africa part 1: walking with lions!

introduction + africa part 1
africa part 2
africa part 3
africa part 4

hey, everyone! hope your week is off to a stellar start! i truly cannot believe christmas is in FOUR days. what?! how? seriously, where did this year go anyway? 

we got back from south africa recently and have a TON of pictures/stories to share. it was the trip of a lifetime and we got to see so many amazing things. i'll start by saying we had no idea what to expect when planning this trip. our best friend mark has been working/living there nearly two years so we figured 'why not?' 

 the bros back together again :)

the bros back together again :)

mark lives in the johnnesburg/pretoria area so after settling in a little bit and waiting for our other friend to arrive, we were on the road to ukutula lodge & lion research center. as the name suggests, you can actually stay in a cabin here. or, you can just come visit for the day like we did! the first thing we came across were these six-week-old lion cubs. i mean...the pictures speak for themselves on how adorable and cuddly these guys are.

 you guys...

you guys...

 don't be fooled...they may be lion cubs, but they are just cats at the end of the day!

don't be fooled...they may be lion cubs, but they are just cats at the end of the day!

the cats decided it was going to be nap time toward the end of us playing so we moved onto the cheetahs! the one below just let us pet it to our desire and was purring like crazy! it was hard for me to remember that it wasn't going to readily eat us - at least not usually when we are this age!

 this was an older female cheetah in the preserve. i cannot get over her piercing eyes and how they never seemed to leave us. isn't she gorgeous?!

this was an older female cheetah in the preserve. i cannot get over her piercing eyes and how they never seemed to leave us. isn't she gorgeous?!

 this baby cheetah was trying to catch a leaf (that you can see near his right eye). it's funny how even when they are playing, you can tell they may grow up to be a little less friendly. those teeth!

this baby cheetah was trying to catch a leaf (that you can see near his right eye). it's funny how even when they are playing, you can tell they may grow up to be a little less friendly. those teeth!

 love this shot that andrew took. it's a cat in the headlights!

love this shot that andrew took. it's a cat in the headlights!

a little later in our tour, we had the opportunity to go on a lion walk, where two of the lodge guides drive you out to the grown lions and the most 'domesticated' (if you can even call it that since they are not in a zoo or someone's home) get to go on the lion walk with the guests. while you can't pet them for safety reasons (i don't blame them!), it's such a neat experience and super interesting how these select few that go on the walks know the trail so well and comply - as best as cats can - with the guides' commands. it's a little unnerving when you can't see all four in front of you though. i was always checking behind us to make sure they didn't sneak up on us!

 these guys were only about four years old, which is why they don't have their manes fully grown in yet. but they have the sinister-looking stares down!

these guys were only about four years old, which is why they don't have their manes fully grown in yet. but they have the sinister-looking stares down!

needless to say, our time at ukutula was pretty incredible. i was so impressed with this place and their commitment to saving animals who could not survive in the wild or who were under the tutelage of someone who could no longer take care of them. what an amazing experience!