Sunday, 17 October 2010

Special Suikerbos

In recent months I've run the day hiking trail at Suikerbosrand many times. It is well maintained and a pleasant 10km loop. The two-day hiking trail is the one that I like more, but after two runs early this year through grass up to my eyeballs and overgrown trail, I'd avoided that side for months.

I suggested to my Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge teammies that a run out there could be fun and good for time on our feet. We were up for giving the two day side a try. This 24km route only takes around 3h30 to complete.

Lizelle, Adri, Lisa and Steven

Well! What an absolutely magnificent morning and the trail in perfect condition as the area burned this season. I don't think that this eastern side of the reserve has burned for a few years, which would account for the overgrown and impossible-to-follow-if-you-don't-know-where-you-are-going situation I'd encountered before.

I absolutely love the bright green of fresh grass shoots; the colour is amplified by the black background of burned ground. This new green carpeted most of the route. Some flowers are out, following the recent rains - they will be spectacular in a week or three. And, the highlight was seeing dozens of eland, some zebra and a jackal!

I've seen eland there before - in the distance. This time, emerging from the 'fairy forest' we saw one eland standing across from us. I thought this was pretty cool. Steven spotted the jackal running on the hill above the eland.

Adri and Lizelle in the 'fairy forest'
We emerged from the valley onto the higher plain and Steven and I were looking towards Adri and Lizelle, who'd stopped at a sign posted low wall - I wanted to take a photo.

Nearby, on my left were six eland, just watching us. What was really sweet is that when we started running single-file along the trail, the eland started running, following us for a good while until they reached the place where they met the road.

Running 'with' us
And then, up on our right were another three eland. After passing through the overnight camp, we headed out another valley and frightened a few eland into running across, from right to left. We turned to see where they were running to, only to discover a huge herd of eland! There must have been 40 odd animals there. I've never seen some many of these elusive and shy antelope before. That was really special.

More downhill, to the left
I've had an interest in this antelope for some years. In my first year at varsity I did Archaeology I and my favourite component of this was San rock art. Eland are highly regarded by the San as potent animals and they were often painted. There are many paintings often in reference to therianthropy, where shamans take on 'eland traits' during trance dances.

This is a nice little piece from a Wiki entry on South African rock art.
Rock art shares the same San religion, consisting of San trance or San power. If San religious beliefs are understood then the rock art can be explained. The San believed in a tiered cosmos with realms above and below the material world. Once an eland had been killed, a link between the realms was created. The eland (often depicted with shamans) was a main symbol of trance due to its fat, the prime container and essence of trance. Rites of passage are initiated with eland fat. These include: marriage, boys and girls initiation (with the boys first successful eland hunt), and trancing. Once an eland was killed, a shaman would ‘dance eland potency’ and enter the spirit world, often depicted in rock art. The shaman would go through a trance, seemingly gaining animal senses, and enter the spirit world. Once in the spirit world, they could make contact with God and important spirits. The shaman would be given supernatural power in these meetings. There is a key aspect of the San belief that needs consideration: everything that is taken from nature must meet the needs and must not be more than what is required. Anything that is taken has to have a purpose and must meet the needs of the community.
The rest of the run back to the start was pleasant. A super morning out. I have never seen Suikerbosrand looking as stunning and fresh as it was yesterday.

Re-drawing of an eland from San rock art

A quick break for a snack

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