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Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

Sacred Handprint

Tucked away in the Kalahari Desert of north-west Botswana, near the border with Namibia, is an enigmatic group of rocky outcrops known as the Tsodilo Hills. It is remarkable not only for its ancient San bushman paintings of wildlife, but also for the natural, sunset hues of its stone, ranging from tangerine to dusky pink to rust, from pale aubergine and icy grey to slate blue.

Tsodilo Hill site, Botswana. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk

I love pebbles, crystals, semi precious stones, and unusual rock formations, and I went a bit crazy in the Tsodilo Hills. The sheer, towering walls, richly decorated by the harmonious hands of nature and man, sent me into a photographic rapture. My family and I investigated every corner and pocket and ridge, in a bid to find the most vibrant art and the most startling, the tenderest streaks of colour (created by rain-dissolved minerals?).

Incredibly, visitors could explore the site freely (this may well have changed since we were there in 2008) and there were no barriers between the viewer and the sacred.

My favourite rock art, of two rhinos, in Tsoldilo Hills. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk
My daughter, then 4 years old, stands by a group of paintings, showing an eland at the top, a giraffe on the left, and, if you look closely, a handprint in the middle, Tsodilo Hills. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk

We were also alone, sole users of a rustic campsite at the foot of the hills. It is difficult to describe the combined effect of this spiritually imbued place and its solitude. Suffice to say, the aura of the hills gradually pierced my photographic armour, and on the second day I simply let myself absorb it.

I have learnt that sometimes it is wisest not to return to a place that left its mark – in this case, a San handprint - on my heart. The Tsodilo Hills is such a place.

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