14.11.2009 - 16.11.2009
I liked Oudtshoorn. A small, friendly town nestled in a depression in the hills of the Western Cape, it lies about 70km inland and forms a triangle with the resorts of Mossel Bay and George. It is not the worlds most exciting place, but it is the centre of South Africa's Ostrich trade, and that was the reason for our visit. That and Meerkats, obviously. Meerkats are an animal that has long fascinated both Maaret and myself, and the chance to see them up close was not one that we were about to turn down. Sadly, things didn't work out as we had hoped. The fabled Meerkat Magic project never returned our enquiries, whilst we also discovered that their price had gone up in the past year by over 400% to an eye watering 1400Rand. And whilst we both wanted to see Meerkats, we didn't really want to see them 130euros worth. For that price, I would want to take a couple home with me.
And so we were pointed in the direction of a wildlife sanctuary nearby which had meerkats. The Cango wildlife sanctury is actually a very strange place. It is basically a zoo – and the idea of going to a zoo in Africa when there are so many wild animals around is a strange one to me – and though they did have a great meerkat enclosure for us to view, the rest was a a bit odd. There was the standard reptile and snake house, an aviary and some aquarium exhibits amongst others. But there was also a crocodile pit where they would lower you in a cage into the crocodiles, which just wasn't quite right.
And then there was their main attraction, the big cats. Going to see big cats in a zoo in Africa really does seem bizarre, but that wasn't even the main thing: amongst the leopard, cheetahs and lions (which included 2 very rare white lions) were a number of Tigers. And they were breeding more. Yes, Oudsthoorn, a small and obscure wildlife zoo in a continent where tigers have never lived is part of the world breeding program to try and help endangered Tigers, and they have several, including rare white tigers and, apparently, some white tiger cubs very soon on the way. I haven't seen a tiger for many years, but whilst cool, this was just a bit too strange. And after a quick look, we returned to the meerkats, and then left. We had other animals to visit.
Being the Ostrich capital of South Africa, we pretty much had to visit an Ostrich farm, and so found a good one (translation: cheap because of discounts we had). We had the standard tour and history, explanations about the farming and soon, before the serious stuff: standing on ostrich eggs to prove how hard they are, watching them race, and for me, the highlight: Riding an Ostrich. I actually rode one years ago, but was happy to do it again – they are large, ungainly and evil looking birds that move really quickly and there is always comedy value in it. And so after signing the normal disclaimers (In event of injury or death, nobody will sue the farm; It is at my own risk; I will donate a kidney if asked at any time in the next 15years; No, i won't mention that I have seen Elvis. That sort of thing), it was onto the back of an ostrich with a cash bag over it's head (to calm it), grab onto the wings and lean back as somebody whisks the bag off its head, and you hold on for dear life as the bird goes sprinting madly around the enclosure. Always good fun.
That evening, we partook in the other obvious activity in the Ostrich capital. We had Ostrich steak for dinner, and damned good it was too. Admittedly it would have been better if Maaret had not been served the unordered and optional shards of glass in her salad, but on the plus side there was no permanent damage (except to the now eaten Ostrich, naturally) and we got lots of extra food and a free shot for our troubles. In the circumstances, I can live with that.