The BIG Trip 2010/2011 travel blog

Adventure Caving - tight squeeze!

Riding (OK attempting to) the Ostrich - the Big Bird was not...

The view from our hostel - yep, this is roughing it.

Taking the plunge in the waterfall pool!

Next stop on the Garden Route...Oudtshoorn (after three nights there, we are still not pronouncing it correctly in Africaans). It is the ostrich capital of the world. When the feathers were at a premium, many made their millions and then built 'feather palaces' -large mansions. On the drive there, we went up and up and round and round, through the mountain passes that are geological and engineering masterpieces...we were awestruck by the scenery and glad we were not driving, so we could just gawk out the window. We landed at the hostel KAROO SOUL - another amazing backpackers facility with gorgeous views of the town and beyond...a pool, BBQ and sitting area, hammocks, clean, well stocked kitchen and beautiful house with lots of unique pieces of art.Lots of birds attracted by the nature. The owner is a former world traveler herself and certain makes visitors comfortable. We are being spoiled by the hostels in South Africa. The next day the weather was cooperating and we headed out on a day trip with the driver who had driven our shuttle the day before (the Baz Bus hits the main stops and the backpackers organize shuttles to the more out of the way places - good thing, as the bus is always late anyway- runs on African time!!) First stop was the Cango Caves . We choose the ADVENTURE caving experience which went beyond the short tour that just gave you a glimpse of the first few cave areas. The tour was fun but did involve crawling through tight and damp places - certainly not recommended for the obese or claustrophobic. Town lore has it that one overweight woman really insisted she go on the tour even though the guides advised her she would not fit. She said they were discriminating and went anyway. Like Winnie the Pooh, she got stuck in first small tunnel and trapped her entire group for 11 hours before she was oiled up enough to slip out. How embarrassing. We enjoyed it but it was certainly tight in places...we had to contort our bodies in new ways. Next stop - Cango (notice the theme) Ostrich Farm where we went out a guided tour, learning about the history of ostriches in Oudtshoorn and the development from chick to Big Bird. Quite interesting. Included in the tour was the opportunity to ride an ostrich. No one volunteered so Tracy decided to go first. Good thing...otherwise she might not have gone if others were watched first. Ostriches do not seem to like being ridden. Two handlers are necessary to ensure safety. A bit of a wild activity. Lynda was envisioning hospital visits and medical care. Luckily, safe and sound. What crazy things tourists do (and pay for it). We had rented bikes for the rest of the afternoon and so biked back to the town (mostly downhill which made it a pretty easy ride which was good as it was quite warm). By the time we got back, we were more than ready for a swim in the pool at the hostel and a nap in the hammocks, and then wine on the balcony overlooking the beautiful views at hand and visiting with fellow travelers. The next day, we had booked to go kayaking and another guy who worked for the hostel was driving us to the launch location. We had brought a picnic as we had been told we could paddle all day. Well.. the first thing was the owner did not know we were coming(some sort of communication breakdown??). Our driver decided to join us which was fine with us because then he would not have to come back later to pick us up and he had never kayaked here before. We got to the lake and wow, the opening was really, really small. As were the kayaks...we had to squeeze ourselves in to the seat and they hurt. We were a little disappointed, not to mention uncomfortable BUT we tried to look on the bright side. The views were lovely and the sun was shining. It was November and we were in shorts. So, we tried out various positions and paddled the entire perimeter of the lake (2 hours total??). Lots and lots of bird life, including an eagle and one very slow turtle ambling along the shore. We saved our picnic, enjoying it back at the hostel and then went for a walk in the town and went on the Internet for a bit. The town itself is a little weird. Oddly empty again on the Sunday - creepy like.We went to the supermarket which was the only shop open but could not buy wine as from Saturday night to Monday morning - no booze sales! How quickly we forget what it used to be like when we could not shop on Sundays. Inconvenient when traveling, that is for sure. Huge divide between the rich/poor (read white/black)with plenty of beggers asking for money. We actually felt a bit uneasy in a couple of streets even though it is reasonably safe. Our driver told us that if the zoo floods when the rains come, they house the animals in the women's correctional facility. This seems really odd to us but not to locals. Funny. The final morning we had, we visited the Museum...learning more about ostrich history an actual feather palace with original furniture. Interesting enough for a small town museum - although we had to laugh when one local family completely disregarded the ropes blocking off items...they touched everything and played the instruments. First visit to a museum we think. The town was also hosting a large AIDS Day testing and activities at the museum...complete with craft fair where we bought some home baking. We did NOT purchase any of the colourful ostrich feather dusters for sale on on the street out front ...although if we carried them around, we would easily find each other. Moving along the Garden Route Wilderness. A short way from the shuttle drop-off of George and as we approached, we rounded the corner and were awestruck by the views (again). The name says it all: dense old-growth forests and steep hills run down to a beautiful stretch of coastline of rolling breakers, kilometres of white sand, bird-rich estuaries and sheltered lagoon. A myriad of holiday homes (big money here) line the beach, the road and the ridges of the mountains. Another great backpackers with panoramic views of the ocean and we could hear the crashing waves through the window of our room and view the sea from our bed. The weather continues to be amazing. We got up on Day 1 in Wilderness and walked along the N2 highway for an hour to the Wilderness National Park wwhich encompasses the area from the town to the river...bordered by the ocean and mountains. We rented a canoe from Eden Adventures (which was more like a kayak with double paddles for both of us). About 45 minutes up the river, we got out and hiked (mostly on this very easy boardwalk) for another 45 minutes to a series of waterfalls and pools, set amongst large boulders and forest. What a lunch location. We ate, swam and visited with another couple from Seattle who we had originally met in Jo'burg a few weeks ago - it is strange how we keep seeing familiar faces along the way. We repeated the hike back to the kayak and the kayak back to the rental place but then we able to walk back along the ocean...which was almost empty...except for many, many jelly fish washed up on shore. It was too wavy to risk swimming with dangerous undertows...but a beautiful way back to the hostel. Tremendous thunderstorms at night kept us awake for a bit but we did not have to rise for any early reason. After a leisurely breakfast...we headed down to the beach. It was very, very windy so we moved back and then back again to the grassy park where at least the sand did not whip our skin. Very sunny and warm day again and we enjoyed just reading, listening to the IPOD and watching the endless waves...therapeutic indeed. We are off on the BAZ bus again later this the next town of Knysna (pronounced Nysna)...another apparently beautiful coastal town...South Africa certainly has its share of beauty. It is very easy to travel her- the infrastructure is good, the roads are generally good, facilities modern and catering to what travelers need. East Africa seems ages away. We will be in shock when we hit part of Asia again.

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