You wake to the sound of water sloshing into the washstand outside your tent. The sun has not yet risen; everything is dark. “Good morning,” comes a man’s voice through the canvas walls. “Good morning,” you say back to him, even though you are still half-asleep.
The air is like ice on your neck and face. Reluctantly, you push back the blankets, reach for your headlamp and clothes. Once dressed, you step out to wash up while the water is still somewhat warm, and to use the toilet tent before everyone else.
Breakfast waits on a table by the campfire. Toast with butter, jam, peanut butter, or syrup. Yogurt and muesli. Tins of hot water for coffee and tea. You eat while standing by the flames, soaking up wisps of heat while the sun spreads gold across the horizon.
With your bellies quieted, everyone climbs into the Land Cruiser. You bump along the dirt roads, searching for movement, for wildlife, for beauty. Maybe for a window into yourselves.
A swaying line on the horizon — giraffe. Curved horns peeking out from a broken mopane tree — kudu. The crunch of leaves, a trumpeting — elephant. Your eyes water from staring so hard. Your heart dances at the sight of every animal.
You return to the camp for lunch and a rest. Cold cuts and white bread, beans and sharp yellow cheese. You marvel over what you have seen so far; you talk quietly about the things you still hope to spot.
While the other couples take turns chatting in their mismatched languages, you slip away to a shower tent. Turn the knob to release a trickle of the recently heated water. Soap up. A breeze seeps in, raising goose bumps all across your naked skin. You shiver and squeal and hurry your scrubbing.
The next hour or so is spent journaling, reading, napping. Then it’s coffee and tea, and back into the Land Cruiser for the evening game drive. As the temperature drops, you zip up your jacket, wrap yourself in a thick wool blanket. You squint into the setting sun.
A sliver of shadow on the water — hippo. Wings stretched out over a branch — stork. Thousands of dark shapes enveloped in a haze of dust — buffalo.
Finally the sun is gone, and your headlights bounce over the rugged terrain, headed back to camp. Spiced meats and stir-fried vegetables wait for you in giant pots, and you scoop generous helpings onto your metal plates. You eat by candlelight, once again recounting the day’s sights, the country’s gifts.
Crickets sing and hippos growl nearby; jackals bark in the distance. After dinner, you sit in a horseshoe around the campfire, leaving a space for the smoke to billow away. The stars keep you company, bright and clear overhead.
Though your watch reveals it is still early, exhaustion has settled in. You say good night, brush your teeth, use the toilet one last time. Zip up the tent. Tuck into bed. Fall asleep, already hungry for the next day’s adventure.