Along the southern coastal region of South Africa’s Western Cape, lies a stretch of parallel routes originating from Cape Town and bleeding into the Eastern Cape. It’s referred to as the Garden Route–a ridiculously scenic drive encompassing a myriad of activities to partake in along the way including but not limited to whale watching, cave exploration, game drives, surfing, bungee jumping, and a visit to an ostrich farm or two.
I had the pleasure to show two of my friends around the Garden Route, being this was my third time experiencing such a wondrous opportunity. One of the particular highlights I was looking forward to, besides the highest bungee in the world, was introducing them to the peculiar world of ostriches.
You see, ostriches are absolutely terrifying creatures.
They are bitey and ultra curious birds that can easily wreck your s#1T if you get too close to them. They’re also fast as heck and can kill you with their giant legs if they wanted to.
At the Cango Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world, we had the privilege of being shown around the farm on a private tour, along with everything an ostrich is capable of. They really are bizarre creatures!
I informed my friends of a thing called an “ostrich massage” that I’ve gotten here before, but I didn’t tell them exactly what it was. They had all sorts of guesses, including a version where they thought an ostrich would give them a back massage by stepping on their backsides. THAT would be the death of us!
But, no. An ostrich massage was much less horrible than being stepped on. Instead, you were simply given a bucket of pellets to hold close to your chest as an ostrich or two or three came and went to town on the pellets from around your neck. It was a kooky experience, but the unpredictable nature of the ostriches showed on all our faces.
We learned quite a few things about the ostrich bird that day, including how their feathers were used as a form of currency back in the olden South African times. Weird. Also, cannot forget the fact that their abnormally large eggs are strong enough for a human to stand on without them cracking.
Enough with the play. Time to eat!
On the menu? Ostriches!
Served right here at this very farm.
I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing ostrich meat for the first time at this very place a few years ago and it did not disappoint. I implored Veronica and Will to try it as well and they were more than down for it. Even after learning to love the ostrich, we still didn’t mind devouring one!
Take a look at this delicious ostrich-kabob that I ordered.
If you’ve never eaten ostrich meat before and are wondering how it tastes, know that it resembles and tastes more similar to beef than that of chicken. It’s also lean and full of flavor. The others ordered an ostrich burger and an ostrich steak, both great options as well.
The Cango Ostrich Farm is situated in Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape of South Africa. It is one of two main farms along the Garden Route. I do recommend a visit during your Garden Route trip as it doesn’t take up much time and it IS in the ostrich capital of the world after all.
It’s Day 2 of The Reaching Out 2 The World trip and everything is in full swing! Coinciding with the trip for the kids, Chris and I must also deliver on our pledge to all of our contributors with the perks they were promised. The higher the amount donated, the better the perk would be. One of the most popular incentives chosen by our donors was the South African bracelets handmade by us. Chris learned how to make a bracelet for this cause, right before he left for this trip. His idea was to teach me and the kids how to make them for everyone. He managed to teach some of the boys the tricks of trade before I arrived. When it came for my time to learn, just a couple of minutes in, I knew this was something I didn’t enjoy doing whatsoever! “Just takes time and practice” Chris would say. To be honest, after my horrible first attempt, I had zero interest in trying to learn how to make one. I decided I would concentrate my talents on different efforts towards other perks. So if you receive a bracelet from us, it was carefully made by Chris and the kids, not me!
One of the other popular incentives was a postcard with a personal message written by the kids. We have over 60 postcards to send out to our contributors, with eight kids writing them. It’s not easy to convince hasty teenaged boys to write over 60 postcards to strangers. We made a rule though. In order to play with our iPads, each kid had to write on at least one post card before they played on it for the day. But actually, knowing how much effort was put into getting these kids to go on the trip and how much money was donated, the kids were happy to write messages to everyone! We had a few postcards done already, but since we would be on the road for the next few days, we thought it would be a great idea to bring some blank postcards for them to write as we drove. It was gonna be a few long car rides across the coast!
All of the boys showed up to our house on time, just as Isaac pulled up in the Hotspots van. They each had their backpacks filled with extra clothes and some bare necessities. Chris and I had extra toothbrushes and he had loads of toothpaste for them to use if they forgot theirs. We loaded the van and planned a route to our next destination, the semi-desert town of Oudsthoorn! It would take about five hours to get there but fortunately the route to Outdsthoorn is ridiculously scenic! I’m talking mountains upon mountains upon mountains, emerald-green valleys filled with walloping hills and flowery gardens, vineyards galore, and your occasional livestock wandering about peacefully throughout the land. It felt like a dream world in the middle of nowhere as we drove on through the route. After a few hours, we pulled up to the only restaurant within miles, a little place called Ronnie’s Sex Shop. It’s nothing like the name suggests. It was just Ronnie’s Shop before someone spray painted the word ‘sex’ next to the word ‘Ronnie’. They have since left it like it is and it’s turned to sort of a tourist attraction. We didn’t get any food here. This was a just a pit stop to use the restroom and stretch our legs. We actually stopped at McDonald’s earlier and bought the boys breakfast sandwiches for the road. Here at the shop, there was an old, worn down tractor the boys played on for a bit.
We got back in the van and almost left before we realized Lupho wasn’t in the van! We retrieved him from the restroom and continued driving. Eventually, we made it to Oudsthoorn and pulled up to our first destination of the day, The Oudsthoorn Ostrich Farm!
I came here last year with my group of volunteers, and we were pretty much the only group there. This time around, there were tons of people around! Hotspots has scheduled us a lunch at the farm at 1 pm. Even though this place is a ‘safe haven’ for ostriches, the menu at the restaurant offered many different ostrich selections which included ostrich burgers and ostrich kabobs. We were able to choose anything on the menu, but none of the kids were keen to try ostrich for the first time. “I don’t eat meat from animals” said Ski. I started cracking up! Ski is not a vegetarian by any means. Kid knows how to eat! “Where do you think hamburgers come from? And what about chicken?” I asked. Ski seemed like he was being picky but he would probably eat whatever was put in front of him. Out of all the kids, I would say Simamkele “Ski” Mtshotame is the most stubborn of the bunch. By the way, his name “Simamkele” means “welcoming” which is a little contradictory to his personality. Off the bat, he’s not very welcoming! Let him get used to you though, and then he is a good kid, just with a hardy nature. We constantly have to tell him to smile for pictures otherwise he always looks like he’s having a horrible time when really he’s having a blast! Ski attends one of the two high schools in Kayamandi, Makhuphula High School. His English speaking isn’t at the level it should be at his age of 14 years old, but it has improved only slightly since I have seem him last year. He also has a knack at laughing at the expense of others, which is something we both have in common. He ordered a hamburger and fries, along with most of the other boys besides Chester, who ordered fish sticks and fries. Unbeknownst to them, all of their hamburgers were actually ostrich burgers! The ostrich burgers looked like typical hamburgers; in which the kids ate them with no problem. Chris and I split a platter of ostrich kabobs, a salad, and fries. Ostrich meat is delicious!
The food took a littler longer than expected to come out, so afterwards we immediately went into our tour of the farm. We started off with a brief introduction to the ostrich. The ostrich handler told us that ostriches are only a danger to humans if we go anywhere near their eggs. If an ostrich chases you, lay down with your stomach on the ground and cover the back of your head with your hands. If an ostrich kicks you while you’re standing, you’re almost guaranteed a gory injury or even death! If you so happen to be wearing a belt, take it off and wave it around the ostrich. They are afraid of snakes and belts resemble snakes. They will run away scared! Just some food for thought. The first part of the tour let some of the kids feed the big birds from their hands. RiRi even got an ostrich “kiss” when one of the birds snapped a pellet out of his mouth. The best part of the tour came when the boys got an opportunity to ride an ostrich. They were a little shy of the idea at first, until Ski decided to be the first one to step up to the plate! The handlers put a small bag over the ostrich’s head, so as not to startle it as they bring the bird over to Ski. Once they helped Ski get on the ostrich, off they went! The look on Ski’s face was priceless! It was a mixture of laughing, fear, and pure excitement! After he went a lap or two around the pen, Lupho and Atha rose up to the challenge next! The handlers actually let Atha go and ride it without any guidance. He did a great job and even received an ovation from the crowd watching!
The handlers didn’t want to tire the birds out anymore, so next he offered only for a few kids to sit on an ostrich, but not ride them. Mawande and Chester volunteered to sit on them and pose for pictures.
Next, we went to a different pen where the guides told us about receiving an ostrich massage. I tried to push for Avele and Aphiwe to get a “massage” but either they were too shy or too afraid to try it. When the guide asked if there was anyone who wanted a massage, we all actually kinda pushed Aphiwe towards the guide, until Aphiwe agreed on his own. Boy was he nervous! I got an ostrich massage last year and it’s something that I thought would be too fun not to miss! It’s not a massage at all really. You hold a bucket of pellets at your chest while a couple of ostriches wrap their necks over your shoulders to get to the goldmine of food you’re holding! They do this vigorously, as they constantly peck at the bucket, their necks are “massaging” your head and shoulders. Aphiwe gave it a shot!
I guess the birds have been eating a lot today, so when it came for other people’s turn to try, the birds weren’t really into it, so we moved on to something else. Now came the part where the boys got the chance to stand on ostrich eggs. The eggs are big and quite strong and sturdy, even to stand on. Just as the boys were about to stand on them, Isaac came over to us and said we had to hurry because we were running behind schedule. We managed to get a few pics in though!
Because the lunch at the ostrich farm took so long to come out, Isaac wanted to make sure we made it to the Cango Caves on time for a scheduled tour. The Cango Caves lie deep in the mountains of Oudsthoorn and is filled with history and interesting stories about the formations of the cave structures such as the ancient stalagmites, stalactites, and columns that formed deep within the chambers of the cave.
I also came here last year too but this time would be very different. Hotspots booked the Adventure tour for us which meant we would be going to the deeper parts of the cave and squeezing through crevices that were only literally about a foot wide. This was another great opportunity to get a first-person perspective from one of the kids as they tried to shimmy through the cave cracks. I decided to strap my GoPro to RiRi this time, as I figured he would be the most careful going through the chambers. Rethabile “RiRi” Mofama is 13 years old and he attends Kayamandi High School alongside Mawande. His name “Rethabile” means “happy”, which suits him well. He has a big personality and is always all smiles and laughs. He also has a haircut to match: a head of stars and stripes! I would consider RiRi the most mature out of the bunch. He’s also really, really good at board games such as Checkers and Monopoly. He’s also a dance machine! Last year, whenever I busted out the strobe light and loud music, he would be the first one in the spotlight to show off his moves. I’m sure you’ll see him dancing on the video montage we will make at the end of this trip! I entrusted twinkle toes with my GoPro because I knew he would have no problem maneuvering through the cave rifts.
The tour started and we began in the biggest chamber in the entire cave. It was so big that up until 1995, concerts used to be held here that could seat over 1000 people. The loud music and singing actually damaged the integrity of the cave and people would also carve off chunks and write their names on the walls, so the town decided to put a stop to any concerts or events happening inside the cave. Since then, it has transformed into a tourist attraction for public awareness. We went into different chambers where the kids were fascinated by the different formations that developed over thousands or even millions of years. Of course, this presented more opportunities for them to take selfies and pose in front of the formations for pictures.
A little after, the Adventure part of the tour began. Basically, we would take 175 steps into the deeper hollows of the cave where we would have to squeeze, climb, and shimmy our way through very tight crevices and do a loop around the cave. If you are claustrophobic then you might have some trouble with this. I’m a little claustrophobic myself but the fun factor trumped any uneasiness I had. The kids were also loving it!
I thought for sure at some point that at least one of the kids was going to slip or fall or something and hurt themselves but that wasn’t the case at all! They are highly adept in traversing in caves so much that we went way past our tour guide and the rest of the tourists who were in our group. Our guide seemed to be okay with it because she saw how much energy the boys had and how slow the rest of the tourists were going. Honestly, I don’t think some of those tourists made it through those tight holes! We didn’t stick around long enough to find out. Even when we had to go back up and down the 175 steps to get to the exit, most of them ran them almost the entire way.
The guide said the Adventure tour would take us roughly 90 minutes to get through, but according to the timer on RiRi’s GoPro that recorded everything from start to finish, it took us less than 50 minutes. All that meant was we had even more time to relax and wind down at our accommodation for the night, a place nearby called Backpacker’s Paradise.
I would describe Backpacker’s Paradise as a ‘resort hostel’. Just like many hostels, you had your typical dorm-style bedrooms and a kitchen, but the hostel was sectioned into other small buildings. There was a small pool area, you had a separate bar and pool table area, you had a place where you could camp outside, a nice community living area, a fire-pit, and many rooms to accommodate others. I believe this is the first time the boys have stayed in a place like this. The eight of them plus Chris and myself shared our own 10 person dorm. Most of the boys don’t have proper beds at home and usually have to share beds with their whole families, so for them to get their very own comfortable bed for once was one of the little things of this trip to make it that much more enjoyable for them. We also had our own bathroom attached to our room that contained two showers which was great! The boys don’t get showers that often (and trust me, they need them!) so with that in mind, Chris and I brought extra soap and deodorant for them to use, for their sakes and ours!
As soon as we picked our beds, the boys ran off to the pool. These guys love to swim no matter how cold the water may be! Later on, they split up; some of them went to play soccer in the lot, some went to go make coffee, and the others went to go play pool. I had no idea that some of them were pool sharks in progress! Their formation and posture when aiming for a shot was even better than my own.
The boys were pretty excited the whole time we were there. At times I had to tell them to quiet down because we weren’t the only guests staying at the hostel. Soon enough, an ostrich braai was ready for us, thanks to the cooks at the hostel. Ostrich kabobs, potato wedges, biscuits, and salads filled our bellies. It was a typical braai (bbq) and just like all the others I have been to, this one was just as good.
With dinner now complete, Chris summoned the boys to start taking showers. Afterwards, he had his book, “The One and Only Ivan”, he wanted to read with them before they went to bed. It’s the book about a gorilla they started reading the first or second night I arrived here. Chris read first and then each of the others had a chance to read a few pages out loud.
Afterwards, it was lights out for the boys because they had to wake up early the next day. When they went to sleep, Chris and I went to the main lobby to wind down and also use the Wi-Fi.
That completes Day number 2, another successful outing with the kids! Tomorrow brings Day 3, which turned out to be most of the boys favorite day. 🙂