Astounding Southern Africa - Oudtshoorn, Saturday 2015 March 7

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March 7th 2015
Published: July 29th 2016
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Market vendorMarket vendorMarket vendor

He has sold carvings in Calgary.
As an impromptu event this morning, we stopped at the Sedgefield Craft and Farmers Market. The air was cool with the sea mist enveloping the landscape. Hundreds of people were parked in the large market area, and most seemed to have come to eat at the many food stalls. Even the vegetable stalls mostly seemed to have bagged and processed foods, like jam and chutneys. The craft market was much more interesting. Booths ranged from semi-permanent artists’ shops to plastic tarps on the ground. At one of these latter I glanced at the stone carvings and spotted a tiny hippo. Immediately my imagination put it with the other tiny souvenirs at home. The carver’s larger works were elegant, unusually textured and lightly abstracted. As we chatted, he revealed that he had toured from Vancouver to Toronto with his art (in a group) and had been in Calgary.

Our road took us across the most varied topology yet. Leaving Knysna we crossed the tidal river estuary coated with large mats of reeds and sand bars (tide out). We continued through high hills, which were vegetated sand dunes 65 million years old. The entire area was a seabed then, and the dunes formed and solidified as
Wilderness BeachWilderness BeachWilderness Beach

Find the man on the shore
the water retreated. As we climbed a bit in elevation we came into the Lakes District, essentially pockets of water from the retreating sea in geological time. We passed a long beach at Wilderness, the waves obviously part of strong undertows. Great views tempted our cameras as we rose steeply to cross the Outeniqua Pass across the coastal mountains. Descending on the other side brought us starkly into the Little Karoo, only slightly less dry than the Great Karoo. Rhino grass again dominated. The hillsides looked particularly stark because there had been a wild fire at a not-too-distant time, but as in the Rockies, some plants need wild fire to germinate and flourish. We pass through hills of conglomerate, essentially rounded river rock and mud pressed hard. Duane told us this meant that there had been a catastrophic flood event, and all of the formations had been laid down at one time.

Our road led us to an ostrich farm. We went on the tour or show, as the guide, Corrie, called it. This farm was for breeding, but truthfully most of the birds go to ostrich farms that finish the fifteenth-month-old birds for slaughter (meat and leather). This breeding farm
White OstrichWhite OstrichWhite Ostrich

Are they curious, disdainful or angry?
has birds routinely living 150-200% the normal life span of about thirty years. Ostriches like caring for young, so chicks in clutches of about 15-20 are given to older “foster parents” to be raised. The younger birds go back to breeding. First we were shown two White Ostriches, who have white skin due to a recessive gene. The guide was entranced with his ostriches, but to the layman’s eyes they did the usual ostrich things of peering at us, trotting up and down the fence, snapping at not much, and occasionally waltzing off. We also saw South African Black ostriches – the “normal kind”; Zimbabwe Blues, with deep black feathers; and Kenyan Reds, which have red pigment in their skin on the metatarsals and around the beak.

We were given the opportunity to feed pellets to some ostriches. As with a horse, you hold your hand flat. Still, the ostrich did clamp his beak on my finger, but it didn’t hurt – just a definite pull on the skin. Finally we went into a little arena where one of the staff jockeys maneuvered a big male ostrich into a wooden structure shaped like a V. This was designed to
Baby Ostrich Baby Ostrich Baby Ostrich

They eat nutritious pellets.
let staff handle an ostrich easily, including cutting the feathers. Corrie explained that the birds usually feel unburdened of the weight of the clipped feathers. They are cut just before the natural annual molt, thus the end that is left in the skin comes out naturally. Also cutting the feathers for sale discourages poachers from killing the ostriches for their feathers. Poached feathers are sold by small traders for lower prices. At the end of the presentation, we were invited to sit on the ostrich. I hadn’t planned to, but then thought I might regret missing the opportunity. I am still not sure of the ethics, but it was exhilarating to feel the bird breathing deeply beneath me. He was getting rather agitated after a few of us did this, although when released he just ran off at a leisurely pace. Then two jockeys rode two ostriches in a short race; the jockeys seemed to enjoy this less than the birds. Of course, none of us felt unethical about eating ostrich steaks for lunch. They tasted like a very tender cut of beef, served with a local apple mustard sauce.

As we drove further, the land grew greener again, with more resorts, some vineyards, and hops – similar to central British Columbia. We went up into the hills to the Cango Caves. Tours run every hour. Our guide, Eric, had a deep bass voice, well suited to the environment.

The “rooms” of the cave varied a lot in size, the first being the largest at approximately 100m long, 50m wide and 16m high. At first the room was barely lit enough to walk safely; after giving explanations about the rock and the exploration of the caves, Eric turned on floodlights. As we snapped photos of the flowing rock, and stalagmites and stalactites, Eric sang a wonderfully resonant version of the South Africa national anthem. In the last “room”, he sang “The Click Song”, trademark of Miriam Makeba. The beautiful deep, round sound stirred our emotional appreciation of this natural wonder. The air was cool (19°C), full of humidity that coated our bodies. I felt mildly claustrophobic before the end of the one-hour tour.

Our accommodation, as they often call hotels here, was down the road from the caves. Again we were in a marvellous, unique place. De Opstal Country House was a farm many years ago, and the buildings have been
Tea on the porchTea on the porchTea on the porch

De Opstal Country House
converted into large rooms, every one slightly different. I have a king-size bed, a sitting area with two wing chairs, and a spa-style bathroom. When I first entered, I was seriously disappointed to find no kettle. After resting for a while, I went out to walk around the pretty gardens, and met Norm. He thought I should ask for hot water at the kitchen, so we went to the restaurant. The nice man explained and offered to show me where the tea things were – outside on the porch in an antique cabinet! I was so pleased to see the teapot that I asked Norm to stay for tea on the porch. Elizabeth came by and joined us. Even a jar of cookies was supplied. Afterwards, I enjoyed a relaxing hot bath in the Jacuzzi tub.

Supper was in the converted barn/restaurant: a buffet of delicious chicken kebabs, tender ostrich steak, fabulous venison (kudu) pie, ostrich paté, excellent pickled beets, steamed veggies, apple crumble, chocolates and white wine!

View video of the ostriches.

View map of route to date.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


 George Market George Market
George Market

Wish I had bought this pot lid holder!
Long KloofLong Kloof
Long Kloof

One of many valleys amongst the mountains

The Black Mountains in the Little Karoo
Black Mountain PassBlack Mountain Pass
Black Mountain Pass

Hard country before highways
Zimbabwe Blue OstrichZimbabwe Blue Ostrich
Zimbabwe Blue Ostrich

Territorial and strong!
White Ostrich cooling itselfWhite Ostrich cooling itself
White Ostrich cooling itself

Completely unexpected sight
Close encounter with an ostrichClose encounter with an ostrich
Close encounter with an ostrich

Strong muscles (not mine!)
Ostrich steakOstrich steak
Ostrich steak

Delicious! Similar to buffalo
Cango CavesCango Caves
Cango Caves

Dramatic dripping rock
De Opstal Country HouseDe Opstal Country House
De Opstal Country House

Oh to spend a week!

30th July 2016

I foiund him!
Well, I found one man. Given the rest of the picture, I hope there wasn't another down there! What a great day you had, the ostrich farm especially. You raise an interesting point about our odd ethical lines when it comes to animals (OK to eat them but not to sit on them?) - and I expect I'd have had the same odd mix of reactions. As for the "nude" or unfeathered haunch exposed by the drooping wing - good grief! Who knew?
8th August 2016

Nude ostrich
I am glad you liked the shot of the ostrich cooling itself by repositioning its wings. I found that expanse of bare skin disconcerting - along with sitting on the ostrich, then eating an ostrich steak. Discombobulating! The purpose of travel, in part.

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