I believe that traveling is meant for exploring things outside of your normal, everyday life. In September 2011, my family visited our friends in Johannesburg, South Africa, and we decided to do something completely out of the norm. Our friend’s dad owns a bungalow at the Ingwelala Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. We spent six hours making our way there, stopping only for lunch. Once there, we were warned to not walk outside of the wall around our bungalow and to always be aware of our surroundings. It was such a thrilling, and eerie feeling to know that a small fence was all that was separating us from the wild, African game animals.
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For the first two days, we would eat breakfast, load our Land Rover with drinks and snacks, and then head out on the dirt roads with no particular destination in mind, to try to make some “sightings.” Then, in the late afternoon, we would return to the bungalow to unpack and begin cooking dinner. One day, after driving around for a while, we stumbled upon a ranger who was walking not too far from his vehicle. He said that lions had been sighted in the area earlier in the day. We began to creep along the road in our Land Rover with the ranger walking in the direction of the supposed sighting, when suddenly three huge, female lions jumped up from behind some bushes and – thankfully – began running away from us. It was a moment I will never forget!
On the second evening, we decided to drive around in the dark with a spot light to try and locate the lions. We were successful, and were able to get within thirty feet of a roaring lion. It was chilling to know that the lion could come attack our car if he wanted to.
The third day that we were out on the reserve, we found a picnic table next to a dried up river bed. There, we ate cheese and crackers with giraffes grazing behind us. The fourth day was my favorite because, after another day of driving, passing herds of impalas, a few zebras, and many giraffes, we decided to camp on an outdoor platform (literally a platform) along the dry river. The platform was in a tree with stairs leading up to it. We got to the platform in time to make dinner in the daylight and to start a fire for the evening. There was a tiny building with two enclosed, outdoor shower heads, two bathrooms, and a storage room of bed pads. After dinner, we sat talking around the campfire when we suddenly heard a lion’s roar that seemed very close to us. Our friends were not afraid, so we did not worry. Then, there was an even closer roar which made our friend quickly get up and say that we should probably head up to the platform! I have never felt so anxious and nervous in my life and was very thankful to have made my bed in between my parents and our friends!
The next morning, we packed and headed back to our bungalow. It was our last full day at Ingwelala. In addition to the now commonplace sightings of elephants, impalas, and rhinos, we found a lookout on a cliff and we watched the sun set. A feeling of contentment and peace came over me while watching the orange sun slowly fade. That South African vacation gave me many memories that I will never forget. Ingwelala was the “once in a lifetime” vacation for me.
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