Monday, January 10, 2011

Been Through the Desert on a Bird with No Name

After our escape to Lesotho, we returned to South Africa for the next leg of our odyssey.  Our overnight stop was the cosmopolitan metropolis of Aliwal North, where everyone tried to speak to us in Afrikaans and it was a refreshing +35 degrees.  Sarah and I took our already close relationship to the next level at the Spanish Haven, where the small room featured not only the double bed we shared, but also the toilet and shower.  Luckily, we were only there for the night, and then it was on to Graaff-Reinet through the endless Karoo (Khoe-San for land of thirst), a semi-desert that covers almost 1/3 of South Africa. 

En route to Graaff-Reinet, we took an old road to Nieu Bethesda, a tiny isolated settlement in the middle of the Sneeuberg Mountain range.  It was home to an outsider artist, Helen Martins and has since become an artistic colony and tourist attraction with its eccentric atmosphere and surreal location in the middle of nowhere. 

En route to Nieu Bethesda

From there, we headed to Graaff-Reinet, “the jewel of the Karoo”, where we checked into our B&B and met our alcoholic, chain-smoking grandparent hosts.  Very kind, but another bizarre stop on our itinerary. Graaff-Reinet is surrounded by the Camdeboo National Park (Khoekhoen for green valleys) in the Great Karoo and we spent our day exploring the Valley of Desolation (“Cathedral of the Mountains) piled dolerite columns below jagged cliffs that offer hauntingly beautiful views of the Karoo plains and mountain ranges. 

Nice job Sarah

Overlooking Graaff-Reinet

Our journey continued bright and early the next morning with Terrence letting us out of the house in his underwear as we drove through the Little Karoo and its steamy mountain passes to Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world.  I was sceptical of an ostrich farm tour, but it turned out to be a hilarious experience.  I was one of two volunteers to attempt riding an ostrich which has provided Sarah with hours of entertainment.  Who knew how frightening and exhilarating riding the second fastest land animal in the world could be?  I can now add ostrich jockey to my resume, although I’m not sure how I didn’t pee my pants from laughter and fear.  Sarah and I continued our laughter after overhearing two old British women discuss how typical it was of Canadian culture to be cruel to animals just for a photo-op! 
By the end of our time in the Karoo, we were both ready to enter the coastal climate and leave the inland area, which was a cultural experience in itself. 
My maiden ostrich voyage

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