Mselenge and Tom had work to do even though today was our day off.
Not so Alison and I. For a modest $25 we were the sole visitors to an amazing ancient site with some of the best cave paintings in Africa. We drove for perhaps 45 minutes on the Hargeisa-Berbera road before turning off along a track that started between the small houses of a village and continued for a few km into the bush, across a wadi to a small one-roomed building built as a visitor centre. It claimed the grand title by displaying a visitors book on a table and several posters on the walls explaining the history of the site.
The curator led us up the side of a small hill sculpted over millennia by the wind and weather creating a number of natural shelters at different levels, none of which would have qualified for the status of a cave, but which clearly served that purpose and which have protected the rock paintings for around 4,500 years.
The main theme was cows. They came in many different sizes and shapes, usually with large curved horns, accompanied by human figures and dogs. One man and his dog featured several times suggesting that the domestic and working dog was a central feature of their existence. Our guide pointed out all the interesting details and offered interpretations of the paintings ranging from the likely to the ludicrous. One particular large depiction of a cow had a smaller cow painted on its side and he explained that the cow was pregnant and they had shown the fetus inside. That’s a possible explanation, but I think it equally probable that the guy who painted the big cow came home one day, saw his painting had been graffitied and flew into a rage, “What have you done to my cow, you vandal! Go and find your own rock to draw on!”
The locals had not been idle while we clambered over their ancient hill. They had created a mountain of sand to block the road and prevent our return through the village. “It’s dangerous for the children playing” they claimed, even though ours was the only vehicle of the day. We detoured and discovered an alternative track which was signed as the official route so no doubt the protest we encountered was not the first. If the children never had to watch for anything but goats, sheep and camels, I guess one vehicle a day is a dangerous development. It’s all relative after all.