After four nights at the same hotel, time had come once again to pack our suitcases and load up the car. We headed west on the R62 and David told us that we were now in the middle of Ostrich country, Ostrich farming that is! We had already seen many signs to ostrich farms and to ostrich themed tourist attractions, but the expected fields full of these massive birds were missing, although the tall fences, needed to keep them in, were in place. Along the tune of Marlene Dietrich’s famous song, we asked ‘Where have all the ostriches gone….?’
We made a legstretch stop (S2800) but saw nothing exciting, while south of Calitzdorp our question was answered (S2801):
David mentioned that this was nothing compared to 2005. A few more km up the road we stopped (S2802) hopeful to find another Haworthia, H. scottii, a 2003 Ingo Breuer name. After a lot of searching it would appear that there is a Bayer name as well; Haworthia arachnoidea var nigricans.
Still bemused with the taxonomic challenges posed by Haworthia – in my case, getting a credible label for my images – and remembering the mysteries around naming the various taxa of Argyroderma in the Knersvlakte, here we were presented with yet another challenge: the genus Gibbaeum. I think that there might be two different taxa here, let’s see if you agree the provisional IDs: [PS: Looking at my images in the British winter light, I only see one taxon. I had noted G. heathii as well, but now would not know which plant to put that name too.]
I was able to download Nel’s Gibbaeum Handbook from the internet and although it was published almost 60 years ago, there have not been too many changes. One change is that G. nuciforme used to be G. cryptopodium (Latin for ‘hidden foot’) as most of the plant is below ground level – we believed the literature on this point at it was boiling hot and I left my JCB digger at home. It is said to have pink flowers – but that did not help as there were no flowers on show.
A male ostrich at the top of the hill was taking a fancy to us and was making peculiar snorting noises, not unlike those that my room mates accuse me from making while I sleep. Was the ostrich’s noise a mating call or a warning to go away?
The next stop (S2803) had been recommended again, by Gerhard I believe, and was at a succulent plant nursery: The Douw-Karoo Succulant [sic] Nursery. The owner, Nellis janse van Rensburg showed us around and we had a nice chat about the local plants. Nellis suggested he’d squeeze in the car with us and show us some of the local plants, growing in fields near by. Great!
At S2804 we were not disappointed. Nellis explained that the high-fenced fields and pens had been for ostriches but since the bird-flu out break (WHAT?!? – they kept that quiet on the UK news!) the bottom had dropped out of the ostrich meat trade when the US and Europe banned the import of ostrich meat. Most of the birds were destroyed with some of the feathers going to Brasil for use in the Carnavals. With the economy flat / shrinking, there did not seem to be money available to invest in redeveloping the land. Government agencies were encouraging farmers to let the fields go unattended to give the original local flora a chance to re-establish, call it conservation if you like. When we stopped there was encouraging evidence of this recovery. We found or rather were shown a miniature Aloe, A. longistyla, two different Anacampseros sp. two different Asclepiads, Avonia papyracea (? in my own ignorant broad sense), Crassula columnaris, Crassula hemisphaerica ? Crassula tecta Crassula tetragona. a Euphorbia sp. Glottiphyllum regium, Haworthia truncata, intermediates with A maughanii, Sarcocaulon sp and a couple of bulbs, bare and sitting on top of the soil, some with their leaves eaten away by tortoises.
We carried on deeper into the old ostrich farm area. Nellis used the term ‘Triangle Farm’ for this area which once belonged to a single farm, but over the years has become broken up into smaller parcels. Years ago (as David remembers) this area had also been intensively used for Ostrich farming.
Here we were shown more Gibbaeum – this looked to be the G. heathii that I had noted from the earlier stop, but now could not find. Nellis confirmed the ID.
Back at the nursery we were each given an envelope with Aloe seed – a new challenge for Spring. Thank you Nellis!
Taking his advice, we took the scenic route over the hills rather than the somewhat faster route over the main road. Eunice advised that there was another location of Haworthia emelyae sensu Bayer; Haworthia picta sensu Breuer, ahead of us. Well, as we were passing anyway, we might as well take a look, although our appetite for Haworthias seemed to have been largely filled. There was a slight delay as we circumnavigated and photographed an amorous tortoise couple. She was much larger than the male and he was struggling to keep up with her. I’m sure that we can all think of human parallels in our own circle of friends and acquaintances. By the time we arrived at S2806 we were well past ‘best light’ time, but still managed to take some OK pictures:
We still had one more treat in store. I’ve mentioned before that the geography of this part of South Africa reminds me of a piece of paper where two opposite edges are pushed together, forming ripples in the paper. We found ourselves on a road that followed the east-west valley with ridges on either side. These ridges were the ripples that I alluded to. Here, a mass of clouds was pouring over the ridge to the south, probably the last ridge between us and the ocean. I say pouring, because the clouds moved at breakneck speed. It was watching an enormous wave coming at us, but as the clouds streamed down the hillside, they suddenly evaporated into nothing. More and more mist followed, but again evaporated, I suppose as it hits warmer air rising from the base of the hill. With it came a very strong wind that made the car swerve all over the road and the temperature outside the car dropped quickly by some 10-15 C. Amazing! We had seen similar scenes, but from a greater distance, along the coastal range in Chile, as clouds from the Pacific hit the mountains that create one of the driest places on earth in its shadow. I had also seen clouds roll over the island off the Baja coast at San Quintin. Useful images for a future talk on fog! We stopped to take pictures (S2807).
We found Riversdale much as we had expected to find it late on a Sunday afternoon – deserted.
We turned down one hotel as there was an unpleasant smell in the rooms, but there was plenty of choice. Enjoying a refreshing drink before dinner, the bar man checked if we were the owners of the Nissan XTrail parked in front of the hotel. Yes we were, although it is a rental car. ‘You’ve got a rear wheel puncture’. Great! Not. At least we knew what we’d be doing first thing in the morning: get it fixed!