I was jolted awake from a shallow sleep as our Land Rover ground to a halt. The sun was stretching tendrils of light across the sky, spilling mesmerizing shades of crimson and burnt orange into the scattered clouds. The spectacle marked the end of our first day exploring Tanzania's wildlife, and our arrival at Tindiga Camp where we would spend the night. Glancing out the dusty window to my right, I saw a sea of eager smiles. A few tired blinks ushered three kind faces into focus.
"Jambo, miss!" The youngest gentleman, no older than sixteen, took my duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder. I read the back of his shirt as he loped away from me. "TOUGH GUY," it said in bright blue block letters.
My aunt and I hopped to the ground, put on our backpacks, and shook hands with the other two men. The manager, who wore a serene smile and a face fit for Hollywood, introduced himself as Jared. They led us down a dirt path to our tent, pointing out a tiny thatched hut on the way that served as a combination bar/restaurant/lobby.
Our accommodations were equal parts charming and spartan. The walls were thin canvas, hot water was only available during select morning hours, and light trickled from a single bulb hanging precariously above our heads. Despite this, Corny and I couldn't stop smiling...It was perfect.
7:30 p.m. We pushed aside the billowy mosquito nets and wrenched our tired bodies off the bed, knowing we would regret missing a meal. The sky had changed its outfit, now sporting a vibrant blue as we trekked to the dining room.
The inside of the hut was even dimmer than the camp's darkening grounds. We found Jared waiting alone for us at his little counter, an eager, welcoming smile stretching his cheeks. He had the aura of a man that had been waiting patiently for hours, and would gladly double that just to please his guests. I looked around the empty room and quickly realized we were the camp's only guests tonight. Jared had been waiting on us.
"I'm so glad we came to dinner," Corny muttered to me, a little horrified. "I wonder how long he would have waited for us otherwise."
My heart melted a bit in agreement. I was overwhelmed by the utter foreignness of the landscape, juxtaposed with the warmth and kindness Tindiga's employees had shown me thus far.
As soon as we took a seat at a table, Jared was on his feet, lighting candles and explaining the menu for the evening. "Would you like anything to drink?" He asked us, gesturing to the most adorable, sparsely stocked bar I have ever seen in my life. Captain Morgan, Seagram's, wine, and two packs of Marlboros.
"I'll have a glass of red wine, please," Corny said politely.
Jared picked up the only bottle of wine in the room and angled it towards us like a true sommelier. He looked at us for approval.
"Syrah!" Corny nodded approvingly, and glanced around the barren room. "I guess you can't really purchase by the glass here."
"We'll have to finish the bottle," I replied solemnly.
Jared uncorked and poured, then left us so he could deliver our dinner orders to the kitchen.
In his wake, we swam in a moment so exquisite it was surreal. I gently spun the neck of my wine glass with one hand and gazed outside the hut's entrance. Pitch black. A generator thrummed, accompanied by the chattering of unidentified animals and the gentle clunking of gourds that were suspended from the ceiling.
I spoke slowly, afraid that any sudden movements would wake me up from this dream. "I'm in the middle of nowhere in East Africa, I'm getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I'm tired out of my mind...but I don't think I've ever been this happy before."
We beamed at each other and clinked glasses. In that small pocket of time, we were the only two people in the world.