It’s all about the beauty. And the beast …

Art on the rocks

This is quite an interesting statement with at least three meanings. “Art on the rocks” can literally refer to art (be it paintings or sculptures) that has had a rock as canvas. Read San (also known as Bushman) rock art. Or  it can refer to something undiluted as in say, whisky on the rocks. Thirdly it can idiomatically refer to the threat of something possibly nearing the end of it’s existence (like a marriage on the rocks).

Significantly enough, when it comes to San rock art, all three apply. Firstly because all San art appear on rocks in caves and overhangs where the tribes used to reside, telling stories and revealing their way of life. Often including riddles and secrets. Classic art resembling a modern day comic book. Sort of … Secondly, looking at a San painting, one does not have to be an expert to see that the art on the rock is undiluted art. Beauty on the rocks, in other words. Thirdly, wind, weather, rain and time has been taking its toll on these ancient pieces or art. Not to mention vandalism. Unthinkable, unforgivable but unfortunately true. Like many marriages, many Rock art pieces are well … on the rocks. Some of these paintings are judged to be around 30 000 to 40 000 years old. There is some ethnographic evidence that the pigment was mixed with a variety of binders such as blood, egg, fat and plant juices, but the exact recipes are not known. The reds (blood?) last best with yellow and white fading first.

An eland to the left whith a dancing tribe on the right

A while ago I was visiting friends in a well-known seaside resort on the Westcoast of the Cape in South Africa. Just outside the village there’s a trail up a mountain leading to a cave that eons ago offered shelter to the San. (They used to live almost all over Southern – and even – Central Africa.) The San being the San, expressed themselves with their art on the rocks. I was excited and expectant to see their art. It was there. In faded reds and blacks. The yellow and white almost gone. However, in big fat blue letters someone expressed himself in a gwibble font: Rock Art, all over the original rock art. In the same vein, fellow travellers Dawid and Karlien de Wet visited Witsieshoek in the Drakensberg in Kwazulu-Natal where she took this awesome picture. The photo is a piece of art; the beast is a model. But what is the backdrop?

©Picture: Karlien de Wet

Ok, so the San painted on rocks and it is accepted as art and part of our heritage. Totally. Today modern artists are expressing themselves on surfaces in public. As long as they are not egotistical about it, but express social corrective commentary, it is very much the same as the ancient San art. The famous artist, Faith 47’s public outcry against violating woman is also art. Banksy’s campaign against animals in zoos, the same. Real modern graffiti artist are passionate about art. And they don’t express themselves at the expense of any other artist. If the San told their story on rocks eons ago, who can blame modern man to do the same on modern “cave” walls? As long as they use their own “canvasses”.

However, seeing modern graffiti is easy while the perception is that real ancient rock art is hard to come by. Not really. The nomadic San has left their art all over Africa.

 Introducing the Sevilla Rock Art Trail

In Cape Town, you’ll see lots of awesome graffiti all over, but a suggestion is to also take the N7 highway towards Namibia until you’ll reach the town of Clanwilliam after 240 km. Take the Pakhuis Pass for 34 km until you reach Traveller’s Rest. You are now in the famous Cederberg Conservancy and Traveller’s Rest is like one of the hubs where people can take a breather in this vast wilderness.

A rock full of stories …

The Sevilla Rock Art Trail starts here. The good people of Traveller’s Rest will give you a map directing you to nine sites of some of the better preserved San rock art paintings. On a not too demanding trail of five kilometres in length between the rocky outcrops of the Cederberg you’ll be privileged to see drawings of gathering elders, zebras, elephants, hunters, dancing women, hand imprints and more. There are nine well-marked sites in total, telling their stories.

A different room with a better view

The going along the trail is no too tough, but tough enough to – as the Cederberg can get rather hot – make you feel like something cold when you finish the trail.

If a frosty is your preference, they offer great local craft beers. Two beers going by the names of “Boggom and Voerstek”.  It was developed by Cederberg Brewery, thus very much the local fair. The beers are named after two intrepid travelling characters orinally created by C. Louis Leipoldt, a writer/poet who lived in the same Cederberg area in days gone by. Boggom and Voertsek had no rules and no limits, two nomads living life without limits. They had an unquenchable thirst to see more and therefore travelled far and wide. Travellers and adventurers in the true sense of the word. Now you can follow in their footsteps and at the end of the trail and quench your thirst with the beers named after them.

More than just a cold frosty, at Traveller’s Rest the traveller can also rest in one of their 24 self catering cottages. Rustic down to earth characterful abodes blending into the rocks of the mountain. But rest assured, you won’t be on top of your neighbours; the Cederberg Wilderness is vast.

So there it is. Culture, adventure and a getaway from every day. A mere two hours (give or take) from Cape Town.

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