Callie Udell

Social Circle High School student Callie Udell spent 10 days in South Africa on a safari provided by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

A Social Circle girl got to take a walk on the wild side with her own custom safari thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Callie Udell, a student at Social Circle High School, traveled to South Africa for a 10-day trip and came back with pictures, stories and enough memories to last a lifetime.

“It was an incredible trip – one that very few people ever get to do,” Udell said. “I’m really grateful to Make-A-Wish and all the people in South Africa who made it a real wish-come-true.”

Udell was born with a kidney disease that required a transplant and her condition put her on the radar for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the organization which fulfills dreams of children with dangerous illnesses.

Udell’s wish for an African safari had her leaving America on a 17-hour-flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, with her family.

Upon arrival, Udell said the city seemed familiar in many ways.

“South Africa was a very westernized country,” she said.

After a day, Udell headed inland to the Lesedi Cultural Village for a look at historic South Africa.

“We met real members of five South African tribes who told us about the history and culture of their people,” Udell said. “We toured replicas of villages built the same way they would have been constructed hundreds of years ago and learned about their rich heritage. After our four-hour tour, we had a banquet, where we ate a lot of the dishes that the original South African tribes would have eaten, like ostrich and crocodile.”

The following day, Udell and her family traveled to Kruger National Park, an 8,000-square-mile area filled with game animals and other varieties of native wildlife.

The Udells settled in at base camp, called Berg-en-Dal, and took a drive among the animals.

“The wildlife there was amazing,” Udell said. “The park is beautiful and well-maintained. That first afternoon, we saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and cape buffalo. I had always known elephants are big, but I never really knew how big until I was just 10 feet away from them.”

The family stayed at the camp for several more days and took in a lot of other sights at the park — some of them closer than others.

“There was a riverbed that ran just along the camp’s fence where we saw hippos, vervet monkeys and impalas,” Udell said. “One day, when we were walking, we saw a family of elephants fighting over a mudhole just on the other side of the fence.

“The rainy season hadn’t started yet, and the temps got up to 100 degrees some days, so all the animals were looking for water or mudholes to cool off in. The elephants were only about 10 feet from us, so it was kind of scary to be that close to angry elephants, but it was also very exciting.”

And they continued taking game drives into the park each day.

“On our game drives, we saw just about every animal that lives in South Africa — zebras, hyenas, rhinos, bushbucks, honey badgers, wildebeests, waterbucks, warthogs — even a rarely sited black mamba,” Udell said. “And we saw a lot of birds – there are 517 species in the park.

“One day, we even saw a helicopter and trucks being used to tranquilize and relocate rhinos to protect them from poachers.”

They even took in a few sights few tourists get to see.

“We saw the rarest animal in South Africa – the endangered African wild dog,” Udell said. “Few visitors to the Kruger ever see these dogs – which look like a cross between a regular dog and a hyena – but we saw a whole family that walked right by our jeep where we were parked, stopping to lay in the road and let their six pups wrestle and play.

“One evening we went on a night game drive and we saw something else most Kruger visitors never see — a leopard.”

Overall, Udell said the entire experience was one she’ll never forget.

“It was a blessing for my family provided by the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Udell said. “I couldn't have gone without them.”

Stephen Milligan is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.