Waking up before sunrise is pretty easy when you’re sleeping in a mesh tent surrounded by the sounds of wild animals through the night. Light moving across the flat landscape was a welcome sign.
“You’ll hear animals through the night. They’re going to sound very close, but sound travels a long way here.”
That was the last thing our guide said to us before the group separated into their respective tents. It had been raining, a hard rain as reported in an earlier post, so our fly sheets were on. They were heavy with an almost rubbery feel. It didn’t take long until people emerged in the darkness, flashlights in hand, to remove the stifling material. The fear of another downpour led to discussions on whether to leave it on, leave them half on or take them completely off. My tent mate and I settled on taking it all the way off, but laying it down carefully so it could be pulled up rapidly if need be.
Following this we turned to the darkness. A quick waft of the flashlight revealed a disturbing number of glinting eyes – presumably hippos. Hippos that were already on land and probably only 50 meters from us – they looked back, not moving. I guess they were content to munch away on the long grass surrounding us. With this revelation we returned to our tents. Now, nothing but a thin mesh separated us from the elements, and the wild animals. To be honest, this is exactly what I was after. Why sleep in the bush if you’re just going to lock yourself away? Also, it was much cooler this way.
Just as I dozed off to sleep I was startled by the trumpeting of an elephant. It sounded like it had to be on the same island as us but I repeated the mantra “they sound closer than they are” and drifted off to sleep. I was woken regularly through the night by every noise you feel like a night in the African bush should provide. I heard hyenas, lions, more elephant trumpets, and hippos grunting. This was always punctuated by an eerie silence that you knew would be broken at any moment.
My tent-mate, however, was fortunate enough to be awake for our closest encounter. Having been on an elephant back safari just days before he was finely tuned to recognize the sound of elephant dung hitting the ground. He woke up to feel the ground moving and quickly recognized the thudding. It didn’t take long for him to conclude that an elephant was crapping right next to our tent. I asked if he’d turned on his light to take a look, but the closeness rendered him incapable of moving.
We awoke to a red sky, having survived the night, and exchanged the stories of sounds I’ve just recanted here. Then we hopped out to check the area. Sure enough, there was fresh dung right next to our tent.
Following this discovery I set about capturing the sun rise. I’ve got a lot of photos of this scene from the night before. I’m not happy with any of them. This morning, I took only one photo of this scene, and I’m thrilled by it. I find that I’m always happiest with photos I’ve had to wait to take. For this one, I identified where I thought that sun would be coming up, framed up the picture and waited. I waited for quite a while and the sky was pretty blue all the way across. I began to wonder if I’d misjudged the location of the sunrise and somehow missed it. Then the glow intensified and I knew it was about to peak over the horizon. 7 exposures later and I was packing up my gear.