Editor's Note: This article was authored in 2011.
A map of the garden. Image courtesy of Babylonstoren.
Babylonstoren means “Tower of Babel” in Dutch, and the eight acres of gardens at this restored 18th-century Cape Dutch farmstead and hotel in South Africa’s Drakenstein Valley are, like their namesake, both monumental and tantalizingly unfinished. And yet, a walk through the grounds may help visitors do what that skyscraper of legend could not: touch heaven.
In South Africa's coastal grasslands, to explore a forest is to walk along its canopy—indeed, it's the only way to observe an extraordinary group of so-called underground trees, where only the uppermost leaves and branches are visible. The rest of the tree is submerged below the deep sandy soil, creating a clonal network of underground "forests." By all appearances, the forests are merely low shrubs, which presents the philosophical riddle: if a tree falls and no one can see the forest, what of the forest?
This bar has no line, no cover charge, and no neon sign. Instead, look for a canopy of gnarled branches, and perhaps a couple baboons. If you can discern the door from the bark, you'll be able to order a couple pints, and grab a seat at a bar carved inside of the world's largest baobab tree, in the Limpopo province of Modjadjiskloof, South Africa. It's also possibly the oldest baobab tree, with an age anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 years old.
To weave a home, to woo the girl, to start a family in the trees: This is the life of a male weaver bird—champion textile designers and indefatigable courters.