Bird Jockey

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

He Said:

In heading through the Garden Route and Klein Karoo regions we really began to feel like tourists. The economies for most of these towns are built around tourism with all the infrastructure, guided tours, souvenir shops, and "must sees" that come along with it. It is certainly the most tourist-oriented place we've been since Egypt. Not to say it is unpleasant, in fact the range of accommodations and activities available is pretty amazing. It is just that we happened to be here during the absolute busiest time of the year, as the kids are off school for their summer/Christmas holiday, and lots of parents have their vacation planned to coincide, so everywhere in the region is packed with South African families.

One of the most visited tourist destinations in the area is the limestone Cango Caves. After waiting in line at the huge visitor center we joined in a tour group of about 40 people to go on the "Adventure Tour". Looking at our group, it certainly didn't seem like the excursion would be a dangerous escapade. It was mostly a lot of young kids, their parents (of varied weights and sizes), some forty-something couples, and a few people in their mid sixties. The first half of the tour was actually pretty boring, just walking through large subterranean rooms with the guide giving overly detailed explanations of rock formations, etc. When we arrived at a steep ladder and he mentioned that anyone claustrophobic should definitely stay behind, it finally got interesting. In the next thirty minutes or so, we did a circular route crawling, shimmying, and climbing through some really small spaces. Both Katie and I almost got stuck a few times and even got a few bumps and bruises. In fact I was amazed that they even let a few members of our group on this tour considering their bulk vs. the small chimney-sized openings that we had to squeeze through. In fact, I'm not quite sure if everyone did make it out, the guide might still be in there with a set of giant forceps trying to extract a few of our group. Cango Caves is definitely one tourist attraction that probably wouldn't be open to the public if it was in the litigious and hyper-safety conscious USA. Glad we could see it here though!

Near the caves, the town of Oudtshoorn promotes itself as, "The Ostrich Capital of the World". Driving into the valley where the town is located you'll quickly notice that instead of cattle or sheep grazing in the pastures, there are large herds of ostrich. Quite bizarre actually! Pretty much every restaurant in town serves it, and dozens of gift shops sell products made from their feathers, eggshells, or leather. Our guesthouse even served a very tasty ostrich steak dinner and provided a scrambled ostrich egg breakfast! Around the valley there are about 350 farms raising the birds and about half a dozen of them allow visitors. So this morning we did a tour of a working farm and saw how they are bred, hatched, and raised. Actually it was really interesting! The highlight of the tour was when they gave ostrich rides. Unfortunately I weighed about ten pounds too much to be safely carried, but Katie fit the jockey profile perfectly! Seeing her on the back of a huge bird trotting around the corral was an absolute hoot! Her shrieks (of either fright or delight, I'm not sure which...maybe both!) filled the air for the full duration of her thirty-second prance. Where else but South Africa could you dive with great white sharks, bungee jump, go spelunking, and ride a 7' tall bird all in the space of one week!

After a stop for the night in the town of Swellendam we are heading back to Cape Town tomorrow to get everything ready for the arrival of Katie's parents, sister, and soon to be brother-in-law. Even though we are a LONG WAY from home, at least we'll be spending the holidays with family.

She Said:

Todd pretty much covered everything here, but one quick note on the ostriches...they have fingers. Under their wing, they have two long fingers that each has its very own claw. When you ride an ostrich, you sit on their back, rest their wings/arms on your legs and hold on to the upper part of their wings like handles. But what you aren't expecting are the long talons digging into your legs when the bird takes off running! Hence, the loud shrieking and embarrassment I made of myself.

On our way back to Cape Town, we spent the night in the town of Swellendam along the Garden Route. Several of the brochures I had acquired over the previous week mentioned a place called the Fairy Garden there, yet never really mentioned any details about what the place actually was other than saying that it was "magical." I was finally able to talk Todd into taking me there. When we pulled up to the place, it was a house in a residential neighborhood completely surrounded by a tall fence with a ivy growing all over it, so you still couldn't tell what it was. He really didn't want to go in, and said that it was just going to be a garden with a bunch of tacky fairy statues all around. I protested, and said that we had to go in, particularly it was supposed to be magical, right? was exactly as he thought... a garden with little statues of fairies, Harry Potter characters, as well as the Seven Dwarfs and little benches in the shape of mushrooms. The couple that owns the place has been running it for 15 years!! And they dress up like fairies everyday, and when you leave they wish fairy hugs, kisses, and protection on you.

Other than that, I am really looking forward to my family arriving!!! It will be so great to see them and get a taste of home!
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