On that day I opened my eyes and saw a mess. Clumps of dirt decorated the floor, tracing my movements around the tent before remembering to remove my boots late last night. The layers of sweaters, scarves and jackets were piled on a chair in the corner, still permeating with the scent of last night's camp fire. Purple circles stained the rim of the tub, while the empty wine glass stared into my tired bloodshot eyes from the bedside table. I could see the sun peeking through the wooden blinds covering the floor to ceiling windows and knew it was almost time to wake up.
Unlike me, the resident monkeys were accustomed to this early morning routine. They would jump from tent to tent until they had successful woken every guest just before the 5:30AM call rang through. Meaning it was time to get ready for our morning game drive.
There were only 20 guests staying at the Buffalo Camp in the Kapama Private Game Reserve. A much larger lodge sat on the far corner of the reserve boasting easy access to the fitness center and spa, but we preferred the intimacy that our tented camp provides. Among us were two families of four, both with children in their late teens. Finally old enough to appreciate and remember the unique experience. All the other guests were couples on their honeymoon - including us too, I guess. Over the course of six days the faces changed but the mix seems to remain the same. People from all over the world - Brazil, Israel, Germany, Mexico, Canada and the US.
By our third day we had already made winter plans to visit new friends in Sao Paulo, received a list of restaurants we must visit the next time we are in Mexico City and forged through far too many conversations about Donald Trump. When you share four meals and six hours in a car with someone every day you get to know them fairly quick.
The second reminder call had come in and so we dressed quickly and forced down a cup of tea in our room before heading out to meet the others. On that particular morning we had to wait as one of the couples in our jeep has overslept. I was jealous because I wish I could be doing the same, but then the cool air blew past my cheeks and I almost forgot that I only received five hours of wine-induced sleep the night before. They rushed, half awake to the jeep and we were off - faster than usual to make up for lost time. As we moved vigorously across the reserve, I tucked my entire body under the blanket on my seat and slipped the hot water bottle behind my back. Whipping down the dusty dirt roads, I was perfectly content. Like on a cool fall evening, lying comfortable and warm under the covers while the wind picks at your ears from an open window.
Today we are on a mission to find the leopard. This elusive creature has been avoiding us for the past several days and so we drove for about an hour straight. A female had been spotted in the area the night before and we crossed our fingers she hasn't decided to mobilize. Speeding past towers of giraffes, dazzles of zebras, and herds of wildebeest, it was hard to believe those animals feel regular now. I didn't even whip out my camera anymore, instead taking the time to observe their interactions, behaviors and mannerisms.
We searched, though unsuccessful, until it was time to break for coffee and snacks. I looked forward to it every morning because the lemon shortbread cookies disguised as a breakfast item were so delicious. And being able to step out of the jeep for a moment and step on the earth where animals spend their days roaming was such surreal feeling. One that made you feel small and slightly helpless if they decided to come by for a morning snack as well.
When we got back into the jeep, we surrendered to the illusory leopard and gave up our hunt. Instead stopping to observe a family of hippos glide through one of the reserve's many ponds. And luckily, catch a baby rhino storming through the bush before we headed back towards camp. Ready for a long nap and meal before our afternoon drive.