Land of the ostrich
17.01.2012 - 20.01.2012 39 °C
To get from Stellenbosch to Oudtshoorn (pronounced 'oats horn') we had another early morning and another trip on the Baz Bus. This was a longer journey and we passed through several different landscapes from high mountains by the sea to vast open farmland. We spotted chickens, horses, cows, sheep, goats and ostriches but no pigs. This might help to explain why the mushroom and ham pizza we bought from the supermarket the other day had 'macon' (ham made out of minced beef) on top instead of real ham!
At George we got off the Baz Bus and continued to Oudtshoorn by shuttle with two other travelers who we got to know well called Kelly and Sebastian. Once we'd crossed over some mountains we were in the Little Karoo and passed lots of brown, dusty ostrich farms. The hostel - Paradise Backpackers - was much nicer than the Stellenbosch one and we enjoyed our first night playing pool, watching cricket and chatting with other travelers in the bar.
The next day went on a trip to see the Cango Caves, a huge chain of underground caverns not far from the town. The caves were half way up a mountain and had been formed when the water table was much higher - something we learnt in the 'cave exhibition' which also had random bits of non-geological scientific facts on display, such as how the inner ear works! The caves are 3km in length but tourists are only allowed to see the first section. In the 1980s and 1990s the large cavern which is close to the entrance was used for music concerts and the huge number of visitors who came to the caves during that period destroyed a number of the stalactites and stalagmites which is a real shame. Now that the water table is so much lower and the area doesn't get a lot of rain the caves are bone dry inside so there's little hope of the damage being repaired in the next few thousand years.
We then went on to an Ostrich show farm where we saw two ostriches hatching, got to feed a fully grown bird and were given the opportunity to ride an ostrich. We were both keen on doing this, although Patrick was a little worried he would be heavier than the 75kg weight limit. However, the first few people in our group to try riding all fell off and the birds looked very unhappy at being forced to carry humans. In order to bring them to the mounting station the handlers bent their necks around by almost 360 degrees and put a bag on their heads. We asked our guide if they enjoyed giving humans rides and he said "no, but they don't have a choice!" so we were glad that we'd decided against causing them any further stress and harm. In the gift shop were surprised to see that the starting price for an ostrich leather hand bag was 180 pounds!
For dinner we had ostrich sausage, ostrich kebab, potatoes and salad. Very tasty! That evening we stayed up late chatting and enjoying the free shots at the bar. A group of the barman's friends from the town had come to visit, including the local MP who Ffion enjoyed getting into an argument with. From talking to the locals it seemed that Oudtshoorn is one of those areas of the world where almost everyone ends up working and living on the same piece of land that they've grown up on and the furthest anyone would consider living from their homestead is the town one hour down the road.
A lot of the rest of our time in Oudtshoorn was spent finding ways to keep cool in the heat such as relaxing by the pool and in front of the cricket on TV. We also visited the town museum which was surprisingly large. The first section explained more about how the ostrich business had started, boomed and collapsed in roughly 1880 - 1920. The second section had a number of rooms made out like shops and houses from that period, including one room decorated as a synagogue because of the large number of Lithuanian Jews who had moved to the town to work on the ostrich farms. The museum ended with the personal collection of the man who'd founded the museum - one room of cars, another of guns and another of stuffed animals. The museum ticket also allowed us to visit an 'ostrich palace' - one of the town houses built by a wealthy ostrich farmer with his new found ostrich wealth.