Today, we are incredibly lucky to have a guest post from a talented young author, Savannah Grace. At the age of 14, Savannah and her family backpacked around the globe and this journey inspired her recently published book, Sihpromatum. After almost five years living in South Africa, I was delighted to learn about ostrich riding from Savannah Grace. It sounds like a fun-filled experience we will have to check out next time we’re back in S.A.
When South Africa is mentioned as a holiday destination, many people quickly relate it with theft, corruption and danger. Though I cannot deny these are serious factors there are also many incredible activities to experience in this modern African country.
In 2005 when I was 15 years old backpacking in India, my positive impressions of South Africa were formed. I heard S.A. was the home of the highest bungee jump, penguins, great white shark diving, whales and wildlife safaris but the one thing which struck me was the remarkable idea that you could ride ostriches! I quickly decided that this was a country I needed to investigate with my own two eyes.
It wasn’t until 2008 that my travels took me to the crashing waves at the very tip of the African continent where penguin colonies form. I was lucky enough to experience all of the things listed above, including straddling a big, fat bird.
If you venture to a small town called Oudtshoorn you can find one of many ostrich farms in southwest South Africa. We’ve all seen a farm strewn with cows, horses and sheep but this was a feather spewing, bird brained farm with giant fowls tip-toeing left and right.
Finally there he was, standing before me in all his feathery beauty. He was a monstrosity of a chicken, his small head supported on a slinky-like neck moved back and forth observing. I looked down my nose at him in the same fashion he pointed his inquisitive beak at me, staring through eyes framed with a thick fanning of dark lashes.
With my hand outstretched full of pellets I was thinking, ‘what am I doing?” as he reached his long softly fuzzed neck through the fence and pecked at my hand. A trickle of sweat was creeping down my brow by this point but I think it was more than just the heat.
Not long after, I found myself creeping into the large pen of a mating pair of ostriches. Our guide held up a stick, which was one branch short of being a tree, above his head to intimidate the male in the hopes of discouraging him from attacking the group of intruding tourists. If the male isn’t so easily dissuaded then you must immediately fall flat on your belly and play dead. This way he will likely stand on you, a discomforting thought with the 200+lbs animals only meters away across the open ground, but quickly lose interest.
Cautiously, we found their nest placed neatly underneath an open straw covering. This is where we had the rare chance to prove JUST how strong and resistant ostrich eggs really are. So what did we do? We stood on top of them, of course. After all, if the mother of a couple hundred pounds can sit on them, surely my measly hundred couldn’t harm. There is definitely an odd sensation when standing on eggs waiting for the sudden collapse and “squish”.
Lastly, we were introduced to the “thoroughbred” race ostriches in a large pen. Now we’d get a chance to ride them! Climbing a small staircase, similar to the ones used to mount an elephant but much smaller, you swing your leg up and over the animal and straddle it as if to ride a horse. The saddle is a simple plastic jacket; the ostrich’s head is covered with a brown woven sack which is quickly removed once you are positioned and ready. My legs covered by the incredibly soft feathered wings I truly felt like an Egyptian empress.
It was really weird having a giant bird under my butt, rocking side to side as it pranced about. There’s only one way off and that is to let go and slide off, unless of course you fall off first which many did.
In the end we were treated to a local race where the experts show us how it is done. Placing bets we picked out who would be the winning ostrich.
Now, if that doesn’t get your blood rushing and hasn’t touched the spot, then perhaps you should end your night with a delicious ostrich steak. And yes, when I say steak I mean juicy, tender, dripping with blood steak. Surprised? So was I. Like many before me, I was expecting a white meat like turkey. To compliment this meal you can add a gigantic sunny side up ostrich egg. Equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs, this cholesterol delight can feed a whole family for the ripe price of $5. This entire fun-filled day of grand ostrich experiences costs just under $20.
As long as you are cautious and act responsibly, South Africa can be an exceptional and memorable holiday destination with all of the wonderful activities it has to offer.