Tuesday 12 November 2019

The Cango Caves

THE STAR Johannesburg - 1920, July 2
In several ways the most remarkable incident of Their Excellencies’ farewell tour was the visit to the Cango Caves yesterday. Lord & Lady Buxton were accompanied by the whole of their party – the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Town Clerk, Councillors of Oudtshoorn, their wives and many other enthusiasts, not to mention the Magistrate and the local police officer.
The scene is difficult to describe, but it was something of a combination of the most magnificent transformation scene at Drury Lane and the underground world of Peter Pan.
The setting was, of course, the finest stalactite cavern in the world. Then, walking amid rows of twinkling candles and bearing candles on bamboo rods, were the quaintest-looking people in pyjamas, dressing gowns or gorgeous hues, odds and ends of fishing garments, venerable shooting suits, etc., and all headed by the bearded guide – the living spirit or genius of the caves.
These people, in ordinary day life, are said municipal dignitaries and high officials. Their exceedingly picturesque appearance at the moment was dictated by discretion as narrow passages had to be squeezed through, and then the famous mud-slide leading to farther caverns was negotiated to the unqualified joy of the younger people.
The Mayor was in an immaculate pyjama jacket, over cricketing trousers. A lady of Government House provided a perfect patch of colour in a dressing gown of roseate hue. A popular aide-de-camp favoured pyjamas of Liberty art shades. The police officer was quite unrecognizable; and ahead of all was the Hon. Alethea Buxton, the small daughter of their Excellencies – the daintiest of Wendies straight out of Act 1 of Peter Pan.
These examples will give some idea of an unforgettable retinue.
Frequent magnesium flares brilliantly lit up the scene, and revealed stalactites of every shape and colour – cream, pink, or even milk white – some of them sparkling like myriads of diamonds.
Their Excellencies went about three-quarters of a mile deep into Caves, starting with the vast Van Zyl’s Chamber, which is over forty feet in height. Towards the end of this is Cleopatra’s Needle, which the guide has carefully measured the past 35 years, during which time it has only grown one-sixteenth of an inch. Then there are the Pulpit and the Font, also in stalagmite, the Drum, the Missing Link, besides masses of stalactites in the shape of draperies, curtains, trees and beasts. The guide has penetrated some miles into the middle of the earth, and since the beginning of the year he has made 2 000 new discoveries. For 40 years he has devoted himself to research work – a work of love. His idea is that the caverns were originally formed by an underground river, and he searches very often for its outlet, but so far without any trace of success.
The curious fact in all his investigations is that he has never found any prehistoric remains or bones, and it is certain these caves were never inhabited. Once in recent years, near the entrance, he came upon a few bones, and he was much excited until it was discovered that they were the remains of a modern little dog, which had strayed in with a party, and had fallen over a precipitous edge.
The new discoveries include the exquisite King Solomon’s mines and the Bridal Chamber. To get to these takes hours of walking, and it is necessary to go down the Mud Slide and pass the isolated form of Lot’s wife.
There are still miles and miles of discoveries to be made, although the present known chambers are themselves sufficiently amazing, and without rival. – Reuter

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