Put Your Head On My Shoulder

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
Trip End Nov 09, 2009

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de Olde Meul

Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, September 27, 2009

We hear the rain throughout the night. It slows to a light drizzle by breakfast at 7 AM.  It is cloudy and a light mist covers us for a short time as we head south towards George, a community on the coast that is apparently known for its championship golf courses.  There are many nice old, architecturally pleasing buildings in George.

From George, we turn inland (west) and take the N12 towards Oudtshoorn, 55 km. (34 mi.) away and our destination for tonight.  Along the way we stop at a scenic viewpoint high above the coast line.  We can see beaches for a long stretch and there is even a whale close to the shore.

As we ascend into the mountains, the temperature decreases and the rain and fog increase.  We see many hop farms (used in brewing beer) and even more ostrich farms.  The reason there are so many ostrich farms is that this is a semi-arid area and an ideal climate for ostriches.

We stop at the Cango Ostrich Farm for a tour and to get up close to the ostriches.  Ostriches migrated from the Sahara desert and can go without water for up to 3 weeks.  They can grow to be more than 2 m. (6.5 ft.) high, weigh over 100 kg. (220 lbs.) and eat 4 kg. (9 lbs.) of food pellets (consisting of corn and grass) a day.  They have two toes, one in front about 12 cm. (5 in.) long to pick away at food on the ground, to use for defense and to run; the other toe in the back is used for balance.  They also have 2 stomachs and eat stones and other shiny materials to aid in their digestive system.  An ostrich's neck is about 90 cm. (35 in.) long.

An ostrich’s egg weighs 1.5 kg. (3.3 lbs.), is 2 mm. (0.08 in.) thick and can withstand a weight of over 100 kg. (220 lbs.)  We stood on the ostrich egg and there is no problem of it breaking.  An ostrich egg is the equivalent of 24-25 chicken eggs and takes 1 hours to boil.  When an ostrich is born, it has to be keep out of the cold and rain or it will die because they receive oxygen via their wings and if the feathers get wet they will suffocate.  They are fed nothing but tiny stones to start off with, to get their stomachs to kick start their particular digestive system.  Babies are kept in warm, sheltered places for about 6 weeks and then transferred to a larger pen outside until they grow some more, and then are transferred again to even larger areas.  They are herded each night.

Every part of an ostrich is used.  It produces 80 kg. (176 lbs.) of meat, including 30 kg. (66 lbs.) of steaks.  Their hide is used for making belts, purses, bags, etc. and their feathers are used for costume clothes, accessories, and feather dusters. 

Today we are hoping to ride the ostriches but it is too cold and wet and not safe for either us or the ostrich.  Instead, we are allowed to sit on the ostrich which has a hood over its head so it does not look behind itself and peck you to shreds.  It is quite an unusual position, sitting on its body close to the neck and holding onto its wings for balance.  The warmth of its body below you is considerable (almost like having a hot water bottle between your legs).  It would have been quite the ride.

There are other things we are allowed to do, like feed them from your hand and put a pellet in your mouth and have the ostrich pick it from you ("a kiss").  These suckers are sure fast and accurate (like a snake).  We also have an ostrich massage.  This is when you hold a bucket of pellets and 5 ostriches lunge over your shoulder and peck away at the feed you are holding in front of you.  Talk about putting your head on my shoulder.  It is raining today and the ostriches are wet and the sensation is definitely different.  We uploaded a video of Boyd having an ostrich massage.  It would have felt a little different if they were dry.

We spend an hour at the ostrich farm, which is very informative and great fun, and then it’s off to the Cango Caves.  The caves were discovered in 1780 and contain the largest chambers and passageways that we have ever seen.  Incredibly old (up to 270,000 years old), and big and wide stalactites (grow from the top down) and stalagmites (grow from the bottom up).  There are a few columns (stalactites and stalagmites that have grown and merged together).  We have lunch at the caves and, of course, Boyd has an ostrich steak burger.  Absolutely delicious.

We arrive at de Oude Meul (the Old Mill) Country Lodge in mid-afternoon.  The lodge is very rural in its character and setting, but it looks deserted.  It’s 3 PM in the afternoon, the temperature is a bone chilling 13 C (55 F.) and it is raining (apparently, it hardly ever rains here and rarely would it linger on as it does today).  The reception area is closed and our guide has to wake up the manager to find out where and what are rooms are.  Very strange.  After checking in, we want to warm up, but there is nothing open and there is no place to go.

We all retreat to our rooms but there are no chairs in the rooms.  It is a difficult afternoon as we are cold and feeling trapped.

Finally, it’s time for dinner and we all meet at the restaurant which is in a building separate from the hotel and run by the owner’s son and daughter-in-law.  Our meal is wonderful.  Rose has the ostrich burger and Boyd has the black wildebeest fillet (black wildebeest are only found in this area).  Both are great.  The rain has finally stopped as we go to bed under the black rural sky.
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