July 29, 2011


Ostriches make me laugh. They are basically a very, very strong pair of legs covered in feathers, with a long neck and a tiny head. Their expression is perpetually one of bewilderment combined with grumpiness. They run at one another, wings akimbo, beaks wide open. And if you haven't seen an ostrich in the throes of courting yet, please, for the love of God, look it up on YouTube right this second. 

During our morning tour of an ostrich farm, Josh and I learned lots of neat things about ostriches. Originally, ostriches were farmed for their feathers only. European ladies wore them in their hats, and the feathers fetched their weight in gold (literally). With the advent of automobiles, however, the demand plummeted (after riding around in an open Model T, the feathers no longer looked very nice). Many South African ostrich farms went bankrupt soon thereafter. When farmers discovered that ostriches were tasty, however, they were back in business. Here are a few more factoids... Ostrich eggs are super strong. (I jumped on one and it didn't break.) One ostrich egg is about the same as two dozen chicken eggs. Ostriches can run something like 45 miles per hour. Only the male ostriches are black and white; the females are brown. When a male ostrich is courting, the tip of his beak turns bright red, making him look like he is wearing lipstick. An ostrich's brain could fit in a teaspoon. Each eyeball is three times the size of its brain; an ostrich can see up to three kilometers. 

I never like it when people say that dogs are dumb. Dogs don't have the same intelligence as humans, so while they can't add sums or do a jigsaw puzzles, their sensory intelligence far exceeds that of a humans. Dogs aren't dumb, they're just smart in different ways.

So dogs aren't dumb. After spending a morning with ostriches, however, I am really pretty inclined to say that ostriches don't have much going for them in the intelligence department. They're like really big chickens. Like really dumb big chickens.

Josh and I each had a go at riding one. I felt a little guilty partaking in this activity, but the ostrich didn't even really seem to notice I was on its back. I rode it while it ran around a small corral, and the image of its swaying neck —  with a backdrop of a cloudless sky — will probably stay with me forever.

Josh and I spent the afternoon driving over a steep mountain pass to the town of Prince Albert. The views were absolutely breathtaking — high peaks, deep valleys, dark green and brown and grey, the weather cool and sunny. We had our first baboon sighting on the drive, which made us both very excited, so we pulled over to watch a whole family of baboons forage. We then enacted a scene right out of Jurassic Park in which I rolled down my window to get a better view, causing the male of the group to run right for me. (Josh: "OK, um, I think you should maybe roll up the window rollupthewindow rollupthewindow rolluphewindow.") Once we had safely reinstalled the thin piece of glass between ourselves and the wildlife, we sat watching the baboon for a time, as he alternated between watching us with yawning and scratching himself. It was awesome. 

In the tiny town of Prince Albert, we stopped for tea and scones in the garden of a delightful Afrikaner couple's inn. It all felt very prim and proper. People had vineyards in their front yards. Kids walked home from school in their school uniforms, barefoot. The sun began to fall, casting a warm afternoon light onto everything.

Back in Oudtshoorn, we decided to get dinner at the little restaurant next to the hostel, as it was close to us and likely the only place open anyway. What followed was a meal of epic proportions, in which I watched Josh order a bottle of wine and a fillet each of ostrich, kudu, and warthog, and then weep with happiness as he ate. No, really, he cried. (In fairness, all three meats were really good... I'm not an especially adventurous eater, and I still thought all three were exceedingly delicious... I didn't cry though.) I'm not sure if I've ever seen Josh happier... to get an idea of what I'm talking about, combine the scene in the second Matrix in which the woman eats the chocolate cake with any of the tear-jerking scenes in Steel Magnolias. I think we were in the restaurant for like two hours. 

By the time got back to the hostel, everything was dark and sleepy (the stars here, the stars), so we spent some time on the interwebs before heading off to bed.