Monday, May 20, 2013

Road Babe Dispatch From South Africa

When South Africa is mentioned as a holiday destination, many people quickly relate it with theft, danger and corruption. 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 across India, my initial positive impressions of South Africa were formed. I heard that it was the home of the highest bungee jump, penguins, great white shark diving, whales and wildlife safaris, but the one thing which truly struck me was the remarkable idea that you could ride ostriches! I immediately 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 the many ostrich farms in the region. 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.

Upon my arrival, 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 neck moving back and forth to observe. I looked down my nose at him in the same fashion that 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 wondered whether he would eat the pellets or the hand? He reached his long fuzzy neck through the fence and pecked at the food. A trickle of sweat was creeping down my brow by this point and I think it was more than just the heat.

Not long afterwards, I found myself creeping into the large pen of a mating pair of ostriches. Our guide held a stick, which was one branch short of being a tree, above his head to intimidate the male in hopes of discouraging him from attacking our group of intruding tourists. If the male isn’t so easily dissuaded, you must immediately fall flat on your belly and play dead. This way, he will likely stand on you, a discomforting thought with animals weighing over 200 pounds, but then he will usually lose interest and walk away.

Cautiously, we located their nest underneath some straw covering. This is where we got the rare chance to test just how strong ostrich eggs really are. So, what did we do? We stood on top of them, of course. After all, if the two hundred pound mother can sit on them, surely my measly hundred can't hurt. There is definitely an odd sensation when standing on an egg waiting for the sudden collapse and squish.

Finally, we were all introduced to the farm's thoroughbred racing ostriches. Now, we’d get a chance to ride them! Climbing a little staircase similar to the ones used to mount an elephant but smaller, you swing your leg up and over the animal to straddle it like a horse. Our saddle was a simple plastic jacket. The ostrich’s head is covered with a brown woven sack, which is quickly removed once you're positioned and ready. With my legs on 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. That's 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 showed us how it's done. Placing bets, we hoped to pick the winning ostrich.

Now, if that doesn’t get your blood rushing, then you should end your night with a delicious ostrich steak. When I say steak, I mean a juicy, tender, blood-dripping steak. Surprised? So was I. Like many before me, I had expected white meat like turkey. To compliment this meal, you add a gigantic sunny-side-up ostrich egg. This is the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs. Such a cholesterol delight can feed a whole family for $5. My entire fun-filled day of ostrich experiences cost under $20. Try getting Sesame Street's big bird to give you a ride or an egg for that price and you'll be hearing from his lawyer.

Savannah Grace took off backpacking around the globe at the age of fourteen with her family. Much of her four-year world-trek is recounted in her new travel book Sihpromatum: I Grew My Boobs In China. If you want to know more about her wandering adventures, browse her website at


  1. All this information makes me want to go.

  2. all pictures are very showy and beautiful.

  3. all the information is interesting, I liked a lot the part when the persons may mounted a the ostriches

  4. all the travel are fun, I would like to go to South Africa.

  5. all pictures and information is interesting. I would like to know all these places of Africa.

  6. Quite an experience, Savannah! I'd like to visit South Africa someday. Not quite sure about the riding an ostrich part though...