Our African Adventure – Hiking, A Silent Woman, and Baboons

There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge.  Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover 50 years ago.  The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry.  He fell in love with her and spent 14 months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside.  He called it Spirit of the Woods. 

But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose.  So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.

             – Rowan Philp, Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide

As part of our stay at the Cavern Resort, we were invited to participate in a short hike to see a stone sculpture hidden away in the Drakensberg, the Silent Woman.  The hike was described as an easy 90 minute round trip – tea and biscuits served mid-hike.

Fern Forest

We began with an ascent through the Fern Forest.  I am really not sure how it got the name – there were no ferns that I recognized.  Still, it was a beautiful walk through the woods and we listened as robin-chats called from the trees.  We soon emerged into a high grassland with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.

On the Trail


On the Trail
Majestic views in every direction – and the hike was much, much longer than anticipated.  It took us nearly 1 1/2 hours to arrive at our destination. 
As described earlier, the Silent Woman is a life-size stone sculpture of a nude woman carved into a large sandstone boulder near a wonderful small stream.  We snapped a few photos, rested in the coolness provided by shade and the stream, and then started back.  The hiking group started back in small groups instead of all at once and, admittedly, we were lagging behind.   I looked farther down the trail and noticed some movement in the tall grasses on both sides.
There was a family group of baboons foraging along both sides of the trail.  Fortunately, our trip leader was walking with our group.  I was asking her what we should expect when a loud barking/growling noise emerged from the bush.  The dominate male baboon had decided we were too close to his group and was giving us fair warning to “come no closer”. 
We stopped.  And waited.  Every now and again, the male would remind us of his presence.  After some time, a couple of young guides (who were part of the resort staff) happened by and, stones in hand, we were able to pass through the foraging baboons.  Apparently, the added number of humans had convinced the male to give way and allow us to pass.  We hiked the remainder of the way to the resort, tired and thirsty, but with a great story for our fellow travelers.   



4 thoughts on “Our African Adventure – Hiking, A Silent Woman, and Baboons”

    1. Makes a great story for convincing folks to go on a little hike! We really did have a good time, even if we were pretty thirsty when we got back.

  1. Back in (about) 1970 I stayed on a friend’s farm nearby and we went for a walk and came across a huge reclining nude with even bigger boobs than this. It was a huge surprise as we’d never heard of it. I’m going to the Cavern next week and will see if I can find it. If my memory serves me right (!) we saw this one, too, and the other was close by.

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