Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Prince Albert

Breakfast was included in the price of our cottage at Karoo National Park, after which we walked round their fossil trail. The region is renowned for the amount of interesting fossils that erosion keeps turning up. Including a lizard like mammal ancestor.

We continued driving through the empty Karoo until suddenly the Swartberg mountains appeared on the horizon, looking like they had been painted on to a screen a-la Road Runner. We stopped at the town of Prince Albert, obviously because of the name. The town is quite pretty and is apparently the city dwellers ideal of a life in the Karoo. We decided to drive over the Swartberg pass to Oudtshoorn. The pass was breathtaking on the way up from Prince Albert, so view-wise I am very glad we did it. For other reasons it may not have been such a good idea. The road is unsealed all the way over the pass and is actually undergoing reconstruction in places at the moment. We had to be careful on the way up. Unfortunately at one point there was a bit of a steep ramp in the already steep road and Gemma had the car in the wrong gear as she was watching the scenery. There was no way we were going to make it over the bump. At that point Gemma tried to get the car started an up the hill again, but kept rolling it backwards down the windy mountain path. She started to panic a bit. We were heading toward a ditch on the mountain side of the road, so I tried to calmly talk her through steering away from that in reverse. She was able to get the car going after that and up the hill. The whole thing wasn't helped by the fact that we had a car waiting to come down past us and a construction vehicle coming up behind us. Gemma was quite shaken by the whole thing and pretty much rushed the rest of the pass. The Oudtshoorn side looks over an agricultural valley, so wasn't quite as nice a view anyway. The contrast between the Karoo on the Prince Albert side and the Klein Karoo on the Oudtshoorn side is quite marked.

Gemma didn't want to drive after that so we booked into a 'chalet' in a caravan park in Oudtshoorn for 2 nights. I thought the whole place looked a bit like a barracks or something, very utilitarian buildings. It was about an hour later that I realised the South African Infantry training place was right over the road. That explained all the people walking about in fatigues and berets. Oudsthoorn as a tourist place is famous for it's Ostrich farms, but when you have seen so many in the wild, the idea of paying to go look at a farm of them doesn't really appeal. Oudsthoorn is a reasonably large town and also reasonably dull. On the second day of our stay we worked out that we may have been better off only staying the one night. It rained too.

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