Have you ever seen the film, “How to tame your dragon”?, a chucklesome animation about a Viking boy who defies the culture of hunting dragons by befriending a dragon himself and discovering there’s more to these creatures than everyone first thought.
Before I visited South Africa a little over a year ago, I too discovered there was more to a creature, one most are familiar with, than I had every believed possible; the creature in question? The ostrich. It came as no surprise that they could not fly, that their long, powerful legs made them the speediest bird on earth, that they laid giant eggs, or that wearing a plumage of its feathers was once the height of fashion sought after by royalty and fashionistas alike (they were once worth more than their weight in gold). What I was incredibly startled to learn, was that it was possible to ride one. Like one might ride a horse. A horse with only two legs, no reins and no saddle. Essentially an oversized chicken.
I made the discovery whilst on our ‘wandermoon‘ (as I like to call it – four months spent travelling across Africa for our honeymoon). We had been using a little book picked up for free, called ‘Coast to Coast’, which contained a treasure trove of backpackers’ haunts. Every day I’d read a couple of place descriptions out to Doug in the car and we’d aim for the one that enticed us most. No sooner had I read the words ‘Oudtshoorn…ostrich capital of the world…opportunity to ride an ostrich’, I knew we had to visit.
With the heat rising into the forties, we drove down empty rolling roads, past ostrich farms baking in the semi-desert of the Little Karoo, in the western cape province of South Africa. I had greatly hoped that I would witness my husband ride one of these magnificent birds, the thought of him on ostrichback would be an image to relish for many a year to come, but alas there was a weight limit of 75kg. A guide led us around the ostrich farm and having discussed in detail the various ways an ostrich can maim, garotte or crush you with its dinosaur-esque claw, I was persuaded to be the first person in the group to don a blue boiler suit, enter the paddock and mount an ostrich.
Needless to say, it was one of the more bizarre days of my life. Convinced that my part in this feathery endeavour was simply to sit on the ostrich, and then hop off again, I was unprepared for what came next. Baring a scarily similar resemblance to a Guantanamo bay prisoner, the bird’s head was covered with a bag intended to lull it into a false sense of security. The big birds have tiny brains and think that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them. My ostrich, however, definitely knew something funky was going on.
Wobbling unsteadily, I gripped its body – only slightly larger than your Sunday roast – between my thighs. Attempting to hold onto the scrawny, snaking neck, I was instead instructed to grip its wings, spiny and flimsy in my hands. Then, all of a sudden, without warning, the guide whipped the bag off the bird’s head and it bolted, full pelt across the paddock with me clinging on to its wings for dear life. With two staff members at my sides in case anything untoward should happen, to much hilarity (you can hear Doug sniggering away on the video), I skidded off it’s back and the bird ran off.
We celebrated my victorious feat and newfound skill by stocking up at the vineyard opposite, before heading for a picnic at a nearby waterfall to wash off excess elephant mud and ostrich goob.
If you’d like a laugh you can watch my ride below: