7.08.2013

South Africa: Day 10 (Cango Caves and Safari Ostrich Farm)

Steve and I left these two kids at the hotel with the iPad to babysit them while we went grocery shopping for breakfast: 


Just kidding. (Well, sort of. . .)

After breakfast, we drove 25 minutes to Cango Caves. Rachel got sick along the way, but thankfully, all vomiting took place outside the van on the side of the road. She looks pretty good for someone who just threw up: 


Cango Caves was discovered by a local farmer in 1780. In the 1800's, they charged the modern equivalent of fifty or sixty dollars to enter the caves. But that didn't stop people from coming. They engraved their names onto the walls and took stalactites and stalagmites home as souvenirs. In 1820, Lord Charles Somerset published the first set of regulations for the caves, prohibiting such destruction.

We decided to take the 60-minute Standard Tour instead of the 90-minute Adventure Tour. The guide tried to talk us into the Adventure Tour (for lean people only), but Rachel wasn't feeling 100 percent and Kaleigh is not a good hiker. 

Rachel read some of the signs outside the cave and told me, "Mom, watch out for people using spray paint because they will pay you five hundred rand if you turn them in!"


Cango Caves has some of the largest stalagmite formations in the world; here's Steve's lecture to the littles about not touching any of the delicate formations:


I had to take some pictures of Derrick's awesome hair: 


And then after I took this picture of Derrick and Gcobisa. . .


. . . They insisted that it was time for a picture of me and Steve:


Please note that we were all wearing jackets, and I was even wearing a hat. Oudtshoorn was warm, but we dressed in preparation for a chilly cave. And then guess what. . . it was hot. And the humidity was 93 percent. Steve ended up carrying all of these jackets: 


Lucy asked if she could use my camera, but I told her that photos inside the cave wouldn't turn out. So she did her best to prove me wrong. She told me to feel free to post these pictures on my blog and let everyone know that she took them: 


This wall hanging that Lucy is standing in front of shows the actual size of the Tunnel of Love, a passageway in the Adventure Tour that is only 30 centimeters wide. Our guide told us that a lady got stuck in the Tunnel of Love for eleven hours, and they had to use dish soap to get her out.


On our way back towards Oudtshoorn, we stopped at the Wilgewandel Holiday Farm


They had a wide assortment of very affordable activities to choose from:


We really could have played there all day (go karts, paddle boats, a zipline for fifty cents, miniature golf for a dollar). But Wilgewandel wasn't a planned stop, and we already had a lot on our schedule for the day. 


The kids wanted to ride the zipline, called a foefieslide, but it was set up all the way across the dam. There was no harness, no rope hanging down for your feet, nothing. Just hold on tight, and don't let go. But since we weren't really interested in jumping in the lake to rescue a kid, we decided to pass.

We reminded the kids that we stopped for one reason: the camel rides. 


Because seriously. . . how many times in your life do you get a chance to ride a camel? 


It was awesome:


Gcobisa and Lucy rode Nelson:


Adam and Rachel rode Fossie: 


And then, when they were finished, Derrick and Kaleigh went for a ride on Nelson:


Watching those dromedary, or Arabian, camels (distinguished by the one hump) walk made my knees hurt. They can move both legs on the same side of their body at the same time. And something about the way their joints move make it look painful.

Did you know that Rachel's very first stuffed animal as a baby, given to her before she was even born, was a camel? My sister, Rebecca, gave it to her so she could always remember the story of when my great-grandfather was offered 1000 camels for my Grandma Malouf's hand in marriage. (The offer was refused, and my grandma later married my grandpa, who made his proposal sans animals.)

Camels are actually quite fascinating; there are 17 million of them throughout the world. Ninety percent are dromedaries, and the other 10 percent are Bactrian (two-hump). Seventy-five percent of the dromedary camels are found in North/East Africa.

Most camels today are domesticated. They are used for their milk, hair, meat, and as transportation. Wild camels in the savanna were killed off by the lion; the camels retreated to the desert to avoid large predators. Wild dromedaries are long extinct, but there are about 1000 wild Bactrian (two-hump) camels that still live in the Gobi desert (between China and Mongolia).

Camels have adapted very well to the desert. They can go for two or three weeks in the summer heat without drinking any water. But then, when water is available, a camel can drink 50 gallons of water in five minutes. Camels carry large loads, withstand strong sandstorms, adapt to large temperature differences, and they can even swim, earning them the nickname "desert ships".


If you make a camel mad, they will spit at you. But it's not really spit, it's more like vomit. The liquid comes from its first stomach chamber, and is extremely putrid. The guide told me that they "spit" about two liters. So then I asked the guide if a camel had ever spit on him. He said yes. And that if you get spit on, you immediately go take a bath.


While Derrick and Kaleigh finished their ride, the other kids played with some of the animals: 


It should probably be documented that Steve said he'd rather let Adam have a pig than dog. 


Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world, so our next stop was the ostrich farm. Safari Ostrich Show Farm is the oldest ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn; it's also the one Steve and I went to eleven years ago with Linda Smith:


In the 1870s, ostrich feathers became a very popular fashion accessory in Europe. Oudtshoorn, which was then the world's only source of ostrich feathers, went through a huge boom. Ostriches were farmed exclusively for their decorative feathers, and they were sold for the same price per pound as gold. Overproduction and changing fashions resulted in a deep economic slump, which lasted until the early 1900s. And then suddenly, feathers were in fashion again. The second boom lasted until 1914. . . and then busted with the Henry Ford's invention of the car. (It didn't work out for ladies to wear large hats, elaborately decorated with ostrich feathers, in an open car.)

Safari Ostrich Show Farm opened in 1956 and quickly grew to become one of the most important tourism attractions of the Klein Karoo. In the late 1970s, ostriches were once again in high demand, this time for their lean, red meat. Ostrich meat looks and tastes like beef, but is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than not only beef, but also white meats like chicken and turkey. 

I came across this great information on the website, How Stuff Works:

What Makes Red Meat "Red"?

Every animal has meat. Humans have meat. But it's not like "meat" shows up on diagrams of the human body. So what part of the body is it then? Meat is muscle. When an animal dies, muscle undergoes a transformation and becomes what we call meat. And the type of muscle it is determines whether that meat is red, dark or white.
First, some terminology: "Red meat" is meat that's a reddish color before cooking, like beef, venison and ostrich. "White meat" is very pale before cooking and includes chicken, turkey and pork; and "dark meat" usually refers to a slightly darker, higher-fat part of an animal that also produces white meat -- like the wing of a chicken. Rabbits are also considered dark meat.
The primary defining factor in whether animals are white meat or red meat is whether their muscles are mostly fast-twitch or mostly slow-twitch. Slow-twitch muscles are used often, for extended activities like constant walking, standing or flying. It has a lot of the protein myoglobin, which stores large amounts of oxygen to support this long-term energy use. Myoglobin is reddish in color, sort of like hemoglobin in blood, which is why red meat can look so bloody. Ostriches, like cows, spend most of their time standing and walking. Even ostrich wings get a lot of exercise, since they play such a central role in steering. Ostrich muscles are mostly the slow-twitch kind. Slow-twitch muscle is red meat.
Chickens and turkeys, on the other hand, don't use their muscles as much. Most of their muscle mass is the fast-twitch kind, used for short bursts of activity, like a quick jump into the air that constitutes most of their flying. Fast-twitch muscles use glycogen for energy -- there's not much myoglobin there. Glycogen is pale in color. Fast-twitch muscle is white meat. 

So next time the kids whine that they aren't eating their steak because it has blood on it, I will know to tell them that it's actually just the protein, myoglobin, which is red like blood, but not blood.

Anyhow. . .

Our tour started out with a video about the feather boom, and then our guide told us some information about farming ostriches. Ostriches normally lay about 17 eggs per season. But if the eggs are removed from the nest and artificially incubated, then the ostriches will continue to lay eggs, upwards of 60 per season.

Eggs are incubated by the female during day and the male at night, using the coloration of the two genders to avoid detection from predators. (The drab, brown-colored female blends in with the sand, while the black-colored male is hard to see in the dark.)

Ostriches lay the largest eggs in the world. As soon as the tour guide told us that one ostrich egg is the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs, Rachel and Lucy immediately pointed out (in front of the whole group) "Mom, you were wrong!" (I had incorrectly told them it was equivalent to one dozen chicken eggs.) Ostrich eggs weigh three pounds each and have a diameter of six inches. And, just in case you are wondering, it takes about 40 minutes to hard boil and ostrich egg.

Ostrich eggs are strong. . . they have to be, since the ostriches that sit on top of them often weigh up to 350 lbs.


Then we finally got to meet some of the ostriches on the farm. First, this albino ostrich, named Lady Gaga:


And then this one, with a pigmentation problem, appropriately named Michael Jackson:


There were signs like this all over the farm:


They aren't joking. Last time we were in South Africa, Steve went on a safari ride (without me. . . ) An ostrich came up to a lady and ripped an earring right out of her ear. It is generally recommended to remove jewelry and hide all small shiny objects when you are around the birds. Because they can spot anything. It's no surprise that ostriches have good vision, their eyeballs measure almost two inches across (the largest eye of any land animal).


I think this picture was taken right when the tour guide told us that an ostrich's kick is powerful enough to kill a lion:


But that didn't stop Steve from taunting the female ostriches:


During breeding season, the male ostriches perform a very complex mating ritual to attract the attention of the females. This was especially hilarious to the kids because the ostrich outside our hotel had totally gotten down on the ground and done the mating dance (shaking his wings while moving up and down) to Steve. Steve and Lucy went ahead and demonstrated the dance for our group: 


Some of the other kids wanted to try: 


And then Lucy and Rachel did a full on performance. . . I really should have recorded this: 


(And yes, it's quite possible that the other families in our group thought we were crazy.)

Adam didn't weigh enough for a full ride, but he still got to sit on an ostrich: 


Same with Kaleigh:


Derrick weighed too much for an ostrich ride. I'm pretty sure that weight restriction also applied to sitting on the birds, but he went ahead and climbed up there for a picture. 


We learned a few other facts about ostriches: 

Ostriches can grow to be 9 or 10 feet tall.
They are the fastest animal on two legs.
Ostriches can run at speeds of up to 40 mph, and can maintain a speed of 30 mph for long periods of time.
They can cover a distance of 16 feet in just one stride.
Ostriches have two toes on each foot (all other bird species have three or four).
They also have a 4-inch claw on each foot, which they use to defend themselves.

With that information in mind, nobody else from our group was interested in going on an ostrich ride. Shocking. . . 

There was some peer pressure from our family because Derrick and I rode an ostrich eleven years ago. (There is a small possibility that they were actually the exact same birds we rode before because ostriches live to be about 40 years old.) 

Gcobisa went first:


She climbed up on the side of the fence:


Got positioned, under the bird's wings:


Leaned back:


And then she yelled at them to wait until she was ready. . . but they didn't wait. They just took off with her:


She smiled the whole time:


Lucy, on the other hand, screamed at take off:


And looked rather upset for the first half of her ride:


Until a smile finally emerged:


And then she couldn't stop smiling:


Ostriches don't fly, but their wings are used for balance when running and act as rudders to quickly change directions. When you ride an ostrich, you hold onto their wings like this: 


As soon as she got off, she asked if she could go again:


Lucy and Gcobisa made it look like so much fun that I decided I needed to go for a ride too. So I passed my camera off to Rachel and suited up:


Yeah. . . it was funny: 


Rachel went ahead and took these pictures too. Kaleigh, apparently, went and joined another family while I was gone:


I can only imagine the stories she told them: 


Our last activity at the ostrich farm was to watch a real race:


The ostrich jockeys use their necks as handbrakes. . . pretty funny to watch: 


And then we bid farewell to the ugly birds and drove to Knysna. We left Oudtshoorn later than we had planned, and it got dark quickly. (When I planned this trip, we liked the idea of going during South Africa's winter, resulting in cooler temperatures. But we failed to realize that the daylight hours would be so short. The sun usually set around 5:00 pm, and was pitch black by 6:00 pm.)

We watched a beautiful sunset as we arrived in George, but it was dark by the time we got to Knysna. And by dark, I mean pitch black dark. . . there weren't any lights on the road. (We really should have planned that out better because the road from George to Knysna is one of the most beautiful drives in all of South Africa.)

We went to check in at the Knysna River Club. Which, based on the online description, we thought was the same location that we went canoeing with Derrick eleven years ago. (Have you seen the black and white framed picture in my living room of Derrick and Steve in a canoe? I remember when I got it developed the lady asked me if it was taken at First Dam. . . it's from Knysna.)

But anyhow, it turned out to be a different place:


(That picture was taken the next day.)

We decided to stay anyway because it was dark. And they offered two hours of free WiFi. 

We went to dinner at highly recommended restaurant called Chatter's. Derrick was being ornery, so that made dinner rather awkward. The awkwardness was elevated because this older couple stared at our family the entire time we were there. But they were just like everyone else, trying to figure us out. . . after we finished dinner, they finally started a conversation with Kaleigh.  

Kaleigh asked him if he was a captain, and he actually walked out to his car to get his hat: 


Derrick was bothered about the sleeping situation. We booked two chalets. One for the girls, and one for the rest of us. Steve and I had a bedroom and Derrick and Adam slept in this living room area:


Derrick was upset that he was paying for a room (Gcobisa's) but didn't even get a bed. But, of course, he wasn't willing to pay for another room. It was cold. The internet didn't work. And our mattress was horrible, so I can only imagine what the couch was like.

(I'm not including any of this to reflect poorly upon Derrick. . . it was an understandably stressful situation, and I want to accurately record what our trip was really like.)

Because Derrick couldn't sleep, he decided to exercise all night long. I'm not sure how that thought process goes. . . ? He was loudly doing pushups and rustling around at all hours of the night, making too much noise for me to sleep.

I think it would be good to appropriately label this day as breakdown number two. I told Steve I was ready to go home.

But there were still 26 days to go. . .

4 comments:

Gloria said...

Wow, another crazy fun day! So many awesome memories!

Stephanie Dirks said...

I pretty much laughed for a full 2 minutes looking at Lucy's face at the start of her ride. That is the funniest captured moment! How fun!!

Karen said...

I read this blog with Lilly. When she saw the camels she said ‘neigh’ and then told me that she also rode a camel. Then when she saw the ostrich she got it confused with the swan that bit her. I told her the ostrich was much bigger than the swan.

Keicha Christiansen said...

The ostrich names cracked me up! The rides looked fun! What great memories your kids will have from all these unique experiences.