HEATHER MASON hurtles around the Cederberg in a donkey cart
“Haaii!” Johannes cracked his whip. And we were off. We bounced about, ducking the occasional branch, as our cart, pulled by a team of scruffy donkeys, hurtled down Pakhuis Pass.
“Haaii!” Johannes called again. The whip danced above our heads. “I want to WALK,” yelled my friend Michelle. Johannes seemed not to hear. Perhaps my guffaws were drowning out Michelle’s voice.
Let me back up a bit. My friends Michelle, Nina and I were on a three-day journey along the Cederberg Heritage Route. Located 230 kms northwest of Cape Town, the Cederberg Heritage Route is a partnership of conservation organisations, community initiatives, and a travel agency, seeking to showcase the beauty of the Cederberg Wilderness while empowering the traditional communities in the area. Our journey began the night before in Clanwilliam, the jumping-off point for hiking trips through the Cederberg.
We settled into the quaint Yellow Aloe Guesthouse and met with Cederberg Travel representative Michelle Truter, who handled the bookings along our route. I envisioned the usual guided experience, where I could leave my brain at home and be led along like a kindergartener.
“Will we have one guide for the whole trip?” I asked Michelle. “No,” she said. “You’ll have different guides along the way.” The booklet explained that guides are members of the local community and not always comfortable speaking English. Being American, I don’t speak Afrikaans and neither do my friends. The Cederberg Heritage Route was sounding more adventurous by the minute.
Early the next morning we set off on the first leg of the journey. Gert, our driver, drove us 30 minutes to a guest farm called Traveller’s Rest, where we would tour the Sevilla Rock Art Trail, famous for its well-preserved ancient rock paintings. We parked ourselves at a picnic table and admired the scenery. Twenty minutes passed; the proprietress came outside.
“Are you waiting for Anne-Lise?” she asked. Hmm, we weren’t sure. “Where’s your driver?” she asked. Gert had wandered off. The proprietress went inside to call Anne-Lise. Half an hour later, Anne-Lise Kapp, a registered Cederberg guide and rock art expert, skidded to a halt in the dusty parking lot.
“I’m so sorry,” she said breathlessly. “I had the dates confused.” Within five minutes, all was forgiven. Anne-Lise was charming, fun, and had an informative answer to every one of our infinite questions.
The rock art trail, which comprises nine sites in a 4km radius, includes countless images painted between up to 2000 years ago by the San people. Anne-Lise told us the paintings depicted what San shamans saw in a trance – enlarged calves and penises.
We returned to Traveller’s Rest and enjoyed our packed cheese-and-butter sandwiches. (If you suffer from high cholesterol, the Cederberg Heritage Route is not for you.)
Then back into the car to the start of our donkey cart adventure. Joahnnes eventually let us out of the cart. He and his partner, Devon, spoke nary a word of English, so we had trouble communicating about when to walk and when to ride. But in the end, we walked just enough to feel tired and rode just enough to get our fill of donkey cart exhilaration.
Late in the afternoon, we galloped into the village of Heuningvlei, Johannes and Devon’s home. Heuningvlei is pronounced something like “HYEN-ing-flay” but none of us could get the pronunciation right. Michelle christened the village “Hugel-Bugel”.
Heuningvlei is a traditional farming village supported by the Moravian Church, and one of the most interesting places I’ve ever spent an evening. We slept in a house filled with family photos and knick-knacks, owned by an elderly woman who moved to a nearby town.
We ate fried chicken and potatoes from the kitchen of Daleen van der Westhuizen, the town matriarch. We watched frolicking donkeys and played with the most beautiful children in the Western Cape.
The next day was our “big” hike: 12 kms across Krakadouw Pass. Abraham, our trail guide and a lifelong Hugel-Bugelite, fetched us at our door. We headed straight out of the village and up the pass.
The scenery was gorgeous and we didn’t see another human being. As we hiked the gentle upward slope, Abraham pointed out plants and explained the history of the area.
We learned about the rare cedar trees that used to cover the Cederberg Wilderness. The cedars are nearly extinct now. After we crested the pass, the going was tough. Walking downhill for four hours isn’t easy.
Abraham didn’t like our slow pace and was often several minutes ahead, to our consternation. We were all a bit cross. Even the perky baboons calling in the distance didn’t cheer us up very much. At long last, the terrain flattened out. We rounded a bend and glimpsed a cluster of white cottages surrounded by a sea of wildflowers. Shangri-la!
Actually it was the Krakadouw Cottages at Boskloof, the final destination of our journey. Abraham showed us to our sunny cottage on the banks of the Jan Dissels River. We kicked off our hiking shoes and drank Nescafe with rusks. Later, a fairy godmother appeared with fish breyani and cheesy lasagna for dinner. We were treated to a brilliant sunset and a star-packed sky. What a great ending to a fantastic journey!
- If you’re an adventurous slack-packer looking to break the mould, the Cederberg Heritage Route is for you. It’s not for everyone though. You need to be flexible, prepared for minor communications breakdowns and last-minute changes in plans. And you need to be in reasonable shape. If you’re up for the challenge, a three-night trip costs around R3000, depending on your itinerary.