The path less travelled

‘We have lost touch with ourselves,” said Stuart, custodian of the labyrinth. “We have lost touch with our origins and our roots. The labyrinth is a bridge that can connect us to an ancient part of ourselves.” He gestured dramatically towards the mountains. “It is the place where we can listen to our inner voice of wisdom and come to grips with our role in humankind’s next evolutionary step.”

I wasn’t sure I actually had an inner voice of wisdom, never mind a role to play in our next evolutionary step, but it all sounded most compelling. Set beside a free-flowing stream under a cool canopy of trees, the labyrinth is one of the highlights of Boondocks Mountain Lodge, a retreat on a natural heritage site in the mountains beyond Barberton, Mpumalanga.

Run by Stuart and Ann Barr, Boondocks is a self-described “retreat for the spiritually minded”, offering eight rooms decorated in an African Zen fashion and a playground of water features, plunge pools, outdoor showers and baths, all fed by pure mountain water. Boondocks is designed to be an holistic and healing sanctuary for the soul. Ann offers reiki, there’s a jacuzzi and steam room and Stuart does workshops. There are niches for meditation, or you can frolic among the birds and animals that live in these riverine valleys and ancient woodlands.

Over dinner, we drank wine and chatted about labyrinths and the meaning of life. Labyrinths have reappeared throughout history at times of spiritual crisis, said Stuart, and are undergoing a revival, if for no other reason than simply because we need them. Their origin is buried in the mists of time and they have appeared in Greek mythology and Roman mosaics, and have resurfaced in various forms around the world from Neolithic tombs in Kuzannaz, Sardinia to Hopi Indian reservations in Northern Arizona. And now of course in Barberton.

I set out at dawn to walk the labyrinth. The difference between a maze and a labyrinth, I’d been told, is that you lose yourself in a maze and find yourself in a labyrinth. I found myself tired and grumpy when I arrived, however, so I sat on some big stone steps overlooking the labyrinth trying to figure it all out. Boondocks’s labyrinth is based on one in Chartres Cathedral in France, with a few subtle deviations to accommodate the trees.

It was deliciously calm out here. My tetchiness receded as branches rustled and monkeys chattered in the distance. Even Scout, the Barr’s dog, who had followed me here, assumed a meditative canine pose.

After a bout of deep breathing, I removed my shoes and entered the labyrinth. Labyrinths are designed as a single path, one way in and one way out, and the straight line at the entrance/exit is believed to symbolise Mother Earth’s umbilical cord and the birth canal. During the walk, Ann had told me, one should relax the mind, but remain alert to follow the path and feel the feminine energy. This state of relaxed alertness is the ideal form of meditation and opens you up messages of inspiration or creativity.

But after 10 steps I hadn’t received any messages and my role in humanity’s evolution suddenly seemed very bleak indeed. So I sat down and burst into tears. The monkeys stopped chattering, Scout look concerned and from the koppies I heard a desolate baboon bark. So I cried even harder. I wept for the loss of my late brother, for the pain of our family, for the spiritual bankruptcy of the world, for man’s inhumanity to man. I wept for all the culled elephants, frightened people, abandoned cats and homeless children. Scout came and sat next to me.

I sobbed and beat my chest, and just when I thought I would implode with self-pity, I took a deep breath and a great calm washed over me. I wobbled bravely to my feet and continued to walk the labyrinth, concentrating on breathing, taking measured steps and trying to notice every lovely thing around me — a shiny green leaf, a dew drop, the trill of an insect. I started to feel pleasantly philosophical.

One of the loveliest effects of walking a labyrinth is returning to a state of physical equilibrium. I felt my mind clear, my shoulders loosen. Underfoot I felt the cool stones of the labyrinth and below them, the power of ancient rocks dating back 3,5-billion years. I heard the stream’s whisper, I felt the morning breeze caress my cheeks. I felt like Kahlil Gibran.

It took me about an hour to walk through the labyrinth and when I emerged, I felt light and clear, like a tender sibyl, a benign sprite. So I took another deep breath and went back in again. Perhaps as Saint Augustine once said, it is all solved by walking …

Boondocks Mountain Lodge offers either catered or self-catering options. For more information call (013) 726 0140; 082 808 2733; e-mail [email protected] or go on a virtual visit to

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Simply hanging out at Sabie

Sabie is the undisputed outdoor adventure capital of the Lowveld. There's an amazing choice of things to do. You can experience the adrenaline rush of the world's highest cable gorge swing with a 68m freefall. Yihaa! You can go rock climbing, abseiling, spelunking, river-rafting, bungee jumping, quad biking, canoeing, tubing or horse-riding. You can go fly-fishing, sailing, power boating or 4x4ing.

It’s time Limpopo left the lapa

Traffic in downtown Polokwane is already being diverted owing to extensions to the roads around the Peter Mokaba Stadium, renovations are under way, plans are being made, talk is big and voices are loud. But does Limpopo really have what it takes to lure tourists and tourism into the province ahead of 2010.

The healing route

Designed to relax and revive stressed-out urbanites, the Healing Route takes you into the cool, calm heart of the Magoe-baskloof mountains with stop-overs at spots renowned for their soulful offerings and restor-ative powers. First stop is Kurisa Moya -- the name means tranquil spirit -- set on a wild mountainside overlooking the Kudu's River Valley.

Shit chic

We have all heard of "shack chic", "shabby chic" and "township chic". But how about "shit chic"? In the rural townships between Polokwane and Tzaneen in Limpopo, people are decorating their long drops (pit toilets) in highly expressive and individual ways, despite obviously limited resources.

Magical realism

"It was in a bathroom at the top of the Soutpansberg mountains that I met my Venda prince -- and I knew at first glance that I wouldn't be able to resist him. He had a deliciously rounded bottom and wore a simple, stylised loin cloth." Intrepid travel off the map can provide unexpected dividends. A journalist realises some of her deepest fantasies in a bathroom on top of the Soutpansberg.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday