When I was 5, I received a South Africa special edition of Zoo Life, and a dream was born. Trust me, it was the most amazing edition of Zoo Life ever. Ever since then, I have wanted to go on a safari in South Africa and see a cheetah. It was an astonishing coincidence that I “had” to go to South Africa to finish my degree by researching South Africa’s welfare system. What was even more of a coincidence was that the World Cup was being held in South Africa and I happened to have tickets. Since South Africa is a little dangerous, the university did not want me to travel in the country or go to any World Cup matches. Little did they know I would be taking two weeks off at the beginning of my research to go on a safari and two and a half weeks off to watch the World Cup. I just figured they’d understand.
The very first thing I did when I landed in Johannesburg was drive to Kruger National Park. Nothing was going to stop me from fulfilling my Zoo Life fantasy! This was the first thing ever on my bucket list and I was more excited than a little schoolgirl on Christmas Day to fulfill that dream.
The park was incredible because animals would walk right next to your car. They’d get so close that you could reach out and touch them, which was tempting (even when considering the fact that I could lose my arm). I’m not going to lie, when some of the animals got really close, I got a little scared. One day, I was watching a pack of lions cross the road, when all of a sudden, they turned and headed towards my car.
I was so excited that I began snapping pictures as fast as my huge thumb could click (ask anyone that knows me, I have oversized thumbs. But you know what they say about guys with big thumbs…). One of the lions stopped and sat down right next to my car. At that moment I realized that my windows were rolled down! I immediately pictured the lion jumping in through the opened window and eating me alive! As I pictured the lion tearing me apart, I stopped breathing. I decided not to make any sudden movements, but somehow my whale like thumb kept snapping pictures during my panic attack.
By my second to last day I had seen every animal that I had ever wanted to see, except a cheetah. That afternoon, I was going on a sunset safari. Before we set out on the safari, I prayed that I would see a cheetah because that was the reason I had come to South Africa…I mean I really went to do my research and graduate college. As we began driving the guide asked what everyone wanted to see. I yelled out, “a cheetah!” Although he told me we were unlikely to see one, he said he would try to find some. When it got dark we turned on big flashlights to spot animals. The guide pointed out white horned rhinos and some other smaller animals, but I was more interested in looking out for a cheetah.
Right after we had passed the rhinos, the guide slammed on his breaks. He told everyone that he saw what looked to be a jackal headed down the road. Everyone got excited. He turned off all the lights so the animal would continue down the road and not get scared off by any lights. After a minute he turned the front lights on and said, “No, it’s a cheetah!”
I immediately got up and sprinted to the front of the truck. Everyone was laughing as they saw my bag and lens cap go flying to the floor. The cheetah was an awesome sight. The coolest part was as we followed the cheetah, we found a second cheetah. We must have spent thirty minutes watching the cheetahs try to find one another. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. After 21 years of waiting, I could finally cross off the first item on my bucket list!