An Accidental Bucket List

This is me throwing elephant poop into a bucket. It's a metaphor.

This is me throwing elephant poop into a bucket while blindfolded. It’s a metaphor.

I love the idea of bucket lists, I really do. However, I’ve never taken the time to sit down and create a checklist of the things that I’d like to do before I die. This is mostly because I don’t plan to die, so I figure I have lots of time.

If I were to make a bucket list, it would surely be composed of activities that make my heart beat out of my chest or involve puppies. Or kittens. Or anything with fur, really. Just a simple girl with simple dreams. As I look back on my travels, I realize that I’ve done a lot of things that should populate a bucket list—things that my friends surely read about and thought, “That girl wants to die at the hands of a big cat.” That is not a completely incorrect assumption.

And so here are the experiences from the past few years that got me really fired up and that I would do all over again if challenged to complete a bucket list from start-to-finish. Why am I sharing these experiences with you? Because I’d love to see you go out and have some epic experiences this year, as well. In fact, I double-dare you!


Played “catch me if you can” with a puma

I based my entire South America trip around a month-long volunteer stint at Inti Wara Yassi’s Parque Machia. I could not have been happier when I was matched with Gato, a 17-year-old puma rescued from captivity, and got to traipse around the Bolivian jungle with him all day, every day. By the end of our time together, Gato would play with me as if he were a house cat looking for belly rubs. I never told anyone this, but sometimes he wouldn’t want to go back to his cage so I would take off running in order to trigger his apex predator reflex and he would chase me back. Seemed like a totally solid idea at the time.


(Reluctantly) summited Mount Kilimanjaro

“What do you think about trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro together this summer?” Erin asked during our cross-country catch-up phone call. “Nope. No thanks. Not interested. You have to, like, train for that.” Silly me, I seemed to have forgotten that I was dealing with one of NYU Law’s finest negotiators, and almost exactly six months later I was atop the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. I could barely breathe but had never felt so alive. Life is good at 19,341’, even if you can’t feel your toes (or the balls of your feet, or heels for that matter— it was really concerning).

Receiving my certificate. It's official!

Bathed an elephant herd

During my time in SE Asia, I’ve been lucky enough to swim alongside the world’s largest land animals five times. Each time questions abound: Will they roll on me in the water? Are there leaches in this pond? Should I climb on its back and refuse to get off? The answer to all three is, “yes, probably,” and therein lies the excitement.


Got thiiisclose to a wild lion on safari in South Africa

Anyone who has watched the “Battle at Kruger” on YouTube has dreamed of getting up close and personal with Mother Nature’s most bad ass cats. Once in that African safari truck, even the softest-hearted of us all yearns to see a “kill.” That baby impala is one of millions, LET’S DO THIS. While we spotted about a dozen lions during our four days at Kruger, the final male gave us quite a show, and quite a fright, by walking directly at our truck, nearly brushing the passengers on the right side, before turning to walk away, his big-ol’ manhoods swangin’ in the wind. David Attenborough narrated the entire experience in my head, and it was glorious.


Careened face-first down a sand dune in Peru

Sandboarding down Ica’s massive dunes is the adult version of rolling down steep grassy hills as a kid. The natural thing to do is to jump in a dune buggy (sans seatbelts), drive directly to the top of the largest one, and ride a slick board straight to the bottom. If you’re lucky, your “guide” will speak enough English to inform you to “be careful, close eyes, use feet to stop.” Otherwise, he’ll see you at the bottom.


Nearly died by shark bite at the Great Barrier Reef

Ok, so a shark didn’t actually make contact with me nor was there even a shark in our vicinity, but as someone with galeophobia, the experience started out a bit traumatically. We had sailed three hours away from shore and eventually anchored in what appeared to be the middle of the ocean. Within minutes I was ushered into a dinghy that motored away from our yacht and dropped me off about 100 yards away—in the middle of shark infested waters (in my head)! After about 30-seconds of sheer panic and mild hyperventilation, I forced my mask into place and dropped my face into the water. And there it was—the most gorgeous scene imaginable, and I had almost missed it. From that moment on I was calm and collected, albeit always on guard for Jaws to sneak up from the murky abyss. Who says adults don’t have active imaginations?


Observing the scene where the bloodbath would have occurred.

Cuddled a tiger

Opinions on Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom vary greatly. On one hand, the tigers live in a captive environment and are trained to interact with people, which isn’t natural. On the other hand, Indochinese tigers are critically endangered and this program increases their numbers, year after year. I saw first-hand that the tigers are not drugged (check out this video of them playing in the pool) and are even affectionate towards many of the keepers. Is it an ideal scenario? No, but I’m thankful that they’re there. My face hurt from smiling so much.


Raced my guide on horseback

Anyone who has gone on a trail ride in the US knows the drill—unflappable horses walking nose-to-butt in a big loop for about two hours. There’s no variation from the plan and little excitement. Not so in Chile! At the end of our two-hour ride outside of Pucon, my guide turned to me and asked the timeless question, “Wanna race?” Before I could answer, she was OFF and I chased behind her, reveling in the mud kicking up in my face as we dashed back to the stables. Sure, I could have fallen off, not known how to stop the horse, or worse, but that “chance” was exactly what I had paid for.


Immediately post-race. My face is covered in mud, but I couldn’t be happier.

Adopted a Thai street dog

Perhaps the one bucket list item that I am most proud of is the one that is still “in-progress.” At the end of June I will fly home with my memories of this amazing trip and one living souvenir, a former Thai street dog named Princess Long Beach Lady Boy. Some have argued that I should adopt dogs from the US (I have coordinated two international adoptions at this point, after all), but as far as I’m concerned, a saved life is a saved life—period. Oh, and she speaks Thai, so I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to negotiate discounts at King of Thai and Tuk-Tuk Thai in SF. Total bonus.

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So whether you start checking items off of a bucket list in order or take my approach and just do what seems wacky and fun in the moment, 2013 will be an amazing year for travel, adrenaline, and laughs! Get out there and do some questionable stuff—and then be sure to tell me about it! 



    • Shauna on May 13, 2013 at 10:24 am
    • Reply

    My first thought when reading your post about the horseback riding was “remember when we went riding in girl scouts and Kiera fell off her horse”??? Oh the good times:)

    1. I sure do remember that! Kiera fell, Ashley was petrified, and the rest of us plodded along… quite the event!

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