Only 270 km from Cape Town, located in the Cederberg Mountains, the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve is a natural haven of wide open plains, rich biodiversity, and the haunting presence of our human ancestors.
Follow Eric Wolfinger through 48 hours of adventure in the middle of the Cederberg mountains - final chapter.
Dinner at Bushmans's features satisfying garden-to-table cooking that seems poised to get even better. Chef Ryan Weakley, a South African who arrived last January, has made a career of being a “bush chef” in remote African game lodges. He coordinates with a team of three full-time gardeners for an array of herbs, salad greens, edible flours, fruits and vegetables that end up at the bar (the mojito is unlike any other) and on the dinner table.
His Steinbock carpaccio beautifully reflects his style of bush cooking and is destined to become a signature: the loin is lightly cured with a whisper of orange zest to play off the gaminess of the animal, then served over caramelized onions with lightly pickled mushrooms and gremolata that refresh the palate through the last bite. The food is backed by a deep list of aging South African wines – a rarity in a country where most of the wine is consumed young but can develop a haunting, layered elegance with good cellaring. The current lopsided exchange rate makes an adventuruos oenophile paying in dollars feel like a tomb raider, and Michel Bouic, the sommelier, is all too happy to help pick the treasure.
On our last outing Londi rewards my enthusiasm for his tales with a trip to a special site further afield than he takes most guests. We stop the truck by a cavernous roof of a cave in the cliffside. Approaching the cave I see rock flakes littering the floor; Londi confirms these are all indeed tools in a cave that was not a temporary shelter but a “living site” where the Bushmen congregated for longer periods of time.
Once inside the cave Londi opens the bag and brings out two sticks. He admits he couldn't find the right ones, but we give it a go anyway. For fifteen minutes we take turns rubbing one stick against the other. We're sweating, our hands hurt, and we have come nowhere near making an ember. Back at the truck Londi rewards our effort with a sunset gin and tonic.
It's past dark as we drive home and my thoughts are drifting toward dinner when Londi slams on the brakes. He walks into the headlights to observe some shallow indentations in the sandy road. He gets on hands and knees to study the tracks and starts thinking aloud: “See the way the tracks are intertwined... it looks like two snakes fought their way across the road... no more than half an hour ago because there are no fresh tire marks over them.”
What mattered to the Bushmen, he explains, is not just finding a track and identifying the animal but understanding the nuances of the indentations left behind to deduce the whole story of what happened. Londi, like the Bushmen, is a storyteller above all else. Bushmans Kloof seems to me the perfect place to immerse ourselves in these stories and connect with our ancient humanity – food, shelter, and fire included in the price.