It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you...

I arrived in Amsterdam and was highly confused about what time it was. The lovely flight attendant leaned in so that I could hear her from my window seat and asked if I wanted a breakfast box. Breakfast? Didn't you just offer me a chicken and rice dinner? 

Ses and I at O.R. Tambo
I got off the plane at Schiphol and immediately needed to find my next gate. We'd spent an hour and a half on the ground in DC due to thunderstorms, so my three hour layover got sliced in half.

After only being able to get through two pages of my book, I boarded a new dream liner for the remaining 10 hours to Johannesburg. I watched six movies in total, daydreamed away a few hours, was pleasantly woken up in time for a gorgeous view of the Swiss Alps, and slept like the dead the rest of the time.

I arrived at the airport in Joburg, got my passport stamped, breezed through customs, and finally saw Sesame's gorgeous face waiting for me. After we screamed and hugged each other, I got into her sleek Honda Accord and was immediately thrown: the passenger's side here is the driver's side in the US. This is a fact I've known for a while, especially after our Jamaica trip, but was woefully unprepared as I had to bite my tongue every time we turned into what I thought was oncoming traffic or passed on the right. Custom is king.

Day One: Tzviatko and Anabelle

After Sam made me breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs, we went to pick up her Bulgarian friend Tzviatko and drove out to the Rhino and Lion Nature Preserve in Krugersdorp. Driving up to where I could interact with wild big cats, we saw rhino, ostriches, wildebeests, zebra, and giraffes. I was already blown away, never having seen these incredible animals outside of a zoo. At the preserve, they were just wandering free!

Tzviatko and me with Annabelle
We got to the big cats and learned that the lion cubs Sam thought I could meet had grown up and were no longer available for visitors to touch. Go figure. Instead, we got to meet Annabelle, a beautiful, three-year-old cheetah. Best. Day. Ever. She was calm, but very alert, incredibly agile, but patient with my clumsy human hands as I patted her head and followed behind her in awe.

After out 10 minutes with her were up, we went to explore the area and got to see leopards, jaguars, lions, panthers, huge birds, snakes, foxes, and adorable chipmunks that just ran around the grounds. On our drive back, Sam slowed down so that I could pop my head out of the sunroof to take pictures of the rhinos and other animals that were just meandering in the setting winter sun.

Sesame is not exactly an "animal person"

Day Two: Lorraine, Her South African Family, BoBo, and Tzviatko

Lorraine, me, and Ses post-walk, pre-shower
We woke up early and went for a walk with Sam's best friend Lorraine, AKA one of the most wonderful people I've ever met. We walked around Lo's neighborhood for about an hour, talking about relationships, my trip, their friendship, Johannesburg, and everything in between. We then went for what was supposed to be breakfast, but my perennially late sister helped turn it into lunch. After leaving our beautiful view and burgers behind, we said goodbye to Lo and rushed home for a quick shower before we drove out to the township to meet Sam's South African Family - Mike, Jocelyn, Justin, and Jared.

Her "family" here is absolutely wonderful. After spending years worrying about being replaced by them, I finally got to meet them and learn how lucky she was to find them almost a decade ago. Mike and Jocelyn are a beautiful couple, married 30 years now, kind, funny, and real. Her brothers, Justin (the financier) and Jared (the tennis superstar), are incredibly accomplished to be only 27 and 24, respectively. After looking at pictures, Sam catching them up on her life, and being offered delicious pastries and teas, we said our goodbyes and headed for drinks.
More of me and Annabelle

We met up with BoBo the Beautiful at The Hyde Park Southern Sun rooftop, a gorgeous bar with a terrific view of the sunset. I've never seen a sun set like that - the sun was a blazing red ball of fire with no halo. It set so suddenly that I was almost uncertain if it had been there at all.

We then drank great wine, laughing about how hot the fire near us was, and I learned about Bo and some of South Africa's rich history. She greeted me with perfect English, so I was surprised to learn that it is her fourth language. We Americans really need to step up our language game.

"You need to learn your own language!" a worker in the women's bathroom chastised me after she greeted me in isi Zulu and I replied with a blank stare. I'd meant to explain to her that I wasn't African and I wasn't just ignoring my native tongue, but she was already shaking her head at me and continuing to try to educate me. "You need to know your language, girl, not just English." I smiled and nodded and just walked out, flattered that she thought I was local.

My Sunroof Life

After leaving Bo and the bar behind, we went to Social on Main with Tzviatko for dinner. He gave us great hugs before we went in to recount our cheetah experience, talk about our family, learn more about his, and enjoy good company and delicious food. My lamb burger was delightful and paired well with the red wine and colorful conversation.

We somehow brought up eating ice cream with french fries, something Tzviatko had never tried before, so we ended the night by going to the 24 hour McDonald's near by to show him what he'd been missing.

I am so excited for the next seven days to see who else I get to meet and what other adventures we can drum up! On deck: massages, pedicures, an open air market, The Cradle of Humankind, and four days at Kruger National Park for animal adventures.

I bless the rains down in Africa...