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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Going Underground in Cango Caves - Day 362

Today we are going underground, to the most beautiful, jaw-dropping, magical place that nature has created.

Our first stop was at Oudtshoorn. How on earth do you pronounce this name? From hearing others say this, there is no “sh” within the word. We arrived at Beans about Coffee café, and the first thing I did was ask the friendly young lady serving to articulate it. Oats-wor-an. Oh, Of course!

What a great place Beans about Coffee café is. Located in the first Bank in this area, our barista showed us the safe room with the big heavy metal door. Inside was a beautiful mural, which seemed strange, and she explained that after the building was a bank, someone had used this as their home. Cool!

We didn’t stop for long, we had a long day ahead of us. It had already taken us 100 minutes to reach here, through the Outeniqua Pass where we could see the devastation of the recent fires, having decimated the landscape. We could smell the odour of burnt wood and in one place, huge billows of smoke rising in the distance. We are sad to read that the Californian fires are still raging and our hearts are with all the people affected.

Our next stop was the Cango Caves and en route, and later in the day, we saw many Ostrich farms. Indigenous to Africa, the Ostrich thrives in the Karoo’s dry environment and back in the 1800s, the farmers here were quick to realise that they had a profitable commodity in them. They replaced the crops with breeding these birds as feather trimmings for hats and boas were all the rage in Europe and people couldn’t get enough of these fine plumages. I have read that between 1875 and 1880 birds were selling for up to £1,000 a pair. That’s equivalent to approx. £114,000 in today’s terms.

Unfortunately, increased competition, the introduction of open cars (feathers don’t bode well in windy weather), and then WWI caused the demise of this feather industry. Warehouses full of feathers were left with no buyers, causing many farmers to get into massive debt.

And now, the Ostrich farms have diversified, making these birds a tourist attraction, you can even ride one of these animals (we didn’t bother). Plus their meat is popular because of its extremely low-fat content, and the leather is used for shoes, clothes and handbags. The feathers are still used, making lovely feather dusters!

We arrived at Cango Caves and was very glad to get out of the scorching 41 degrees heat. There were two guided tour options, the standard one taking 1 hour and the more extended adventure one where you need to be agile enough to crawl through narrow tunnels. We had heard that in 2007 a lady got stuck here for over 10 hours, causing 22 other people to be trapped as well. She was somewhat on the large size, and the management had suggested that she should not go on the adventure tour, but she got annoyed and insisted. Eventually, she was freed by experts using rock climbing equipment and liquid paraffin. How embarrassing and it was on the world-wide news! We decided to go on the standard tour. Hey, we were short of time!

The Cango Caves are a UNESCO site, and I can see why. We descended down into the first and largest of the caverns where our guide turned on the lights with a gasp from many of us. Oh my, what a beautiful place, showing nature at its most creative. Thousands of years of water, slowly trickling down depositing calcium carbonate and forming these incredible shapes. This main hall, discovered by accident in 1780 by a local farmer, is enormous and had, until 1994, concerts performed here for 30 years with audiences of up to a thousand people. Sadly, due to vandalism, these were stopped.

I’m not sure how big the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for. Apparently the cave’s first official guide, Mr van Wassenaer, back in 1898, walked for 29 hours, following an underground river and calculated he was 25km from the entrance; however this is yet to be proven. Anyhow, it is a very magically beautiful place and well worth visiting.

Inside the first hall, there was an impressive stalagmite called Cleopatra's Needle which is nearly 10m tall and still growing. Plus dripstone and flowstones causing a formation called the giant Organ Pipes – gorgeous.

Everywhere we looked, there were weird and wonderful shapes. We have been to quite a few caves in our time, and I must say that this really is one of the most jaw-dropping, stunning caves we have seen. We carried on through in awe. In the next chamber was an ancient formation approx 500,000 years old, far older than mankind, and has been given the name of The Leaning Tower of Pisa. I don’t think the title gives it justice. Our guide was very humorous and obviously loved her job. Crikey, who wouldn’t, coming into this peaceful subterranean environment and seeing all of its natural wonders? I am realising profoundly how amazing and precious planet earth is and how we are just a blip in the eye of its existence. Remember, we have existed equivalent to only 2 seconds of a 24 hour period, representing the life of our world. We need to care for this world; otherwise I believe that it is not the world that won’t survive, it is us. Earth has already transformed itself 5 times, it can do it again, just not with us around, and who can blame it?

The rest of our journey today was through more wonderful scenery of mountains and valleys to a small village called De Rust which is situated at the gateway to the Klein Karoo. We had heard positive things about this place, but perhaps we had arrived at the wrong time of day. Its shutters were down, and we didn’t get to see much of this quaint little Victorian village along Route 62. I felt for Tim, it was a long diverted drive along a gravel road to get there. He is brilliant and takes it all in his stride.

We found a quicker route back home bypassing Oudtshoorn, again a dirt track, and while we were bumping along, I noticed something that looked like a large stone moving slowly across the road. It was a tortoise! We stopped and watched it slowly waddle into the bank. Within 1km, we came across another tortoise. Crikey, they are like buses. We haven’t seen one up til now and now two in the space of a few minutes! This tortoise seemed to be walking down the road, rather than across it. We were concerned that it may be run over, so Tim picked it up and placed it in the bank. It was making a weird growling noise. I reckon Tim had put it on the bank it had just slowly come from. One step forward, we come along and, 100 steps back!

Back to Knsyna for a delicious seafood supper, all in a day work for a couple of #grownuptravellers.

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