaking! In the distance, over the mountains, a storm is brewing as sheets of rain try desperately to reach downwards from the dark clouds above to the bone dry land below, while occasional streaks of lightening sparkle across the sky.
We climb on top of the monolithic rock structures and its as if we are standing atop ancient spires witnessing the birth of a new world. As the sun begins to break out in golden light beneath the cloud bank, before it sinks behind the distant mountains, we go and sit on top of Pajey. Hannah has set our sundowner spot atop Pajey’s roofrack with a soft blanket and our trusty Howzat chairs. This has to be the ultimate spot to watch the visual feast of this epic sunset unfold before us.
Sipping wine, sitting on top of the car, with not a person in sight, enveloped by the early evening sounds and drinking in the most spectacular sunset is almost too much for the senses to absorb. I just can't get enough of the stark beauty of this area. The rusty colours that rise to meet the deep blue sky are beyond words. And that's before the sunset hurls dripping swathes of red and orange and gold at the dramatic clouds. This has to be one of the best sundowners I've ever experienced. Maybe we have been transported to another planet by a super-alien race. If so, I'm staying! Farewell earthlings!
It's a great time of year mainly because there's no shortage of food. Yet I know that it won't always be like this. In a short time the sun will not be as warm and the days will be short. So I don't take the food for granted. Even though we have enough I'm constantly searching for more. Yet today there are so many people around. It's unusual. Every now and then I spot an opportunity to dart down. I've seen an acorn lying just below a nearby tree. I climb rapidly down and dart across the open grass. Grasping the acorn with glee I turn to climb my tree. My heart leaps as a huge person towers over me. I jump backwards clawing at a nearby tree as I scuttle to the safety above, thankfully still holding my find.
There are many amazing things you can do on the Western Cape but if you are there at the right time of year, like the end of summer, there is a real treat you can share in. In what has echoes of Biblical times, we head to Eikendal Wine Farm to celebrate their annual harvest. We had been warned to get there early to secure a good spot so using our Berg Time to our advantage – we moved our watches two hours forward in January and we're still enjoying it - we manage to get there by 10am Local Time, 12 noon Berg Time.
We are ahead of the imminent masses and find a lovely tree and table near the edge overlooking the vineyards on one side and the lake on the other. Hannah and Josh notice an unused mega bean bag and drag it over to our idyllic spot. They plop down onto their comfy spot and we lean back to watch the arrivals.
Slowly like ants attracted to honey the crowds begin to roll in. Lounging in our spot we watch the latecomers’ despair as they search in vain for a nice table but have to settle for a spot under the burning sun. And so a day of relaxation and celebration unfolds. From tractor rides to grape stomping to art exhibitions to just chatting or lying on the huge bean bag, this is a wonderful way to spend a day.
The highlights are the grape stomping and the wine christening. Huge barrels of grapes are brought and throwing decorum to the wind the revelers leap in barefooted, dresses lifted high and long trousers pulled up. Children giggle excitedly as locals and foreigners, young and old enjoy the squishy sensation of crushing grapes with their feet. I'm not sure I'd want to drink the resultant wine, it piquant, somewhat acidic flavours with a lingering sweaty nose might not be the best. But it is sure fun stomping those grapes.
The harvest celebration pinnacle involves the naming and releasing of the new season’s wine. This year the 2015 Chardonnay is named after Solly Kramers wife, Anita. Of course what's the worth of naming without tasting! A huge barrel is opened and faster than squirrels on heat the crowds converge. I stand patiently in the line and am finally rewarded with a glass of strange milky colored wine – apparently this milky color is part of the final wine process. With glee I navigate the swarming harvest revelers with my glass headed for our table. I'm so intent on my destination I nearly step on a squirrel who also must have been celebrating with too much fruit of the vine judging from his startled expression and hasty exit up a tree. We drink deeply of the new vintage enjoying is tropical and slightly sweet taste. Here’s to Anita!
With the lingering taste of joy filling our souls we finally leave to pick up Sarah who has spent the weekend with her friends at UCT before heading back to our base at Franschhoek.
One might be tempted to think that this is the end of the day. One would be wrong – this is the Cape and there is always the prospect of a sunset which one cannot leave unseen. So Nicky and I, armed with sushi and a drop more wine, head to our special sunset dam in Franschhoek where we toast the end of a wonderful day and give thanks to God who has made all things possible.
Blue skies and deep cool shade blended with live music and good food results in a full bodied experience with a long finish. This truly has been a time of celebration.
The sun’s just rising as it breaks through the dark clouds. I sniff the air sensing danger but I’m not sure what it is. Hearing nothing I turn to to eat the new leaves from a tree next to the gently flowing river. Moments later I look up again. Something is wrong. I sniff the air again. I can hear something. It’s seems far off. What is it? The others in the herd are also looking up now, all staring in the same direction searching for the source of the strange sound. My muscles are tense, ready to propel me away from danger. All of a sudden one of the herd breaks into a gallop and I instinctively respond by leaping off in the same direction. Moments later a thunderous sound rises behind me. My heart is pounding as I strain to outrun the sound. My nostrils flare as I snuffle the air still trying desperately to identify the danger. And then I see it. My eyes roll in horror. I renew my effort to avoid it, but…
We drive along a gravel road that looks like we are lost and simply heading off into the Lost World, but all of a sudden a group of buildings appears and with the crunch of our tires on the gravel we park our Pajero. We’ve arrived at the West Coast Fossil Park. Inside the building offers welcome respite from the heat outside. We’ve come here to do a tour of the fossil finds that have been made in this area. As we wait for a guide to do a presentation we look around at the displays describing what they think happened in this area. The eerie frozen posture of a stuffed lassie alongside other stuffed animals gives the place a “Night in the Museum” feel. I wonder if these creatures run riot here when all the tourists have left?
Our guide introduces herself and then shows us a brief video of what archaeologists think happened in this area gazillions of years ago. However, while this is interesting, the reason we are here is the promised tour of the fossil dig site. Soon we have left the slightly ageing museum and are following our guide’s bakkie back along a dirt track to the dig site. The trail of four cars comes to a halt in a cloud of dust as we all emerge to cluster around an information sign. Beyond the sign is a valley with several dome covered structures. Our guide explains the history and geology of the land as we look on with expectation of what lies within the covered dig sites.
Soon we shuffle down uneven, rudimentary stairs and arrive at a sorting deck. It contains thousands of small stones that are shaken to let the dirt drop through in order to allow archaeologists to search for potential fossils. It looks exhausting, and we are just looking at the pile of it-all-looks-the-same stones not trying to sort it.
Entering the covered dig site we find we are walking on a suspended platform and below us a crisscross arrangement of strings has been strung to organise the various sections of the dig. A mass of bones can be seen protruding all over the place. It looks like Night at the Museum gone wrong, with so many bones sticking out of rocks.
“This is a Sivathere,” our guide says pointing at a bone half protruding from what looks like hard mud. “It’s a short necked, long horned giraffe.” I’m not seeing much giraffe, just a few bones that look like they fell off some dude’s braai. “This is a section of the Sivathere’s jaw,” he says pointing with a long stick at one of the bones. Sure enough it does look like a jaw bone, a pretty large one at that. This giraffe-like animal which looks more like an impala on steroids, stands 3 meters in height. It’s a monster giraffe.
“Check out how big it is,” Josh says, standing next to a drawing of it. This gives me an appreciation of its size. It’s massive. “There are over 500 Sivatheres entombed in the mud in this area,” our guide continues. “It seems that they were grazing in this area and a flash flood came roaring down the valley drowning them all.” This is amazing as there is no river in sight anymore. Our guide explains that this area was once a forest with a river and the sea was a lot closer than it is today. Looking outside at the dry, dusty area its hard to believe. But there's no doubt there are lots of these Siva things all over the place here. Either something disastrous happened to them or it was a mass suicide or some bushmen had a big Siva Steak party one night!
It is truly amazing standing there looking at the scene of obvious destruction with hundreds of animal bones all scattered around. “Each square,” our guide says pointing at one of the hundreds of squares in the excavation, “takes a week to excavate.” I’m not sure I would have the patience for this. This is confirmed a few minutes later. After ending our tour of the dig site we drive back to the admin building where we are led through a sorting center. Our guide holds up a jar with thousands of tiny white sticks in it. “Any idea what these are?” he asks. It seems like a silly question to me. “Tiny white sticks,” I answer knowing I’m going to get the teachers-bright-spark-award. Alas, I’m to be disappointed. “No," he says casting me a disdainful look, "these are the frog tibias,” he replies. "Hang! How did I not guess that," I wonder. “All femurs, tibias, etc. are sorted and kept together, like in this jar here,” he says pointing to another jar with millions more tiny white sticks in it.
It’s now that I realise I’ve made the correct career choice. Hey this is fascinating. I loved learning about the Siva-thing and how it may have met it’s untimely end, but wow, I can’t see me dusting off bones for weeks on end to then be rewarded with sorting frog sticks into bottles. I can hardly keep my socks sorted.
“I’m just grateful there are people that enjoy this,” I say, as we enjoy a snack in the tea garden at the end of our tour. One of my in-laws friends who accompanied us says, “I’m just grateful they allow fossils to visit fossils”, laughing as he digs into his huge lemon meringue slice. There’s no doubt, this has been a fascinating experience, stepping back in time. What is most amazing is that we walk not just in a place but in a time. Where I now stand others have once stood and others will one day stand. We live for just a moment, we should make the most of our time and not let our legacy be just a frog bone in a jar of history, but a meaningful difference in the lives of those we pass by in our brief journey.