Friday, April 23, 2010

Just call me Feather Baron

I seem to constantly flip flop back and forth between whether I want to on the beach or in the mountains. Honestly it's probably the enduring struggle of my life right now, which is a crystal clear indication of just how lucky I am. It's a clear cut case of the grass is greener: the beach is too easy and homogeneously beachy, everywhere else things just seem to go awry. After leaving the Drakensburgs after a great and very fun- if slightly ill fated- hike, we decided to stick to the beach for awhile and tour along the Wild Coast and Garden Route. The garden route and Wild coast are classic tourist brochure material, as the names would indicate. Perfect beaches, beautiful indigenous forests, amazing flora and fauna resulting from unique ecosystems created by the meeting of the icy Atlantic and balmy Indian oceans. On the beach is world class surfing, just back from the beach world class hiking. It is as great a travel destination for all ages as you're likely to find anywhere.

After a few days though, it was just boring. I have spent the better part of three months on the beach, virtually all of them much warmer than these. The beach is great, but a beach without blasting sun and warm water just doesn't do much for me these days. I'm used to swimming in bathwater-warm ocean and spending 48 hours at a time in no more than shorts and flips, so anything less just isn't quite it. We decided to venture once again into Africa, and take the old highway through the Little Karoo desert rather than the old coastal highway the rest of the way to Cape Town (I would never disgrace myself to take the new unscenic highway).

First stop of real note was Oudtshoorn, ostrich capital of the world. The story on this little town is an odd one. In the 1930's or so when ostrich feathers were the fashion, Oudtshoorn capitalized. South Africa became the world's biggest exporter of ostrich feathers, with Oudshoorn in the center of the action. Peppered around town are numerous serious mansions and estates of the former "feather barons." Then, predictably, the bubble burst and a town on the fringes of some serious desert was left with like a 2:1 ratio of ostriches to people and not much else for opportunities. The town rebooked itself as a tourist destination, with big birds at the center of the action. Touch an ostrich, kiss an ostrich, ride an ostrich. Fun for the whole family! But, as my friend Tomas put it, "an ostrich is really just a big bird. I'm not going to pay 60 rands just to see a big bird." So instead we checked out the Cango caves. The caves were just some pretty big caves, with some Khoisan bushman artifacts thrown into the bargain. As we are quite adventurous, we chose the "adventure route" so we had to squeeze into some tiiiight little spaces. There's not a lot to say about the cave tour. It was fun and interesting, but it was kind of exactly what you'd expect.


After Oudshoorn we took route 62, the old highway through the desert and mountains. Again, cool and gorgeous scenery but nothing particularly exciting. We arrived in Stellenbosh, wine capital of Africa, ready to do some tasting and class the joint up a little.

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