An ostrich can run up to 60kms per hour. A two-toed bird, they are very fast runners. Also, they are silent animals: they make no sound, except for some squeaks when they are babies, and during mating season. They are not the brightest bulbs in town: their eyes are bigger than their brains.
Our guide rattled off these facts as we stared at the ostrich standing in front of us, its neck bobbing up and down like a snake, and it hit me that in a few minutes we were going to ride the fastest, dumbest and most silent bird in the world.
“Do you realise,” I whispered to Julien, “that we are about to ride the fastest, dumbest, and most silent bird in the world?”
“If that thing comes towards us from behind,” he whispered back, “we’ll be knocked down, trampled underfoot and that will be the end of us. It’ll be like being run over by a poltergeist with feathers and a beak.”
We turned our attention back to the guide, who was cheerfully trying to muster some enthusiasm from the group. “All right! First, we’re going to stand on the ostrich’s egg. These are hard, thick shells, and you’ll be surprised that they can carry anyone’s weight.” A rather rotund man in our group gasped. We were now standing in front of a fence. In the middle of the field squatted an ostrich inside something that resembled a teepee.
“Now,” said our guide brightly. “Let’s stay close together, shall we? I’ll lead the way with my poking stick…” She reached for a long branch with thorns sticking out on all sides, “… and if an ostrich comes running towards us in anger, I’ll use this to poke at its eyes, and we can all run to safety.”
“Now I think,” I said loudly but to nobody in particular, “that maybe it’s best we leave its eggs alone; that way we don’t need to poke its eyes out?”
The ostrich, calm and not at all angry, moved away as our group approached her eggs. She looked bored, as if she were used to encounters with weird human beings whose sole intent was to take each other’s photos while standing on her unborn babies’ shells. The group pushed me towards the direction of the ostrich eggs when the guide asked for the first volunteer. “You’re the smallest and the lightest one of us; you go first,” they reasoned. Then they hedged behind the safety of our guide’s poking stick.
The egg didn’t break, and we had a merry time documenting the experience while the ostrich looked on lazily as we stepped, one by one, on her unborn children.
The ostrich we were going to ride had a sack over its head, which had a comical but disturbingly sad effect on the huge bird. It felt silly to be sorry for it, but I couldn’t help it.
“Just sit on its hump,” instructed the sunburnt man holding the ostrich steady as I climbed over and gingerly perched on the bird’s back. “Now lean back and relax.” The most unhelpful advice I’ve ever heard. The man then lay the ostrich’s feathers on my bare thighs. “All you have to do is hold on tight, yeah?”
“But won’t it hurt them to— ” I started to say when the man whipped off the sack from the ostrich’s head and slapped its ass, and suddenly the fastest, dumbest, most silent bird awoke as if someone pressed an On button and ran straight towards ten of his ostrich friends as I held on to its feathers for dear life, screaming in fear and bobbing up and down awkwardly as the man hooted and shouted “Faster! Faster!” to agitate the ostrich into a frenzy.
Three loops later, legs trembling, I slid unceremoniously off the ostrich and the sack was placed over its head. It stood still.
“How was it?” Julien asked.
“You’ll see,” I told him as he nervously made his way to the ostrich amid encouraging cheers from the group which is, really guys, the worst way to egg someone on to get on an ostrich, not cool.
Currently listening to:
Death Cab for Cutie