Faces and footprints

A bit of birdwatching by my son in the Olifantsbos pentad today meant an opportunity to make up for Friday’s cancelled hike, with the prospect of a beach hike from Olifantsbos to the Nolloth and back. Fair weather was forecast for both birding and hiking, and we were at the gate soon after opening time, hoping for a sighting of the otters. Unfortunately, only the early bird catches the worm, and a few distractions along the way meant that all we saw in Otter Alley was a plethora of recent footprints leading up the dune into the thicket of low shrubs where they obviously live. At the foot of the dune was the evidence of previous meals, the scat almost more crushed shell than faeces. Despite our disappointment, it is good to know that the Cape Clawless Otter is thriving on the Peninsula and particularly in this protected area.

As we crossed the pristine beach, washed clean by a receding tide, more footprints crossed our path. This time the local baboon troop, doing what good Chacmas do – kids playing on the dunes, moms and dads down on the rocks foraging for black mussels exposed by the extra low tides after new moon. They showed absolutely no interest in us, and even better, our backpacks where a good supply of banana loaf was waiting for our coffee break. They can smell a banana at 100 metres, I reckon, and a well-sealed container was a godsend. I have had my fair share of baboon raids to appreciate a little chilled behaviour. There were a number of sentries on duty, scanning the beach from a dune, but no alarm was sounded and we proceeded unconcerned.

One of my many interests is geology (a total amateur, but have a large collection of rocks gathered since childhood) and the weathered sandstone of the Reserve, where the harshest conditions exist almost year round, have formed fascinating shapes to excite the imagination. Much has been written about the faces of the mountains and almost every cliff edge has a profile of men, women or animals. In places, the weathering has gouged holes in rocks that are beyond belief, and tales abound of ancient peoples using these as calendars to mark the passing of the seasons. We who have our lives measured down to each second by technology can only benefit by stepping off the hamster wheel and imagine ourselves back in the age before we became too clever and filled our days with frenetic activity, chasing a dream.

Down in the Reserve, time is marked by the flowering of the fynbos, the plumage of the birds, and the direction of the wind, which covers and uncovers the landscape with shifting dunes. Rusting hulks of shipwrecks – the few that made it to the shore through the gigantic breakers – weather and flake, leaving shards of mankind’s puny attempts to rule the ocean waves to sink into the sand, obliterated by nature as surely as the rising tide and winter gales will obliterate the footsteps that marred that pristine beach.

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