PEOPLE pay good money for the kind of entertainment you get free on a sunny weekend on the banks of the Bulshoek Dam. And, if you're a Jackass fan, fond of clowns or any other form of slapstick buffoonery, you'll be particularly delighted with a couple of days on the water's edge.
The denim-blue dam, along the N7 about 24km north of Clanwilliam, on the western side of the Cederberg, is beautifully nestled among the wheatlands, pastures and fynbos in a gently sloping valley on the Olifants River. The water is fresh and clear, which is not surprising as the river is said to have the richest endemic fish population in the country, including unique species such as Clanwilliam sand fish, Barnard's klipbaber and the Clanwilliam yellow fish.
But although the area is provincial and picturesque, with the water glistening brightly against the stubbly fields and the Cederberg range providing a prettily pastel backdrop in the distance, that's not the primary reason people head for the dam; they go to play, parade and perform.
Bulshoek is a water-sporting paradise and, if you have a motorboat and something to drag behind it, it's your kind of place. Holiday homes, bungalows, self-catering cottages and a handful of campsites - the largest of which is the Rondeberg Resort - are scattered on both sides of the narrow, 10 km -long dam.
Boaters pull in, pitch their tents or move into their choice of accommodation and then quickly launch their vessels on to the water. From there on, they blast up and down the dam, dragging skiers, multiple skiers and other willing victims attached to various devices behind them.
Most "dragees" use two skis; the more advanced use just one. Some - even more skilful - flick, fly and flip on multi coloured wakeboards. Others assume the (more sensible) praying position on kneeboards, while a number of people, usually screaming teenage girls, have a fondness for tubes and other inflated thingamabobs that bounce fiercely across the water.
W ater sport is big at Bulshoek and, as ever, where skills are involved, skills are flaunted, which was definitely the case during my long weekend at the dam.
Our party, happily housed in a holiday cottage a few metres from the water on the western side of the dam, included four 17-year-old boys and two 50-something men. Not only were the seniors determined not to be outperformed by the teenagers - and vice versa - but the boys were also determined to outclass one another. And that wasn't the end of it; having caught scent of the group of unattached young men, flocks of giggling teenage girls streamed past the house behind boats, displaying their nubile wares and skills on ski s.
Comfortably seated in the shade on the water's edge with a drink close at hand, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed so entertaining a holiday. The parade was never-ending. I watched with amusement as the boats motored faster, the acts became more elaborate, the tricks grew trickier, the falls more spectacular and the enemas, I suspect, more exhaustive.
Of course, where there's competition and pride on the line, there's no place for wincing or evidence of fear, pain or discomfort, and the endeavours to disguise the aforementioned added to my entertainment.
But, as amused as I was by the watery antics, there is only so much posturing, clowning and crashing a person can stomach in a day. Thankfully, there are other things to do in and around Bulshoek.
There are numerous quiet spots along the dam where the sounds of the motorboats don't reach you, which are perfect for fishing and bird-watching. Or you can hike through the countryside, traversing farm s and veld.
Although most travellers pass through the nearby village without a second glance on their way into the Cederberg, Clanwilliam (established in 1725) is one of the oldest towns in SA and, as such, is worth a visit.
Given the area's proximity to the wild-flower haven of Namaqualand, flora is a big thing in and around Clanwilliam. In spring, the Ramskop Nature Garden, about 20km from Clanwilliam Dam, alongside the town, is a botanical spectacle.
In 1972, the old Dutch Reformed Church in Main Road was renovated and is now known as the Blomkerk (Flower Church). Each year, at the end of August, the Clanwilliam Wild Flower Association gathers about 360 species of plants from the area, brings them into the church and replants them in mini-landscape arrangements around the building. The Wild Flower Show lasts for 10 days and coincides with an art, food and music festival.
Clanwilliam's most famous citizen was poet, paediatrician, botanist and chef C Louis Leipoldt. The house in which he grew up and received his early education is included in the town's collection of historical buildings. Leipoldt's grave is 17km from Clanwilliam.
The old jail building, which is more than 200 years old and was also used as a garrison during the Anglo-Boer War, has been converted into a museum. Displays include articles used by the Khoisan and in homes and farms in the area during the 19th century.
When you're in Clanwilliam or at Bulshoek Dam, it's worth making time to go on a guided tour of some of the rock art in the area.
Tours can be organised by the Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project, which is a community-based heritage and education project aimed at getting locals more involved in tourist attractions in the area and creating jobs.
Guides, all locals and graduates of the project's guide training programme, accompany you on trails, point out the art and provide interesting and informative commentary on the paintings and surroundings.
You might, as I did, find the cultural experience a welcome change from the boating buffoonery of Bulshoek.
. Clanwilliam Tourism Bureau (027) 482-2024; Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project (027) 482-1911.