I wriggle my body onto stretched canvas and inelegantly flop forwards. The whole structure vibrates and I roll over. Above me, the Milky Way is bright and visible, even through my mosquito netting. The air is cold and fresh, filled with the scents of grasses, acacias and lingering wood smoke.
I’m lying in a Tentsile Tent, just a metre and a half off the ground, suspended between three trees. Surrounding me is the El Karama Conservancy – a privately owned reserve and former ranch in Kenya’s Laikipia region. I have just eaten a three-course meal, served beside a campfire. Now, I’m preparing to spend a night sleeping out under the stars.
In the trees, I know an askari sentry keeps an eye out for animals, but the darkness is enveloping. The noises of the night – bats, insects and frogs – seem deafening now the crackling of the fire has died away.
As I roll onto my mattress and pull a duvet over me, I hear hyenas calling close by. Their cries cut through the cacophony of smaller sounds. I’ve been warned not to leave my shoes on the ground, in case a curious hyena decides to run off with them.
Sleep does not come easily with the moon now bright overhead and the sounds of the night filling my ears. But I’m not here to make sure I get my eight hours. The dark wilderness around me is intoxicating. The bush never feels closer and more untamed than at night. Eventually, sleep takes me, as my mind remembers the lions and leopards of earlier in the day.
Hours later, the smell of woodsmoke wakes me. The soft light of an African dawn has broken the horizon. The air is cold and still, despite the equator being nearby – a reminder that I’m at 2,000 metres. I unzip the tent and look out. Smoke curls from a rekindled fire.
Around me, the noises of the insects and frogs have gone, replaced by the first choruses of birdsong – still just a whisper but soon to rise to a cacophony of chirps as the sun’s first warming rays awaken the bush.
I lower myself from the tent, more elegantly this time. A smiling Robinson, my guide, greets me by the warmth of the fire. Handing me a cup of coffee, he asks, “How did you sleep?”
“Not that well,” I reply, stretching my stiff back, “But that doesn’t really matter when you wake to this, does it?” We look out over the beautiful conservancy landscape. The sky is brightening now, illuminating the grasslands and forests. Birds are silhouetted on branches, their song reaching us over the still air.
After some fortifying sips of coffee, we set off on foot. Leaving the camp behind, the quiet stillness of the bush is broken only by the rustling of our shoes on dew-dampened grass. Robinson strides ahead, alert for movement, big or small.
An hour ahead of us is the main lodge. And that means hot showers and a warming breakfast. But these creature comforts can wait. Nearby, a hippo’s head emerges, snorting from a large pool. Giraffes stretch their necks, browsing on acacias. A raptor soars above, riding the first thermals of the day.
The wilderness around me is beginning to wake.