A trip on the wild side: How a Husky lent a hand to cheetahs
After a 15 hour plane ride which I didn't sleep a wink, the plane landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. I went through security, picked up my bag, and found someone who was holding a sign that said "ISV."
We all gathered around and there we stood, 23 of us from America and Canada all confused at what we got ourselves into. We met our tour leaders Amy and Tyler, who were going to be leading us for the first two weeks of our adventure.
After an hour-long drive we arrived at the "Ann Van Dyke Cheetah Lodge," where we would be living for two weeks. We split off into our room assignments and went off to unpack. We go to walk in our bathroom and there are THREE spiders the size of our hands just on the walls hanging out.
Our leader told us that they are rain spiders. They wouldn't hurt us at all, and that if we didn't want them there they would release them back into the wild. Of course we didn't want them there, so two of them were sent outside — which left one spider that wouldn't let anyone catch it. That spider ended up living behind a picture frame in the bathroom, and we eventually all got used to it being there.
We had a quick orientation and were told that we have to be at the van at 6:45 a.m. for departure to our volunteer site. Arriving and seeing cheetahs pacing back and forth along the fence line was a little unnerving.
The Ann van Dyke Cheetah Centre was established in 1971 strictly as a cheetah breeding reservation. Since then a number of different conservation projects have been introduced including a successful African wild dog program. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. our tasks included cleaning out enclosures for animals, going on feeding rounds, building a bridge and gardens, as well as a variety of other things.
We had the amazing chance to learn anything and everything we wanted to about all of the animals on the "farm" (everyone there refers to it as a "cheetah farm"). I will never forget the amazing experience I had being able to interact with the cheetahs, wild dogs, and other wildlife at the farm!
After two weeks of volunteering it was time to say goodbye (and it was definitely an emotional goodbye for many people). We returned to Johannesburg to meet our next leader who would take us through two weeks of adventuring. We drove to Kruger National Park where we went on many game drives — which allowed us to see lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and many other wildlife while they were roaming in the wild.
After staying there for a couple nights, we went to Blyde River Canyon where we rafted down the Olifants River and went Kloofing. Kloofing involved hiking up a mountain followed by cliff jumping, swimming, and going through caves to get back to the bottom!
The next day we were off to Swaziland, and our first day there we did a bike ride through the game reserve. We were able to get up close and personal with zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, and many other animals. Then we went adventure caving in a cave, which is only two percent explored. It was definitely a rush knowing that if you took a step in the wrong direction, you would basically fall down a hole no one knows the depth of.
About six months ago they discovered a new spider species, which we got to see going throughout the cave! The next place we went to was Tofo, Mozambique where we stayed in small two-person, beachfront huts. We went on ocean safaris, swam with whale sharks and got surfing lessons in the amazing Indian Ocean.
We spent an additional week touring through Zambia and Botswana doing a lot of different activities. There's no way that words can describe the amazing culture, scenery, and different way of living that occurs throughout Africa.
I originally decided to go to Africa, because it was the most outside of my comfort zone. It took some getting used to how things work over there, but I can say with certainty that it has been the one thing in life that made me grow as a person the most. I plan to be back in Africa all next summer as a project leader and leading volunteer groups just like the one I was a part of.
I highly encourage everyone to go to Africa ... it's a life-changing experience that will leave you wanting to go back the second you get home.