Welcome to Ostrich Country!

Despite being the Fourth of July and having no fireworks to celebrate, the day was still pretty enjoyable!  We spent a lot of time driving, passing through umpteen cities in South Africa along the way.  We traveled inland most of the day so we left behind the ocean and traveled through the mountains to our final destination of Oudtshoorn… my location for the night.

The first stop of the day was at Barrydale, just about a two hour drive from Cape Agulhas where we stayed last night.  As we made our way to Barrydale, we passed through some pretty funny towns that translate from Afrikaans to English as Mad Gas and Sour Vomit… literally.  We also passed Swellendam, South Africa’s third oldest city with its top tourist attraction is a fairy and gnome sanctuary… we bypassed stopping at this unique “fantasy, fairytale, magical” place however!  As we traveled farther inland, we came upon mountains that reminded me a lot of the scenery of Colorado… so basically gorgeous.  We drove on the curvy paths up and down through the mountains until we came upon Barrydale, a city best known for its brandy… many even consider it to be the best brandy in the world.  Here we visited the natural hot springs and enjoyed swimming in the 110 degree water… oh so refreshing!

We continued on Route 62, the famous Route here in South Africa that would be comparable to our Route 66 in America, traveling through many mountain ranges, the largest being the Black Mountains.  All of the roads here, even their “interstates” and national roads, are all two-lane…, one going in each direction but everyone is very cooperative with their driving as the slower car will pull over to let faster cars pass and both will always acknowledge one another whether it be via waving or via using ones hazard lights… I have a feeling that this two-lane style of driving wouldn’t quite work back in America.   Although we were traveling a lot today, the time goes fast while enjoying the views and trying to take all of it in.  As we traveled to Oudtshoorn, we passed through Ladismith, a city known for its cheese and apricots… and it even had a restaurant called “The Olive Garden”… but it certainly wasn’t associated with the chain back home.  We also passed by a rabbit show farm and a meerkat adventure site… I was really bummed that we didn’t stop (sarcasm… sorry for all of the rabbit and meerkat lovers!).

We reached our final destination of Oudtshoorn which is the capital of the Little Karoo, a semi-desert-like region surrounded by the mountains where we’re staying the night.  Oudtshoorn is best known for its ostriches and is considered ostrich country as there are more than forty ostrich farms surround the city.  Ostriches are incredibly stupid animals—their brain is half the size of their eyeball and their entire brain can fit onto a teaspoon.  If startled, ostriches will simply run in circles as they have no clue where to go but ironically enough, ostriches are very fast—they can run 45 mph for twenty minutes straight.  Unlike most birds, their feathers are not weather resistant but their skin is extremely tough and durable… it is actually the second strongest skin/leather of all of the animals… first being the skin of a kangaroo.  One ostrich egg is equivalent to twenty-four chicken eggs and they can produce an egg every other day.  If the egg is not fertilized, an ostrich is able to sense this and will actually eat the egg itself for nutrition.  Both male and female ostriches have a grey feather coloring for the first twelve months of their life before the males start to develop darker, black feathers.  Thus, you cannot actually tell the sex of an ostrich until they are an entire year old.  Surprisingly however, ostriches are fully grown by fourteen months and can live for more than forty years.  For camouflage reasons, the female stays grey as she sits on the nest with eggs during the day while the male develops the darker color to blend in as he sits on the nest at night.  The males are much more vicious and can much better protect the eggs so they are given the night duty to keep the eggs safe from nocturnal animals.  Females choose their male mates but if a female rejects a male, the male can become so angry that he may actually chase around the female until she is too tired to run anymore and then if he is upset enough, he may actually trample her—tough love and heartbreak I guess.  People even ride ostriches here, using their neck as a steering wheel.

We visited Cango Wildlife Ranch here in Oudtshoorn and saw animals galore—everything from meerkats, iguanas, porcupines, and wallabies to snakes including the green and black mambas, puff adders, boom slangs, and many many more.  On our guided tour, we saw animals galore… first up were the bats that actually have very long hook-like nails in the front attached to their wings which they use to climb… very interesting.  We also saw red river hogs, vultures, ring-tailed lemurs, crocodiles, pygmy hippos (so freaking cute!), otters, storks, and many others.  The best of course were the big cats—they had four month old baby tigers, lions, leopards, and cheetahs.  Interestingly enough, cheetahs can sense when a woman is pregnant and if they sense this, they will attack her… so pregnant females are strictly not allowed to see the cats as it too dangerous.  They also had two completely albino, white tigers which are very rare as there are only about three hundred worldwide.  The Cango Wildlife Ranch is also a breeding program for the cheetah as it is extremely endangered around the world.  There use to be seven different species of cheetahs but they have diminished and only one remains.  This has caused ample problems as inbreeding has become an issue as the bloodlines are too similar.  So the Cango Wildlife Ranch brings cheetahs in from around all around the world in hopes to gain some diversity and they are the leaders worldwide in expanding the gene pool of the cheetah.

I mentioned how fabulous Machiel is at cooking right… well tonight we had ostrich steak for dinner and it was scrumptious!  The meat is very tender and is actually the healthiest red meat available as it contains almost no fat… but still tastes delicious and it blows beef away!  If you ever get the chance you’ll have to try some!

Well, no fireworks for the Fourth of July this year but I guess a few big cats and ostriches will have to suffice for this year!

~Susan

The Mountains

Red River Hogs

The Baby Tiger

The African Leopard

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