A Travellerspoint blog

Oudtshoorn

Land of the ostrich

sunny 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.

Posted by ffionandpatrick 03:03 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Stellenbosch

sunny 38 °C

So after our first experiences of South Africa in Cape Town we woke up early to get our first leg of the baz bus to Stellenbosch. The baz bus is a minibus which travels from Cape Town to Johannesberg and back via Port Elizabeth and Durban, created primarily for backpackers as its 'stops' are various hostels and lodges along the way. Our first trip started slightly later than advertised (a fact that was picked up and mentioned several times by the Germans we picked up on the way!) but as we were only going half an hour up the road it didn't seem too much of a problem. We drove back past the shanty towns we'd seen when we first went from the airport to the city and onto the open road heading west.

Our drop off point was a rather swanky looking hotel called the Lord Charles near Somerset West, where we were met by our shuttle minibus taxi to the Stumble Inn in Stellenbosch. Our first views of the winelands were cruising along listening to some African pop music on the local radio station, as farm after farm went past by the side of the road, from small one field vineyards to larger estates covering vast areas. The town is very much based on the wine industry which was set up by some of the first Cape settlers, and one of the first things we booked on arrival at the hostel was our wine tour.

For the rest of our first day we had a wander around town, saw the village green complete with Christmas decorations still up and went to the town museum. This was a series of houses decorated in the style of various periods from the 18th and 19th centuries and explained by people in approximately correct old style dress. That evening at dinner Ffion had her first taste of ostrich and Patrick encountered the South African approach to meat cooking - here is a plate full of a piece of meat with a small amount of salad scattered on top and a tiny side of chips! Accompanying our meal were two local busking collectives, one murdering songs by Van Morrison, Led Zep and others, while the other did some very impressive welly dancing.

The next day was our wine tour. This started virtually straight after breakfast and involved driving to 4 farms in the region near Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, sampling their wines with a lunch stop in Franschhoek. The tasting began so early that Ffion felt the first couple of wines may have been adversely affected by the lingering taste of toothpaste! The first vineyard (Tokara) turned out on the evidence of the rest of the day to be the best, with the guide giving us 10 wines to try including our probable favourite of the day, an 'oaked' white. The climate in the area is more conducive to producing white wine rather than red but they have developed pretty decent ranges of both, including a couple which blended white and red grapes and white and red wine techniques, giving slightly odd looking but good tasting salmon coloured wines. We next stopped at the Boschendal farm and then onto lunch, where Patrick tried the traditional Cape Malay dish Bobotie (a sort of curried mince with moussaka topping). After this was the Dieu Donne farm overlooking the whole Franschhoek valley where we sampled some champagne (or their equivalent) and finally finished at Fairview farm. This farm also included cheese tasting, although in our expert opinions this was not their forte and Europeans have nothing to worry about in this market!

We spent another day after this in Stellenbosch, although this was mostly concerned with doing odd jobs like the laundry followed by some lounging by the pool as the temperature passed 40 (according to some people at the hostel). Too hot to do anything productive!

Posted by ffionandpatrick 03:26 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Cape Town

Technically this stage of our trip started in Wakefield on departure from Sandal & Agbrigg station, one of the less glamorous of the places we will be passing through! Surprisingly all the British trains were on time and we 'enjoyed' the company of Leeds Utd fans on their way to the Arsenal and fellow travellers with large rucksacks on the tube to Heathrow.

As Patrick had only ever flown budget airlines around Europe before, the large duty free lounge with free Baileys samples and the complementary services provided on the plane (2 meals, loads of films and free beer!) were the first amazing things on this trip. So South Africa had high standards to live up to!

We arrived in Cape Town to glorious warm sunshine and the spectacular landscape of the Table Mt. national park. Cape Town is laid out in a slightly odd shape having grown from a small settlement on Table Bay, nestled beneath the shadow of the mountain, to a large city sprawled out onto the Cape flats inland, with large areas of shanty towns and rough looking shacks. The drive from the airport to the city passes all these so the first impression you get of the country is of the obvious poverty on the doorstep of what turned out to be a bustling modern city.

Our first hostel of this trip was an great place called Amber Tree Lodge, just close enough to the city centre to walk from and to, as well as being far enough out to be quiet and calm. For the rest of the first day we had a general wander to get our bearings around Long St and the newly developed V&A Waterfront. The investment of the football World Cup has made this waterfront feel modern and almost European while still keeping a sense of where it is: we saw a buskers choir (Ladysmith Black Mambazo- esque), a marimba quarter, street stunt artists and a big screen showing Top Gear from the BBC entertainment channel!

Unlike many of the other Cape Town backpackers we spent out first full day exploring some of the historical areas of the city, visiting the Castle of Good Hope, Company Gardens and National Museum. The castle's military museum had an exhibition with a background of the history of the cape settlement, from the first Portuguese explorers who decided the local Khoi tribes were not worth trying to subdue, through the Dutch East India Company period where the colony developed into a crucial stop off on the route from Europe to the East, to the later British period into the 19th century. Ffion found plenty of reminders of her African history, especially through an exhibition covering the Frontier Wars of the 19th century. At midday we saw what seemed to be the world's smallest but noisiest cannon firing the signal across the Bay. We passed through the original Company's Gardens, where the Dutch had grown fresh fruit and veg to give to sailors suffering from scurvy, now a recreational garden and hangout for people escaping the heat of the afternoon sun, to the National Museum of South Africa, which had one or two interesting displays on rock art, an outdated ethnographic collection of 'Bantu culture' created well before the end of apartheid, and the usual display of stuffed animals. That evening we met with one of Ffion's former SOAS tutors, Wayne Dooling, who is currently working at the university in Cape Town doing research on the development of colonial law. He gave us a better picture of the general state of South Africa at the moment, including education, transport and employment.

The following day we went to Robben Island, the former prison around 10km out into Table Bay. Neither of us realised that the island had been used to house prisoners from as early as the 17th century, and the now infamous Maximum Security Prison for political prisoners is only a small part of a place which included a Medium Security facility for murderers and rapists, a small leper colony (closed in the early 20th century) and a village where now former prisoners and guards live together. We saw all the important places - the lime quarry where Mandela and others spent hours doing hard labour, but also teaching each other, the slate quarry where rocks were dug out to build the prisons, the house of PAC founder Robert Sobukwe, who was held in solitary confinement for 7 years without being allowed to talk to anyone, thus destroying his vocal chords - and in the company of former ANC inmate 'Sparks' visited the blocks where the political prisoners were held including the 2x3 cell where Mandela spent 18 years. The conditions the prisoners experienced were quite striking, with displays showing the single mat, bucket and blanket provided and the description of the single pair of shorts and short sleeved shirt given to the black inmates. Those held on the island who were coloured were given marginally better treatment, and white prisoners were held on the mainland. All of those who took us round talked of the process of reconciliation being promoted on the island, giving it an oddly idyllic outlook on life, seemingly quite cut off from the problems which still exist on the mainland. As if to signal this, as soon as we got within the harbour breakwater our boat's engine cut out and we were left drifting in the harbour for an hour until a tug gave us a lift back into port!

Unfortunately our final day in Cape Town saw Table Mt covered in its tablecloth of cloud preventing us from hiking up to the top as we had planned. So we took the metro from the central station round to False Bay and Simon's Town, an amazing journey where the train runs right next to the sea, sometimes with the track laid on the sand! There, we had our first rainy downpour, but luckily being pessimistically British we had brought our gore tex jackets and carried on, unlike the Americans who made the same journey and got thoroughly soaked. We went to the African penguin colony at Boulder's Bay, finding a beach with some penguins waddling around and sunning themselves on the giant rocks where we ate lunch, and then finding a walkway down to the main beach, where several American coach parties were photographing large groups of nesting penguins while enquiring 'why don't they get up and do something?'. Annoyingly when we got back to the main city bowl area the clouds had cleared from the mountains but the sun was on its way down leaving us no time to get up and down again (the expensive cablecar had been closed for the day). We decided to see how far we could get up anyway and so reached the lower cablecar station to take some photos across the city and table bay as the sun went down. Our final night mostly involved packing up to move on and so we were ready early the following morning to set off inland towards Stellenbosch wineries and beyond!

Posted by ffionandpatrick 02:12 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

Bye Bye British Winter

overcast 5 °C

Over the past month we've said good bye to friends from Afghanaid, Thrales, Coproliters, Harpenden Music Makers and London life in general. We've packed up our house in Luton and squeezed the contents into a loft in Wakefield and we've bought more pills and medicines than we hope we'll need in a lifetime.

Although Christmas in Wakefield and New Year in Llanwddyn were lovely the British weather, Cameron's optimistic New Year address and outstanding issues with the Luton landlord over our deposit are not making us regret our decision to up sticks and go adventuring for a while.

We'll try and up date this blog with stories and pictures as often as possible so come back soon to see how we're finding summer in Cape Town!

Ffion & Patrick

Posted by ffionandpatrick 08:48 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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