I open my eyes to greet the first glowing rays of the African sun as it crests the hill near my window. In the rest of the camp, my companions sleep peacefully, but I know they will soon be lured to consciousness, as I was, by the pleasant tinkling of silverware and the soft, musical voices of the cooks preparing the morning meal.
I slip from beneath my covers and walk, barefoot, from my room. The softest whisper of a breeze brushes my cheek as I step outside and gaze about the scene, struck by the majesty of my surroundings. A nod and a smile from one of the night guards assures me all is well: the experienced “askari” has kept a protective watch over the sleeping camp, discouraging inquisitive wildlife from venturing too close.
Soon, the camp begins to stir. Bemused, I watch as, one by one, my traveling companions sleepily wander into the morning light. I see their eyes widen, their slumber all but forgotten, as they catch sight of their surroundings, each turning to glance hastily back toward his bedchamber, as if expecting to see his own sleeping form still sprawled across the sheets.
After a breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee, we embark with our guide on the day's adventure. Nearby, the roar of a lion merges with the euphony of sounds as the jeep rumbles over the terrain. As one, we lean eagerly forward, peering down the road ahead, each trying to be the first to spot the regal creature.
A collective grin spreads across our faces as the pride comes into view. A sense of danger hangs in the air, yet we know we are safe: our guide is well-trained to recognize even the subtlest sign of aggression.
As the lionesses keep protective watch, two cubs tumble playfully in the grass. Cameras hang limp around the necks of my comrades, all but forgotten in the thrill of the moment. A few half-hearted clicks are heard, but we all know instinctively that the most vivid depiction could never do justice to the scene before us.
We head back to the camp later that evening, chattering excitedly about a herd of elephants sighted late that afternoon. A muddy watering hole had delivered them cool relief from the heat of the day; as the young splashed merrily about, the adults plunged their powerful trunks downward and swung them up and over their backs to release shower after shower of life-giving water.
We pile out of the safari vehicle, tired yet unbelievably satisfied. The delicious scent of fish, beef and soup wafts toward us, and we eagerly head for the tables.
I need no incentive to retire to my bed - I melt into the blankets, gratefully accepting their warm embrace. I take sadness in the knowledge that, in a few days' time, I must leave all of this behind.
Yet this one thing shall remain with me always: the knowledge - the sweet realization that paradise, though at times misplaced, has not been altogether lost.