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Published: February 11th 2016
Up at 6.30 am, and already my first bug bites of the trip. Breakfast at 7 am and whilst we were breakfasting our suitcases which had been put outside the doors were collected and loaded onto the coach.
Jeff made sure that we started the day with a lovely breakfast of eggs, tuna, salads, cereals and fruit and of course bread. But much to the chagrin of one of our party - no yogurt. Eventually Jeff managed to rustle up some. This turned out to be a daily occurrence. We made a lunch, boarded the coach and set off. By the time we were underway, we were getting to know each other and there was much chatting and exchanging Jewish geography. The entire group was only 21 people including the AACI tour leader (Miriam) and mashgiach (Jeff) and our guide Amos, which made for more comfortable and efficient touring than larger groups which can become unwieldy.
We are getting to learn the important South African dates:
1488 - Bartolomeo Dias the first European Settler
1496 - Vasco de Gama landed at Cape Point
1497 - Port Natal became the seaway to India
- Jan von Riebeeck from the Dutch East India Company established Cape Town
In the 17th century slaves mainly from Malaysia were brought in
1799 - The Dutch East India Company went bankrupt and the British came in and took over
1820 - Brits were invited to settle in the colony
1834 - The abolition of slavery, and the slaves decided to move north and established the Orange Free State. The Zulu King signed a contract for the settlers to buy land but he decided to go back on the contract.
1867 - Diamonds discovered at Kimberley and the birth of De Beers the largest diamond company. The company was formed by John Cecil Rhodes who financed Alfred Beit. In 1926 Ernest Oppenheimer was elected to the board and he expanded the company.
1879 - The Zulu war against the British. About 3000 Zulus were killed. (Anyone remember the film Zulu with amazing cast - Michael Caine, Stanley Baker, and Jack Hawkins?)
1886 - There’s gold in them there hills! Gold discovered at Rand.
1890 - the Boer War
After this the black population were not allowed to vote
- 1994 - the National Party won the elections and once in power enforced apartheid. This was gradually demolished by De Klerk until open elections in 1994.
The drive westward on the N2 motorway travelled through towns like Sedgefield where many UK ex-pats live. We passed the Green Lake where there is pleasant sweet water, and the Round Lake. The flora was quite stunning - rows and rows of protea, pine trees and eucalyptus trees to name some. The town called Wilderness appeared well named.
We left the Tsitsikamma range of mountains and drove along the Outeniqua mountain range. The name in Khoisan means “the place to gather honey”. The Portuguese named these mountains Serra de Estrela (Mountain of the Star). The mountains are not very high.
Then we passed through George which was named after King George III. The town is renowned for one of its inhabitants - P W Boethe. He had many jobs including Minister of Defence. In 1979 he was elected Prime Minister and changed the title of his office to President. After the Soweto riots he started to abolish some minor apartheid laws. He was also an astute politician and
built an airport in George and encouraged businesses to open including banks and building societies. He also opened a museum with the various souvenirs he received including from Moshe Dayan.
The scenery changed again as we passed through Little Karoo (a semi dessert area). This is a hops growing area and we saw rows and rows of hops. On we went until we came to the Cango Caves (Cango - the place of water). What a spectacle! The caves were discovered by a farmer looking for a football (according to the legend). He only had a match and a candle. He thought that the cave was five miles long, 3 miles wide and 1 mile deep. In fact the first cavern chamber is 97 meters long, 47 meters wide and 20 meters deep, however passages and cavernous spaces continue on for several kilometers. It is full of stalactites and stalagmites, some of which have been dated as being 850,000 years old with the newest ones being 'only' 250,000 years old. We walked down 50 steps and down a slippery path. We saw the 7-meter tall stalagmite called Cleopatra’s Needle and the stalactite called Tobacco Leaves along with
other formations with names like the Curtain and the Willow Tree.
There are two caverns which are open to the public. The second chamber in the first cavern has been used as a movie set for King Solomon's Mines and Big Fellas. We posed for a photo but were not dressed as 1950 adventurers! Real modern-day adventurers can proceed to the second deeper cavern, but we did not have the time (nor necessarily the inclination) to attempt that. Further exploration beyond those points is restricted to academic studies by professionals who must book in advance, due to the geological sensitivity of these formations. The first large chamber had been used for musical performances until it was realised that the 1500 attendees caused damage from their breath and sweat, as well as their foot traffic and hands touching the cave walls.
Archaeologists found evidence that people have lived in the first cavern entrance from over 10,000 years ago. The cave dwellers abandoned the site as recently as a few hundred years ago when white settlers arrived into the Oudtshoorn area. A diorama in the Cango Caves entranceway depicts a typical scene.
Then back on the coach
to the Cango Wildlife Reserve. This is supposedly a facility for endangered species. To me it was no more than a zoo and Don and I would have preferred not to have included this visit. We had a group photo taken. We were shown around to see the animals. It was pitiful to see the lions in such small enclosures. Unfortunately that was one of the two minimal viewings of a lion we had on the entire tour. Some people had a photo taken with a cheetah. One member of our party thought that the cheetah may have been tranquilised as he was very docile - or maybe he was bored by the tourists.
We stopped to have lunch and ice creams and then back onto the coach.
Next we went to the CP Nel Museum in Outdshoorn. This was quite fascinating. The first room was about ostrich feathers (more below) but I could not explore it as I had an asthma attack because it was so dusty. However, I was able to see the rest of the museum. The various rooms showed life in colonial times. There was a room exhibiting life at the beginning
of the 20th century, uniforms and medals from soldiers on active service during WW2. Other rooms contained ironware, a dining room, a music room, a bedroom, and a carriage house. There was also a room of fossils and stuffed animals (yuk!)
For us the highlight of the CP Nel Museum was the synagogue within it. This was from the old synagogue of Outdshoorn with a tall ark and some ritual objects which are occasionally still used. The town of Oudtshoorn was called “little Jerusalem” because of the Jewish community living there around the turn of the 20th century, but subsequently the Jews had moved to the big cities or left South Africa completely. There was a portrait of the first rabbi (1888) Rabbi Myers Woolfson of the Queen Street synagogue. We were also amused to read an original plaque of the prayer for the British royal family and the local government which named "our Sovereign Lady. Queen VICTORIA, ALBERT EDWARD, Prince of Wales, all the Royal Family and his Excellency the GOVERNOR of this Colony."
Then onto the last stop of the day - a fun visit to the Safari Ostrich Farm. This is a breeding
farm. We were taught how to tell the difference between males and females. The females have grey tail feathers and males black tail feathers. Ostriches can grow up to 2 meters tall and can weigh 100 kg - not a bird to be messed with. They eat alfalfa and lucerne mixed with pellets and each bird will eat 5 - 10 kg a day. They are slaughtered between the ages of 11 - 14 months. Every part of the body is used - the feathers for decorations, the meat for food and the bones for fertiliser and the blood and bones for dog biscuits. The baby chicks live on their parent’s faeces for the first six weeks of their lives; they get all their nutrition from this.
After we had walked through a disinfectant tray we went to see the oldest birds - Suzy the Stripper and Jack the Ripper. There is a reason why they are so called but I can’t remember why. (Don: I think it was because Suzy was such a show-off and Jack would tear someone open with his claw if given the chance.) Jack is 38 years old.
The farm was
originally known as the Feather Palace. The ostriches supplied all the feathers for the fashions of the late 19th and early 20th Century. At peak a kilogram of ostrich feathers was more valuable than a kg of gold, so the owner felt rich beyond his dreams forever. The owner built his home by importing roof tiles from Belgium, tiles from Egypt and items from Greece. Too bad WW-I ruined his economic fantasy, and not surprisingly the owner went bankrupt. The farm was bought by two friends and now the Lipschitz family run it as a farm and tourist attraction. In 1949 there was a shortage in meat and ostrich meat became very popular. It was soon realised that ostriches are rich in vitamins and low in fat and cholesterol and so they provide very popular and healthy meat.
We got onto a tractor to go around the farm. We stopped to see some eggs that are so strong that they will bear the weight of a man. The male will mate 4 - 10 times a day. After 10 days the female will lay an egg and then another one every other day, as long as she can cover
How do you get down off an ostrich?
You don't get down off an ostrich!
You get down off a duck,
and you get feathers off an ostrich.
them all. We saw an ostrich who was sitting on the eggs and a staffer managed to get her off the nest long enough to see about 10 eggs in the nest. In fact the staff snatch eggs from the nest after there are more than 2, so the female keeps on laying and brooding for some time, greatly exceeding the number that would otherwise fit under her within the nest. No accounting for ostriches.
Then to the show! We were introduced to three ostriches and were given a show of one ostrich prancing and dancing telling us that we were on his territory. Then anybody under 80 kg was invited to sit on an ostrich. This was followed by the offer to anyone to take the challenge to ride an ostrich. Nirel, the young’un of us volunteered and he managed a whole lap of the course and didn’t fall off.
Then we saw the professional jockeys riding their ostriches for the big race.
Jeff had prepared a meal for us in the ostrich farm's restaurant. He had cooked soup, bland fish and vegetables and salad and fresh fruit for dessert. During the
meal we all stood up and introduced ourselves and told everybody a little about ourselves.
Then back on the coach to stay at the Outdshoorn Hotel. We arrived late and very tired, but happy with what we had seen and experienced during the day.
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