Sunday, January 15, 2012

South Africa Day 8 - Oudtshoorn

After a rip roaring breakfast at Rothman Manor, one of the very best so far, much like the place itself, we trundled, with balloon like paunches, to the car and made speed out of Swellendam, pointing ourselves firmly in the direction of Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn’s main claim to fame I believe, and if this is not so then it should be, as it is indeed a marvellous main claim upon that fame, is that it’s the home of ostriches. And when I say home, I don’t just mean a well proportioned pile with a separate reception room and space for a bonquet. I’m talking a dwelling of epic proportions, replete with banqueting halls for each day of the week and more cupolas than you can shake a foxhound at.

Ostrich doing what it does best

Apparently Oudtshoorn is home to 97% of the world’s population of these over-sized turkeys, a fact that I found somewhat excessive but came to appreciate as we got nearer to the town, they were everywhere, ostrich farming is certainly big business in this part of the world.

We found Queens Hotel quite easily, this colonialy stylish place is, according to them, the third oldest hotel in South Africa, and I’ve no reason to doubt their word. It has a real old world feel about it with a lounge that made me wish smoking was still allowed inside, and that I smoked a pipe. But, alas, the days of lighting up indoors, and it being required behaviour for debonair young men to partake of the pipe are long gone. The world can be a sad place sometimes.

On the road to Oudtshoorn
So, after being told in no uncertain terms, to change out of my blazer, cravat and smoking cap, we headed out of Oudtshoorn with a view to tackling the Swartberg Pass. This pass traverses the Swartberg Mountains that separate the Little Karoo from the Great Karoo and much of it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built using convict labour between 1881 and 1888 by Thomas Bain, who seems to have been a bit of pass master, as he built about twenty of them across the country, but Swartberg is reckoned to be his most spectacular. The original dry-stone retaining walls are still there 120 years after being built, and they don’t look like they are about to crumble away any time soon.

As time was getting on a bit when we started the drive, and although the road is gravel it’s perfectly negotiable in a normal car, and as we all know, a hire car is as good as a 4x4, it was slow going and we obviously weren’t going to get far before it started getting dark, which somewhat defeats the object of such a drive. So after completing about a quarter of it we decided to turn back and give it a proper go the next day.

Swartberg Pass and the Great Karoo
It was while up the pass that my camera started to play up again, I was beginning to think I had the first camera in the world that suffered from vertigo. When I got back to the hotel I had a tinker with it, which wasn’t, in hindsight, the best thing to do, as it was shortly after this, very shortly in fact, that it developed another problem, well another error message at any rate, I was starting quite a collection.

In the end it was clear that there was no way back from cataclysmic issues it had developed and my camera, accompanying lenses and peripherals had become nothing more than dead weight to carry around for the next few days. I was not amused.

Snapshot of the mountains on the way back to Oudtshoorn
Went out for dinner to Paljas Restaurant which was fairly empty but ablaze with neon lights, various African trappings and with friendly staff, although they seemed to have the greatest hits of Reggie Wilson’s Hammond Heaven on the stereo which lent it a certain bizarre air. Still, the food was good, I had a Malay curry that even managed to lift me from my morose, petulant mood slightly.

I remember thinking, this dish is so good I should get a picture of it for my ‘Dishes That Were So Good’ album, then I realised I couldn’t, at which point I collapsed onto the floor weeping like a small, dishevelled child, and amid my lamenting wails of how unfair it all was, Sarah quietly paid the bill, and under disapproving gazes, we left.

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