Sosian part 8 2016

Sosian part 8 2016

A closer view of how they built the stone wall around this cool tree. I have no photos that correlate with the first part of the blog:)

A closer view of how they built the stone wall around this cool tree. I have no photos that correlate with the first part of the blog:)

Paul and I are up before daylight this morning as Misheck is taking us out to see if we can find the wild dogs. We were told last night at dinner that we must reach the area where the dogs are living before they start hunting or the odds are we will never find them. A few of the dogs in the pack are collared and Misheck will be searching for the painted dogs using the tracker.

Paul and I are out of bed and dressing when we hear the familiar “good morning” outside our door so we thank our tea-tray deliverer in the same manner. After we have finished off our drinks and cookies, we walk out into the gloom of early morning to meet Misheck.

Misheck smiles and says “good morning” to which we echo the same sentiments to our guide, we load up in the Cruiser and off we go. We cross the river and when we reach the public road the headlights of the truck light up a few zebra grazing grass in the distance. Grevy Zebras! Rats, it is much too dark to attempt a photo just as the Grevy’s in Meru were too far away for a photo. Misheck says that maybe the zebra will be around when we return so we will hope this is the case.

I’m not sure how far or long we drive but when we reach the enclave of hills where the dogs reside the sun is shining dimly through the thin clouds. Misheck parks the Cruiser, gets out of the truck and pulls out the tracking device. Holding the antenna above his head he turns it this way and that way while looking at the signal on the receiver. Misheck declares that the dogs are on the peak of the formidable hills so he drives for short distances then stops to take another reading. As with the lions our guide is having trouble honing in on the exact spot where the dogs are. Mishecks’ main concern is which side of the hills the dogs will come down. Our perplexed guide turns around and drives back the way we came, declaring that “dogs are tricky”. He also murmurs more to himself then us that maybe we should drive around to the other side of the line of hills in case the pack is coming down on that side.

Impala we see in the early morning light

impalas we see in the early morning light

When we near the main road Misheck studies the dog signal device again and declares that the wild dogs have come off of the hilltop. A white Cruiser speeds by on the main road. Misheck identifies the driver and says that he and his two passengers are following the dogs. Paul recognizes the name of the guide Misheck calls out because he has read about the man on Safari Talk. According to Paul he is considered the guru of the wild dogs in Lakipia. Soon we are traveling the same path as the white truck as Misheck again picks up the signal from the dog collars. Before long we are wending our way through the bush, occasionally coming to a dead-end where there is no pathway for the Cruiser to get through. When this happens Misheck must back up and find another way to follow the dog’s electronic trail. We often see the other safarists through the trees to the side or ahead of us as they too are using an antenna to get a fix on the hunting dogs. Again the phrase “dogs are tricky” is uttered by our hard-working guide quite often in this phase of our search for the elusive dogs!

Misheck stops to take another reading and states that the dogs are “down there” pointing to an impenetrable thicket. Our excited guide jumps back into the vehicle and tells us he is going to try to get ahead of the running dogs. Misheck drives with purpose as we dodge obstacles and bounce along over the rough terrain. Our guide pulls the Cruiser into a small clearing and comes to a stop. I don’t know whether it was skill, luck, or a combination of the two but suddenly a full-grown impala appears to the right of the Cruiser pursued by wild dogs! The panicked impala gracefully leaps over a bush just a few feet from where we are sitting, as two dogs run in hot pursuit behind the antelope. There are two more dogs running to the left of us. The dogs and impala disappear into the dense growth of trees and bushes as quickly as they appeared.  The dogs and impala came and went so fast that there was hardly time for my mouth to fully drop open in shock at the scene that unfolded in front of us. Paul admits that he has goosebumps after witnessing this purely wild spectacle. Obviously there was no photo opportunity in the few seconds the predator/prey scene played out. Unbelievable.

Lake or pond. It was lovely no matter what you call it.

Lake or pond. It was lovely no matter what you call it.

Misheck cranks the Cruiser up and once again we are in tracking mode with our guide telling us that “dogs are tricky” when he can’t find a strong signal to follow. We meander this way and that and eventually we find ourselves driving near a small lake or big pond, depending on how you look at it. We catch a glimpse of the other dog tracking vehicle and this assures Misheck that he is indeed close to the dogs. A bit later we again see the white Cruiser through a screen of tree limbs but this time they are sitting still. We shamelessly drive over to where the truck is parked and discover the trio snapping photos of wild dogs that are scattered about in the grass. The hungry canines are scarfing down something they have killed but it sure isn’t the impala they were chasing earlier.  It appears to be the remains of an unfortunate dik-dik although there isn’t a lot left of the critter to identify. A couple of the dogs have finished eating whatever they managed to snatch from the small carcass  while the other five are still dining on their share. One of the dogs who is now empty-mouthed, approaches one of his pack mates who is still dining on what it claimed from the kill. As the still hungry dog tries to steal some of the meat from the eating dog, he is firmly rebuffed with a snap and a growl.

Two of the seven wild dogs when we catch up to them

Two of the seven wild dogs when we catch up to them

All of these dogs seem darker than the ones we saw in Selous

All of these dogs seem darker than the ones we saw in Selous

The dogs do rest briefly after their meal

The dogs do rest briefly after their meal

The only dog with a collar in the pack of seven

The only dog with a collar in the pack of seven

I am taking photos but my camera is not wanting to focus part of the time. Darn it, I don’t know what the problem is but this isn’t the time for my camera to be acting up. Eventually the dogs finish their snack and Misheck thinks they will rest for a while but this proves not to be the case. Two of the dogs begin to trot off and soon all the wild dogs are loping away. We easily follow them at a comfortable distance, as does the other vehicle, since this area is quite open. Suddenly two of the painted dogs flush a hare and the chase is on. The hare and dogs disappear into a patch of bushes where it is impossible to drive or see the dogs. Paul and I agree with Misheck that we will leave the wild dogs to their hunting and we will head back to Sosian so we can eat some breakfast ourselves.

Preparing to move on

Preparing to move on

Two of the dogs as they lope ahead of us

Two of the dogs as they lope ahead of us

One dog runs out of the brush and crosses in front of us

One dog runs out of the brush and crosses in front of us

Paul and I are grinning like the Cheshire cat as we begin the drive back to Sosian. Along the way we stop to observe a small herd of elephants as they are foraging on leafy bushes next to the red dirt road. There is one very small baby that we catch a glimpse of occasionally as the little one plays peek-a-boo from behind a clump of bushes. One young male, who is feeling his oats, fans his ears and shakes his head at us while advancing towards us a few steps. The feisty fellow backs up and tries to intimidate us again but when he realizes that we aren’t impressed he turns around and rejoins the feeding elephants. Some of the elephants cross the road behind the Cruiser and we wait a while longer in hopes that mom will bring her baby across. When no more elephants cross and in fact they begin walking away from the road, we give up on seeing the little one in the open and continue on our way to the lodge.

The tough guy

The tough guy

Elephant parade behind us

Elephant parade behind us

A Damara dik-dik is lying in plain sight near the road on a patch of bare ground. The long snouted antelope stares at us curiously as we stop to take a picture of the unusually brave animal. Normally in my experience dik-diks will stay put but they always seem to be trying to hide in heavy grass or bushes. After a bit the dik-dik stands up and stretches but still shows no inclination to run and hide. We leave the delicate antelope behind and continue down the road.

Damara Dik-dik

Damara Dik-dik

The small antelope has no fear of us

The small antelope has no fear of us

We are driving on a high point, (we were driving this part of the track in darkness this morning), where a beautiful panoramic view is spread out before us. The rock formations are stunning and include one that is named Baboon rock. No explanation was asked or given about the name but one would assume that baboons frequent the area. Not far from the lodge there are a large herd of elephants that can be seen sprinkled through the brushy landscape. As we drive by the field where the Grevy’s were illuminated in our headlights this morning, (gee that seems so long ago), we are disappointed but not surprised that the rare zebras’ are nowhere to be seen. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Baboon rock on the left

Baboon rock on the left

A herd of elephants walking in the bush

A herd of elephants walking in the bush

Instead of crossing the bridge that takes us to the lodge, Misheck turns onto a side road and announces that we will be eating breakfast by the river. There is a gorgeous African Fish Eagle perched in a yellow fever tree that is growing along the edge of the river. Of course I must have a photo and the eagle seems happy to cooperate for me.

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

As we pull up to the breakfast site, we see that the New Jersyites are also here for the open air meal. The food is being prepared by three of the staff, including Patrick the lion tracker, over a wood fire.  We must be late as the foursome is nearly finished eating breakfast. Paul and I order eggs but while they are being cooked by the chefs, we enjoy some pancakes and fruit. Paul and I eat heartily but after all it must be ten o’clock! We exchange our experiences from this morning with our breakfast companions. The women went horseback riding and dad stayed at the lodge and relaxed with a book and we tell them that we chased after wild dogs.

Breakfast fare laid out on stone tables

Breakfast fare laid out on stone tables

Another stone table with breakfast fare

Another stone table with breakfast fare

The breakfast chefs, Patrick is sitting in the chair

The breakfast chefs, Patrick is sitting in the chair

Once we have finished eating, Simon, rifle over his shoulder, leads the six of us along a path beside the rushing river that will take us to a waterfall. Paul and I ask Simon how much rain they received last night and are told 1.5 inches, (he converts it for us), but surprisingly the path isn’t too muddy. On the other side of the river I see something swimming along the river’s edge and ask Simon if it is a snake. It doesn’t take Simon long to identify the creature as a water moniter and this becomes clear to all of us when the reptile crawls out of the water and walks away.

As we near the waterfall we can hear the roaring water long before we see it. Simon leads us to an open spot where we have a clear view of the cascade of muddy water that is thundering over the ledge into the river. I take two quick photos because the force of the falling water crashing into the river sends a fine spray of water over us and I don’t want to take a chance of getting my camera wet. The rocks we are standing on are slippery from the moisture that is collecting from the spray too. Simon tells us that when he brings clients here the normal activity is to climb to the top of the falls and then the delighted tourists jump off the ledge into the placid pool of water beneath the waterfall. HA! That sure isn’t happening today as you would be pounded senseless by the force of the raging water.

The roaring, muddy waterfall

The roaring, muddy waterfall

Simon is taking us to the top of the falls just so we can get an overhead view so we march on. Simon stops at the base of a rocky outcrop and says we can climb up the face of this rock or take a much longer although easier hike to the top. The New Jersians who are avid hikers opt for the rock climb. Mom and daughters go first with a little help from Simon who directs them to hand or footholds. I watch and decide that if our guide will help me I can do this too. The rock face isn’t that tall, (30ft?), but it is fairly steep, so I follow the directions Simon gives me and occasionally he firmly grabs my wrist keeping me steady in some of the more dangerous places. Paul is next and he is not real happy about climbing up this way, remember heights are not Paul’s thing, but with Simon helping Paul, he has no problem. Dad waits until last but I think he was staying behind in case Paul and I might need to be caught if we fell:). He climbs right up the wall too.

Paul climbing up the rock face. It is steeper than it looks in the photo

Paul climbing up the rock face. It is steeper than it looks in the photo

Paul nearly there.

Paul nearly there.

Lily pads in bloom in a pool below us

Lily pads in bloom in a pool below us

The view is stunning up here and Paul comments that looking out over the bush from this lofty view it truly shows that we are in the wilderness. No telephone poles, no fences and no houses to be seen. If you want to see the waterfall from this angle it is necessary to climb down more rocks and Paul and I decide that we will forego this, no sense tempting fate. There are lily pads in bloom in a pool of calm water below us plus interesting plants managing to grow on top of the rocks where we are standing. Once we have had our fill of the impressive vistas, Simon leads us to the other side of the river and up the hill where we can see the Cruisers are waiting for us.

Paul just soaking it all in. Roy after seeing all the ticks on the cattle we tucked our pant legs into our socks!!

Paul just soaking it all in. Roy after seeing all the ticks on the cattle we tucked our pant legs into our socks!!

Yep, I really am here

Yep, I really am here

There is also something else waiting for the New Jersey family which is four camels! Camel riding is another activity the lodge provides and the family decided they wanted to experience riding a dromedary. Simon asks Paul if he wants to ride one as the two girls can ride double. Paul says if the girls don’t mind sharing a camel he would like to ride a camel. The girls have no problem with this arrangement so Paul is going for a camel ride. I already nixed a camel ride because my back is nearly healed and I don’t want to risk aggravating that muscle again.

Camel train arriving

Camel train arriving

The camel driver soon has the complaining camels lying down so the riders can climb onto the saddles that sit on the camel’s backs. Paul is put on the first camel, the two girls crawl on the second, Dad, who hesitates a bit when his camel lets out a cantankerous squall, settles in the saddle of the third, and mom is placed on the last camel. Every one hangs on to the iron bar that is anchored to their dromedaries’ saddle as the camels rise to their feet. The camel driver leads Pauls’ camel while the other camels are tethered to the camel in front of them so the riders are not steering the animal, all they have to do is hang on.

The camel handler getting the camels to lay down

The camel handler getting the camels to lay down

Paul is the first one to get on a camel

Paul is the first one to get on a camel

Camel cowboy

Camel cowboy

Paul took this photo sitting on the camel

Paul took this photo sitting on the camel

I ride in the Cruiser that drives in front of the camels so I can take photos of the camel train and the swaying riders. Simon is striding alongside the front camel, walking shotgun so to speak! After twenty minutes the camel ride comes to an end and the camel driver orders the camels to lay down one at a time. There is quite a steep angle for the riders when the camel is kneeling but its rear end is still in the air. Paul pushes against the saddles’ handle bar and has no problem staying upright until his camel is settled on the ground, and then he steps off. Soon everyone has dismounted and the girls feed some treats to a couple of the camels. Once all the treats and petting are finished the camel driver slings his long legs over the saddle of the camel Paul was riding and the dromedary cuts loose with a string of sounds that I’m pretty sure was cussing in camel talk.

I don't think Simon expects any trouble with wild animals the way he is carrying his rifle:)

I don’t think Simon expects any trouble with wild animals the way he is carrying his rifle:)

The camel trek is nearly at the end

The camel trek is nearly at the end

Preparing to let the riders off

Preparing to let the riders off

Now the camel riders load up into the Cruisers. Paul and I are going back to the lodge but the New Jersians are going tubing in the river! They are much braver than I am for sure. I asked Paul how his camel ride was and he replied that it was pretty cool but not comfortable so twenty minutes was long enough.

More guests have arrived this morning at Sosian and we meet them at lunch. A young woman with a blonde-headed toddler, who is a distant cousin of Simons’, has brought a couple from Germany who will be staying at the lodge. They all speak English quite well so we can visit easily with them too. We learn that the adventurous family has had great fun tubing in the fast flowing water of the river.

More beautiful blooms which I don't do justice to in the photo

More beautiful blooms which I don’t do justice to in the photo

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We enjoy the lunch as usual and after eating Paul and I decide to explore the grounds. Rosie tells us to stay on the road that runs around the lodge and we will be fine. We walk down the road enjoying the riot of color on the various blooming trees scattered throughout the grounds. The stables and horse riding arena are quiet this afternoon. We find an agama lizard sunning on the skull of a cape buffalo which is kind of creepy. As we walk back into the yard there is a large leopard tortoise grazing on the short grass, but it retreats into its shell as soon as we approach. We discover the garden and take a self-guided tour of squash plants, beets, and peas, among other things. We hear two pigs grunting in the pen not far from the garden but we can’t see them. Our tour concluded, Paul and I return to our cottage until it is time to leave for our afternoon adventure.

Agama lizard sunning on a cape buffalo skull

Agama lizard sunning on a cape buffalo skull

Leopard tortoise drawn into his shell

Leopard tortoise drawn into his shell

A portion of the garden at the lodge

A portion of the garden at the lodge

This afternoon the New Jersey family plus Paul and I are going to visit a local village but that will have to wait for the next blog. Nancy

A red-billed Hornbill we encountered on our walk around the Lodge grounds

A red-billed Hornbill we encountered on our walk around the Lodge grounds

 

 

 

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Sosian Ranch and Lodge part 7 2016

Sosian Ranch part 7 2016

When we were ready to return to our cottage last night after dinner it was raining cats and dogs! Rosie gave us each an umbrella to use on the short walk between the main house and the cottage. The heavy rain had turned the cobblestone path into a flowing stream and in one place the water was nearly over the top of my shoes. When we reached the wrought iron, arched gate, (which was there only for aesthetic value), we found that the umbrellas were too wide to fit through the gate. There was only one thing to do, close the umbrellas and run the last few feet to our door! We didn’t get soaked to the skin but our clothes were certainly damp. We listened to the rain drum steadily on the roof as we drifted off to sleep.

I loved the tea trays at Sosian!

I loved the tea trays at Sosian!

This morning our tea-tray is left outside our door around daylight. Paul enjoys his red bush tea while I go for the kid stuff, hot chocolate. We have a couple of small rather hard cookies too. We meet Simon and Misheck at the entrance by the office a half hour later and we are off to watch some cattle work. We drive across the river which has changed dramatically from our arrival yesterday due to the heavy rain last night. The water level has risen several feet and the water is a rushing torrent. Simon informs us that they had two inches which is about what Paul and I had estimated.

The river that runs through the ranch the day we arrived

The river that runs through the ranch the day we arrived

The same river today although at a different location

The same river today although at a different location

We don’t drive far from the lodge to reach the cattle working area. We drive past a large corral to a cement block shed and a small corral. There are some cattle penned in this corral including a few jersey milk cows. Paul and I raise our eyebrows at the Jersey but are told that they actually do quite well in the tough environment. Simon also tells us that this is the ranch’s milk herd. There are several groups of cattle standing around the outside of this wood corral and all that keeps them from mingling with the other herds are a few men. We learn from Simon that every herd has three men who stay with the cattle all day long as they graze. I find it amazing that the cattle show no interest in trying to escape from their own group to mingle or fight with the other herds of cattle, most include bulls that are standing yards away from them. When we climb out of the Cruiser to walk to the small shed the Boran cattle don’t even flinch. Our cows would likely turn tail and run if strangers walked among them.

Boran cattle waiting to be sprayed

Boran cattle waiting to be sprayed

Upon reaching the simple shed, Simon explains that the handlers will push the cattle single file up the alley that connects to the narrow shed. There are spray nozzles attached to the walls and roof (I think) of the building and the cattle will be doused with an insecticide to kill the pests, particularly ticks. Paul and I notice that the cattle have a lot of ticks on them especially around their tail head and anal area.  We are informed that the cattle dipping is done every two weeks! You would think the cattle would eventually fight going up that alley into the stinky spray but the men urging the cattle to do so don’t have too much trouble getting the multi colored bovines to enter the alley.

This group of cows is waiting to be sprayed. The man has no problem keeping them in their "space"!

This group of cows is waiting to be sprayed. The man has no problem keeping them in their “space”!

Simon and Misheck lead Paul and me to the far end of the spray shack so we can watch as the cattle walk through the spray. The soaked cattle then come down another alley and walk by us to join their herd mates.  It is rather humorous to watch cows, calves, and bulls as they brave the jets of milky-colored water. Some of the bovines lift their heads high; some of the animals are squinting their eyes, and most of the cattle try to squeeze their nostrils into slits, but all seem to accept their fate.

A cow running the gauntlet of water jets

A cow running the gauntlet of water jets

This calf is ready to rejoin the herd.

This calf is ready to rejoin the herd.

A flurry of activity is taking place a few yards from us by a couple of the herdsmen. Simon walks over towards one man who has a stout stick and is flailing away at the ground by his feet. We follow Simon who informs us that the target of the man’s blows is, (or was), a small cobra. I can just see a snaky form while peering around Simon and Paul and I didn’t care to get any closer. I do check the ground wherever we walk after this episode however.

As more groups of cattle arrive at the dipping facility again I am astonished at how easily the Boran cattle handle. The men with each herd keep track of their cattle and when the last one emerges from being sprayed they haze them past the untreated cattle. There is no fussing, bellowing, posturing at one another when those that have been treated wander off to graze in the bush past those who continue to stand patiently waiting their turn to be sprayed.

I think there are four different groups of cattle waiting in line to be sprayed. They pay no attention to us. Paul's photo

I think there are four different groups of cattle waiting in line to be sprayed. They pay no attention to us. Paul’s photo

Cute calves that will soon be soaking wet.

Cute calves that will soon be soaking wet.

Sean, one of the owners of the ranch and the manager of the cattle operation, has joined us as we watch the cattle being sprayed. Sean, (who is very tall, 6’8”), explains that the Boran cattle are known for being docile, (except when they calve), resistance to disease, (which is good because they have no veterinarians here!), and the ability to grow and thrive in a hot environment. He informs us that the beef is grass-fed and the animals are ready for market when the steers are two and a half years old. The bulls run with the cows all year round so that means they have calves at any time of the year. Sean talks about the portable, steel bomas that the cattle are penned up in at night and how successful the bomas are in keeping lions from attacking the bovines. The bomas are just large enough that the cattle have room to stand up and lie down but there is not enough room for them to walk around. The point to this is that when lions come around the bomas the cattle do not have room to stampede and thus cannot break out of the boma. The death loss in the cattle herd is remarkably low considering the cattle live in such a tough environment and exit alongside the wild life. I admire the heck out of these ranchers that have made the decision to not only live with but conserve and protect the wild animals and they are doing so quite successfully.

Sean invites us back after breakfast because a buyer is actually coming to purchase forty grass fat steers. They will also be weighing every steer in this group that the man will be choosing the cattle from. Excellent. Sean had hoped to brand cattle today but because of the heavy rain last night it is just too wet and muddy.

Branding irons. Paul's photo

Branding irons. Paul’s photo

We return to the lodge and have breakfast on the veranda while watching the silly donkeys graze on the lawn. In the days to come we never know where we might see the donkeys. On the veranda hiding from the heat of the day, outside our bathroom window, or actually inside the main house!  For breakfast there is cereal, fruit juice, fruit, toast, eggs and what they call pancakes but they are more like crepes. Paul and I both are hungry and eat heartily. Simon and Rosie join us for breakfast and they make suggestions for our day which includes a game drive after we are finished watching the cattle weighing. For our afternoon game drive they suggest we try to find the lions and young cubs. Great.

Donkey on the veranda

Donkey on the veranda

View out our bathroom window:).

View out our bathroom window:).

Misheck is our guide for the rest of the day as more clients are arriving later this morning and Simon will be meeting them at the airstrip. Misheck drives us back to the large working pens where several men are busy sorting cattle from one pen into another. Once this is finished they fill a curved alley with various sizes of steers. The buyer, a young man, studies the steers intently as the critters wait their turn to step on the scales. Occasionally the buyer will indicate he wants a steer marked with the red paint before it is weighed but generally he will wait to see how much the animal weighs before accepting or rejecting the steer. One of the cattle herders splashes a line of paint on the steers back that the buyer has selected while the steer is standing on the scales.

Weighing steers

Weighing steers

Sean, who is busy taking down the steer weights in a notebook, still takes time to explain to us what is taking place. Sean tells us that the buyer will pay him today using the weights that are being recorded.  At one point there obviously is some kind of negotiating taking place between Sean and the buyer as they converse in Swahili. When the two are done conferring, Sean tells us that the cattle buyer wants to take ten steers at a time for four days in a row, and we gather that Sean would prefer all forty steers go at once. I’m not sure who won that go round.

The cattle buyer

The cattle buyer

Paul and I thank Sean for letting us observe the cattle work and marketing today and then we take our leave to go in search of the wild side of the ranch.  Misheck asks us what we are interested in seeing. Paul and I tell our guide that we like everything and Paul adds that “we are easy”. Misheck exclaims “I am easier than you” which strikes Paul and I as hilarious and we laugh out loud. I don’t think Misheck had a clue what we were laughing at.

Heuglins Courser

Heuglins Courser

The roads Misheck takes us down are fairly solid for all the rain that fell last night but occasionally there is a soft spot that finds the truck sliding around a bit. There are lots of birds to look at but one of my favorites today is the trio of Heuglins Coursers that stand frozen convinced that we don’t notice them. The Coursers have such a pretty pattern on their face.  We see elephants, giraffe and Hartebeest but they are all in the distance so we have to observe them through our binoculars. We find a mixed group of zebra and impalas and we sit and watch them for a while.

Zebra and Impalas in a grassy field with the woody landscape behind them

Zebra and Impalas in a grassy field with the woody landscape behind them

Zebra and an impala

Zebra and an impala

Misheck drives to a large pond where hippo and water birds can usually be found but the pond is so full and the water is so muddy that nothing is around this morning. The track leading to the pond is very soft and for a minute it appears we might be stuck but Misheck maneuvers the Cruiser out of the muck and onto more solid ground.

It is nearing lunch time so Misheck turns the Cruiser towards the lodge. A beautiful Defassa Waterbuck crosses the road just in front of us and is in no hurry to run away and hide. Misheck stops to look for the leopards among the rocks but we are out of luck as no spotted cats are in sight. We do take time to look at some weaver nests, particularly the one that is a double-decker. What a task it must have been to build that nest!

The waterbuck here seemed so dark.

The waterbuck here seemed so dark.

 I had to include the double-decker nest

I had to include the double-decker nest

We have lunch by the pool again and meet the family of four from New Jersey that arrived mid-morning. The couple has a preteen and teenage girl and I believe this is their second stop on their Kenya trip. They excitedly tell us about the family of lions they saw on their way to the lodge and how cute the cubs were. However, the lioness growled at them which gave them all a start. I believe it was dad that added he would never forget that sound of the growling lioness. I believe that!

Paul and I spend a leisurely afternoon going through photos and reading. I borrowed a book from the generous library in the ranch house called “A woman alone” although I don’t recall the author, I am so terrible with names. Anyway it is an autobiography about a woman who came to Africa in the early 1900’s by herself to experience the continent and I am already captured with her story a few pages into the book.

When the time for our game drive arrives Paul and I walk to the office and find Misheck waiting for us along with another young man who introduces himself as Patrick.  Patrick will be manning the device that tracks the lions. Yes, we knew that some of the predators here are collared for research purposes. The ranchers are also allowed to track the animals for their clients. I had mixed feelings about this to begin with but with the heavy cover of the landscape the odds of finding lion or wild dog would be a crap shoot.

Since Simon and his clients found the lions this morning and the pride contains young cubs the odds are the pride is still in the same area. The clouds are building up just like they did yesterday so the light is not going to be good and it feels and smells like rain is on the way. Misheck drives at a good pace since the lions are a ways from the lodge and just because some of the pride members wear collars it doesn’t mean the lions will be easy to find. We see a few impalas and dik-diks along the way but not much else.

Impala herd

Impala herd

Hammerkop trying to hide in the lush grass

Hammerkop trying to hide in the lush grass

When we reach the place where the lions were this morning, Patrick sits on the roof frame or stands on the seat and holds the antenna over his head. Patrick reads the signal on the phone-like device and tells Misheck to turn this way or go that way. That isn’t as easy as it sounds because there is no road. Misheck is driving through the bush and trying to dodge rocks and maneuver around trees and bushes. Eventually the two men seem to be stumped, they know the lions are here but they can’t pin point them.

Patrick directs Misheck back to a spot that we have driven around before and as we are creeping along staring into the cover, I see movement which turns out to be the flicker of a cub’s ear. Patrick has seen the little cub too and we both call out at the same time. No wonder we couldn’t find them. The little cub blends in perfectly with the grass it is hiding in plus there are lots of thorn bushes that help obscure their hiding place. Patrick points out two more young cubs farther behind the braver one and again only their heads can be seen. There should be one more cub but we don’t find it. There has to be adults here as they are the ones wearing the collars but for the life of us we cannot detect any adult lions. They must be hunkered down in some bushes out of sight.

The lion cub that gave himself away by flicking his ear. Can you see why it was so hard to see him?

The lion cub that gave himself away by flicking his ear. Can you see why it was so hard to see him?

Two more cubs way back in the tangle of grass and bushes.

Two more cubs way back in the tangle of grass and bushes.

Misheck starts to drive into the lion’s enclave but I ask him not to. He points out that this isn’t the Mara where lots of vehicles would be following us. That is true but I tell him that I am satisfied, we have caught a glimpse of the cubs and have some vague photos to prove it and that is enough for me. I ask Paul if he agrees and he shrugs his shoulders and nods. Misheck must drive a zigzag path to return to the road and once we reach the dirt track it begins to lightly rain. Misheck asks if we want to continue on the game drive or go home. Paul and I both agree we may as well return to the lodge as seeing the cute cubs was a great way to end the day.

After a long hot shower, no bucket showers here to hurry through, we walk to the main house. The New Jersey family is already seated around the fire-place enjoying beverages. Drinks are offered to us, I have water and Paul orders his Amarulla, and snacks are brought for us to nibble on before dinner. For dinner we have beef, I assumed it is the ranches, and it is delicious. When Simon asks how the beef is, Paul and I answer in unison that it is delicious. Simon dramatically grabs his chest and pretends he is going to fall out of his chair in relief, making us all laugh. Simon knows we raise Angus cattle so he probably was a little concerned we wouldn’t find the Boran beef up to par. That sure wasn’t the case!

After dinner we walk back to our cottage in a light rain. We haven’t been in the room for long though when the rain begins to pound down so again we drift off to sleep with the sound of rain drumming on the roof. Nancy

The man in the blue coat is our guide Misheck

The man in the blue coat is our guide Misheck

This animal is standing right next to us and you can see how upset it is:).

This animal is standing right next to us and you can see how upset it is:).

 

 

 

Meru to Lakipia part 6 2016

Meru to Lakipia part 6

Paul and I decided yesterday that we would not take an early morning game drive since our plane will be coming for us at eleven a.m. When we informed Dominic of our plans at the conclusion of our afternoon outing, he told us in Kenya they call getting up late having a lions’ sleep. Well, Paul and I did sleep in this morning. Instead of getting up at 5:20 we lazed in bed until 6:30 :). Our tea-tray was delivered around this time and we enjoyed tea and cookies on the tent veranda while watching a troop of vervet monkeys climb and jump around in the trees below our tent.

Delicate blue flowers

Delicate blue flowers

These look a bit like petunias

These look a bit like petunias

Once we have finished tea, I decide to explore more of the camp and walk the paths to the other tents. I enjoy my walk in the cool morning air, checking out the other tent sites and conclude that the tent Paul and I have is situated in the best location and we sure have the best view. I also take photos of some of the many interesting and colorful flowers that I found growing throughout the camp grounds. When I return to the tent Paul decides to go for a stroll and upon his return, Paul too thinks we have the best camp site.

These flowers were strange looking

These flowers were strange looking

A butterfly that kept still long enough for a photo

A butterfly that kept still long enough for a photo

Our breakfast is scheduled for eight o’clock so we walk to the mess tent for our first hot breakfast since coming to Meru. We have scrambled eggs, bacon, cereal and fruit which is quite tasty but I still prefer our bush breakfasts. However, the troop of vervet monkeys is sitting on the logs that are laid around the campfire area so we still have wildlife to observe while we eat.

Our breakfast entertainment

Our breakfast entertainment

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey

Craig shows up when we are nearly finished with breakfast and hands us the bag containing our money that he has kept in the safe. Yesterday we had asked Craig what he recommended for us to tip the guide and staff. His recommendation was fifty percent more than what the suggested guidelines were from our tour company! Paul and I aren’t sure that we have brought enough cash money to cover all the camps at this rate esp. since we have already used some of our cash on entrance visas and tipping at the Nairobi camp. Once we count our cash and Kenya shillings it is obvious that we will not have much left over once the tips are accounted for. However, I am one who believes in hiding some money here and there just in case cash is misplaced or stolen and once we count up what I have squirreled away there is no need to worry about a lack of funds :).

At 9:30 Paul and I make our way to the dirt lot to be picked up for the last time. Dominic is waiting for us and Craig comes to say goodbye. We tell the young manager how much we enjoyed our stay here and Paul promises to encourage safari goers to come to Meru when he reviews Offbeat Meru camp, the reserve, and Meru Park on Trip advisor and Safari Talk. We hand the tip money for the staff to Craig so he can disperse it to the twenty some people who work here! Our luggage is placed in the Cruiser, Paul and I climb into the truck and we wave goodbye.

I forgot to mention the herd of cape buffalo we saw this morning on the way to the airport

I forgot to mention the herd of cape buffalo we saw this morning on the way to the airport

We don’t have to be at the airstrip until eleven so we can take our time to enjoy the animals we find.  A dwarf mongoose runs across the red dirt road into the safety of a thorny bush. We watch a small crocodile trying to sneak up on some Laughing doves that want to drink from the Mirera river (more like a large creek really). Although the croc is barely visible the doves sense his presence and don’t make the mistake of taking a drink. I would bet that the stealthy croc has been successful at grabbing a meal at this spot before.

Baby Leopard Tortoise

Baby Leopard Tortoise

Dominic is getting ready to carry the little tortoise across the road to safety

Dominic is getting ready to carry the little tortoise across the road to safety

Dominic stops the Cruiser, hops out and picks up a tiny tortoise that was in the road. Dominic places the reptile on the door ledge and identifies it as a leopard tortoise. Of course the baby tortoise has pulled his head and legs inside his decorative shell but it is still beautiful. Dominic earns a gold star from me when he carries the vulnerable tortoise across the road and places it in the bush. At home, I always stop on our gravel roads and carry a turtle that is crossing the road to the other side.  As we drive on we catch a fleeting glimpse of a bush buck and a red-headed agama Lizard is sunning itself on a rotten log.

Red-headed Agama Lizard. His head looks orange to me.

Red-headed Agama Lizard. His head looks orange to me.

Dominic delivers us to the airstrip minutes before the four seat airplane lands. Paul and I tell our delightful guide how much we have enjoyed the time we have spent with him. Paul hands Dominic an envelope containing cash and a hand written thank you note. Dominic shakes our hands and tells us that he too, has enjoyed being our guide and that we were a lot of fun to be with. Dominic will be a tough act to follow for our guides in the camps to come. I will add here that Dominic told us this morning that the authorities still haven’t found the rustled herd of cattle.

The pilot of the small green plane walks over to greet us and helps us load our luggage. The pleasant young man, with a unique name I can’t recall, puts Paul in the seat next to him and I sit in the back. Our pilot gives us a quick safety lesson and tells us to put the headphones on to muffle the noise of the plane, plus there are mics attached to the headphones if we want to talk with each other or to him. Soon we are taxing down the bumpy airstrip and waving goodbye to Dominic who is standing on the edge of the runway waving in return.

Our plane landing on Meru airstrip

Our plane landing on Meru airstrip

Our ride to Sosian Ranch Lodge

Our ride to Sosian Ranch Lodge

As the plane lifts off the isolated runway, climbing slowly into the sky, I keep my eyes on the ground below and am able to pick out a herd of elephants, a few giraffe, and what I think are impalas. Paul lets out a yelp and slaps at his ankle shortly after we have lifted off.  A tsetse fly has bitten Paul through his pant leg and sock! We did not see one of these nasty insects while on the ground in Meru but the hitchhiking fly pays for its misbehavior as the smack Paul gave the fly puts an end to its life.

Before long we are flying over farm country with villages scattered around the landscape. We do ask various questions of our congenial pilot but the flight is so calm that I begin to feel sleepy and nearly doze off. The smooth flight ends after an hour and our pilot lands the puddle jumper on a grassy/muddy strip where thorn bushes and trees crowd in on all sides (unfortunately neither of us snapped a photo of the rugged airstrip). There is a man sitting in a vehicle on the edge of the runway as the plane bumps its way to the end of the strip and comes to a stop.

Our pilot kills the engine, steps out and comes around to open our doors. We step out into the warm, humid air of Sosian situated in the Lakipia plateau region. The driver of the Toyota Cruiser comes forward to greet us and introduces himself as Misheck. We retrieve our luggage and pile it into the Cruiser. Paul and I then thank our bush pilot who crawls back into the small plane and taxies to the far end. We sit in the Cruiser and watch as the bush plane speeds by us then it lifts off into a brilliant blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.

Some of the bulls and steers that were not part of the bovine road block

Some of the bulls and steers that were not part of the bovine road block

On the short drive to the lodge we travel down well-packed red dirt roads although due to heavy rains there are plenty of rough spots to traverse. The land is thick with all sizes of bushes and trees, most of which are full of thorns, but there are grassy areas too. Misheck has to come to a stop when a herd of the ranch’s’ Boran bulls and steers are blocking the road. The complacent bovines are in no hurry to give us the right of way despite the herdsman’s’ verbal and physical efforts to move the lazy cattle off the road.

The herdsman after he got the cattle off the dirt road

The herdsman after he got the cattle off the dirt road

We drive across a bridge over a fast flowing river and in less than a mile we arrive at the entrance to the lodge. Wow, what an eye-opener this place is, as dry stone walls built with colorful stones run in all directions. Naturally, Paul is nearly beside himself with delight at seeing all these rock fences surrounding the gorgeous grounds. There also is a huge leopard tortoise walking across a side road and Misheck says the tortoises come here to graze on the lawn. Cool.

Notice how they built the wall and incorporated the leaning tree into it.

Notice how they built the wall and incorporated the leaning tree into it.

This is what that little tortoise we saw in Meru will grow into!

This is what that little tortoise we saw in Meru will grow into!

As Misheck brings the truck to a stop next to the office of Sosian Ranch Lodge a pretty blonde woman and an outdoorsy looking man are there to greet us with smiles, welcomes, and a glass of fruit juice. The couple introduces themselves as Rosie and Simon, and they tell us they are the managers of the lodge. They look like college kids for heaven sakes! Once we finish our drink, Rosie shows us around the ranch house that was restored back in the 1940’s but it has obviously been redecorated since then. The house is gorgeous with big airy rooms, a beautiful wrap around veranda, and two black dogs padding around the premises to complete the look of what I imagine an African ranch house should look like. The yard is full of stately trees, some of which are blooming in a variety of colors. The only thing that doesn’t quite fit my mental image is the small group of donkeys that are roaming freely in the yard.

Tea and before dinner drinks served here

Tea and before dinner drinks served here

More of the Ranch house

More of the Ranch house

Rosie shows us where breakfast is served, (on the veranda), where tea and before dinner drinks are served (inside next to a huge fireplace), dinner is served, (a narrow dining room with wonderful paintings of African wildlife), and then she takes us to our cottage. Rosie tells us all the relevant things about the cottage such as the hours when the electricity is on, where to place our dirty clothes to be laundered, etc. We are staying in the Italian cottage which sits a few yards to the north (I think) of the main house. All the other guest houses are situated to the south of the house. The cottage is delightful. The bedroom has a king-sized bed draped in white mosquito netting, along with a rocking chair, end tables and a desk.  There is a hallway between the bedroom and bathroom with ample shelving and closets for clothes and luggage. The bathroom is quite unique in that a fainting couch has been placed in the middle of the large room, and plush bathrobes are hanging on the door. Also the two rooms are round, no corners in this cottage!  There are lounge chairs sitting under a shade tree just in front of the cottage. Rosie leaves us to settle into this comfortable cottage and tells us to come to the pool area at one o’clock for lunch.

The bedroom. Paul's photo

The bedroom. Paul’s photo

The bathroom. Paul's photo

The bathroom. Paul’s photo

Our cottage. Paul's photo

Our cottage. Paul’s photo

To get to the pool we walk the cobblestone path which takes us by the other guest cottages. There is a large three-sided dining and lounge area next to the pool. The open side looks out over the pool. A sandy-haired British soldier with Hollywood good looks is dining with us too, but he will be leaving after lunch. The British have troops stationed in Nanyuki; about two hours from here and the soldiers also train on land near Sosian. We also meet dark-haired Daisy, a Brit, who is working at Sosian. Our lunch is buffet style and I don’t have a clue what was served but like I said before, all our meals were delicious. We enjoy hearing about Sosian, the ranch and lodge, and how Simon and Rosie became the managers. Both had worked here, Simon as a guide but I don’t remember what Rosie did. When the prior managers left the two were hired to manage Sosian at the age of 21 and 22! This was three years ago so I was right, they nearly are college kids. The three “kids” are all very extroverted, full of life, and they make us feel like we belong here.

Pool and dining hall and lounge where we always ate lunch

Pool and dining hall and lounge where we always ate lunch

Paul and I take advantage of the Wi-Fi which can only be accessed near the office to check emails and send one out to family and friends saying that we are doing fine. There was obviously no Wi-Fi in isolated Meru which was fine by us. We return to the room and relax for a bit before going to the main house for tea and cake at four.

A poor photo of Vulturine guinea fowl

A poor photo of Vulturine guinea fowl

Foraging elephant hidden by trees and bushes

Foraging elephant hidden by trees and bushes

After tea Simon and Misheck take Paul and I on our first game drive in Sosian. We learn that they are having an unusual abundance of rain which explains why everything is so lush plus water is running everywhere. It is also obvious that finding game here may not be easy because with all the cover animals will be hard to spot. We do find some vulturine guinea fowl that have deep blue feathers on their necks and chests making them quite striking birds. An elephant is stripping leaves from a small tree not far from the headquarters. We turn onto a public road that runs through the ranch and Simon stops the Cruiser scanning the big rocks that protrude from the nearby hills for a leopardess and her cub that are occasionally seen sunning on the boulders. The cats aren’t here today unfortunately. Simon is ready to drive on when he suddenly says “what is that”? I try to follow his gaze as he looks towards a rough road that forks off from the public road but I see nothing.  Simon lifts his binoculars to have a closer look and quietly but excitedly exclaims that it is a cheetah. Paul and I quickly scope the area with our binoculars and sure enough there is a cheetah sitting on a small red mound staring right at us. Misheck, who is standing on the seat behind Paul and I tells us that we are very lucky. Paul and I look at each other and just shake our heads. We have been out for less than thirty minutes and of all the animals Paul and I thought we might see in this landscape a cheetah was not one of them!

It is a Cheetah!

It is a Cheetah!

Hiding in the grass

Hiding in the grass

Simon quietly tells us that he will drive closer and then stop in hopes we can get a decent photo before the slender cat makes a getaway. Simon’s plan works as the spotted cat sits tight on his little mound of dirt for at least a “proof we saw a cheetah” photo. However, when Simon tries to inch closer to the cheetah we violate his comfort zone and he stands up and walks into the bush. Simon drives near the spot where the young male cheetah disappeared and Misheck spots him sitting in some tall grass. The two men expect the cheetah to move again since we are so near the lanky feline and he does. The cheetah comes out onto the road glances at us and begins walking in the roadbed away from us. Occasionally the cheetah stops and glances over his shoulder to keep an eye on us. Simon lets the truck creep after the strolling cat leaving plenty of room between us and the cheetah. Eventually the cheetah walks back into the bush and we lose sight of him. Simon stops the cruiser and listens, for what we don’t know. Pretty soon he points to his ear and asks if we hear the birds scolding up ahead. Yes we do. Simon identifies the tattle tales as rattling cisticolas and tells us that they are a good indication that the cheetah is nearby. Simon and Misheck continue to track the cat by driving to where the birds are scolding the perceived menace, the men then glass the area for the cheetah. We continue this listen to the scolding birds, move on when more cisticolas begin chattering further away, and scan the bush for the cheetah. Because this is private property we can drive off-road in pursuit of the cheetah. Eventually the little birds do lead us to the cheetah who is sitting behind a large termite mound with only his head visible to us. We have time to snap a couple of photos before the cat loses his patience and moves on.

Walking to the road

Walking to the road

Keeping an eye on us

Keeping an eye on us

Thanks to the Cisticolas we find the Cheetah again

Thanks to the Cisticolas we find the Cheetah again

Our last look at the cheetah

Our last look at the cheetah

The cisticolas have ceased their scolding so Simon and Misheck confer on where they think the cheetah might be headed. The two agree on an area where the cheetah might be hiding so Simon navigates the Cruiser around rocks and bushes, then crawls up onto the frame of the truck, barefooted, and scouts the bush with his binoculars. The stealthy cat is nowhere to be found but our guides have seen a herd of impalas on a ridge and surmise the cheetah might be moving in the antelope’s direction.

Simon standing on the roof frame looking for the cheetah.

Simon standing on the roof frame looking for the cheetah.

We drive a few miles to the impalas and I ask how long it would take the cheetah to travel this distance. Simon answers not that long because they can cover ground quickly even at a walk plus the cat would be traveling a more direct route than we did. While keeping one eye on the impalas we also take note of other wildlife in the area. We are on a plateau which is more open and grassy and the high point allows us to see a long ways.

On the next hillside there are several elephants foraging on the trees. A waterbuck appears below our hilltop perch running at full speed. Could the cheetah be down there? There are zebra grazing across the way too. Suddenly the impalas bunch up and stare in the general direction we have come from. We all use our binoculars trying to see what the nervous antelope are looking at but we find nothing. The impalas relax after a bit and scatter out to graze. Simon and Misheck decide the cheetah is not coming after all.

Elephant taking a dirt bath

Elephant taking a dirt bath

We drive on and find an elephant vigorously dusting himself. Paul gets a great video of the elephant kicking dust into his trunk and then tossing it on his head and back. It is getting late so Simon drives to a tank (pond to us) and we enjoy our first sundowner, with tuskers and chips, in Sosian. Since it is cloudy now we don’t get to see the sunset but we enjoy the moment all the same. I still can’t believe we saw a cheetah!!

A cloudy sundowner to end the day

A cloudy sundowner to end the day

Dinner is rather formal; the wait staffs are wearing white coats and take their job very seriously.  The food is delicious and we enjoy hearing stories from the three youngsters:). Simon is very funny, Daisy is very animated when she relates anything, and Rosie is just a pleasant, very nice person.  We retire shortly after dinner absolutely delighted with our first afternoon here.

A full day in Sosian coming soon, Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meru part 5 2016

Meru part 5

 

Paul and I had another restful night in the wilds of Meru. I did hear hyena giggling and whooping plus a baboon barking sharply but I fell right back to sleep. As usual we are climbing into the Cruiser at 6 a.m. as Dominic greets us with that sunny smile and a cheerful good morning.

Giraffe looking us over in the dusky morning light. Can you see the streaks in the sky? Those are 1000's of quelea flying around.

Giraffe looking us over in the dusky morning light. Can you see the streaks in the sky? Those are 1000’s of quelea flying around.

Guinea hens and blurry chicks

Guinea hens and blurry chicks

This morning we find more giraffe that give us the usual curious once over. Three helmeted guinea hen with a half-dozen chicks run ahead of our vehicle for a ways before reluctantly leaving the road and scrambling into the tall grass. I don’t blame the fowl for not wanting to take their little ones into the tangle of forage. There is a faint piece of rainbow in the dusky sky which is very lovely. Dominic suddenly speeds up and we are driving rather fast, well faster than we normally do, down the road. Paul and I look at each other because this behavior from a guide usually means there is something special to see.

This is one reason to get up early!

This is one reason to get up early!

The sun is beginning to peak above the horizon and the sky is vivid with various shades of orange. Dominic brings the Cruiser to a halt and then grins as Paul and I both “ooh” at what we see. The sun is rising behind a clump of doum palms, those unique trees whose upper branches remind me of giant wishbones. Dominic tells us that “now you see why I was driving fast”. We watch as the brilliant sun reaches the point where it is mostly framed in the vee of the doum palm branches. Paul and I both snap photos of the iconic scene then marvel again at how fast the sun rises above the tree tops. What a gorgeous start to the morning this is.

Elephant lightening the load as he walks.

Elephant lightening the load as he walks.

As we continue on our drive we admire a lone elephant that is walking along with his trunk draped over his tusk to lighten the load. There are clouds gathering and we have a brief shower of light rain but we hardly get damp. We see several Cape buffalo grazing in a marshy meadow accompanied by their buddies the cattle egrets. A grand specimen of a male Somali Ostrich struts proudly across the road in front of us, so close that we can see the flies crawling on his head and neck. He seems in no hurry to go anywhere and strikes a few poses for us. A herd of common waterbuck turn their heads to look at us as we stop to watch them. Suddenly our leisurely drive changes when Dominic does a three point turn and begins driving back in the direction we came. Paul noticed that just before this sudden turn around, Dominic had picked up his phone and looked at it. One thing is for sure we aren’t speeding down the road to catch a sunrise this time!

Cape buffalo and cattle egrets. It is sprinkling so this isn't in good light.

Cape buffalo and cattle egrets. It is sprinkling so this isn’t in good light.

Proud Somali Ostrich

Proud Somali Ostrich

Look at the flies

Look at the flies

Dominic turns onto a well-traveled road that I’m pretty sure we have never driven down before.  We meet another vehicle, the same people we saw on our first day in Meru, and Dominic stops to chat with the driver. The safarists are smiling broadly and when we part company, I say to the couple as we pass each other that they look very happy. They nod their heads in agreement but give us no hint to what has delighted them.

Lion couple laying next to the road

Lion couple laying next to the road

Occasionally the male gives us that "look straight through you" stare

Occasionally the male gives us that “look straight through you” stare

In a few minutes we discover the reason for our altered route and the delight of the safarists we met. Lying next to the road in the red dirt is a lion and lioness. The lioness is lying flat on her side while the large male is lying on his belly. Dominic tells us that the pair are mating so that is why they are here by themselves. We sit and watch the recumbent animals mostly sleep although the handsome male does occasionally look at us or shifts around for a more comfortable sleeping position. We are distracted while we observe the lions by a black-headed heron that flies by with a black snake dangling from its long beak. The lanky heron lands in the distance and we watch through our binoculars as the bird swallows the foot or so long snake. Once the bird is finished eating its scaly breakfast the heron lands in a nearby tree offering a nice pose for my camera.

Black-headed Heron

Black-headed Heron

Lazy lions

Lazy lions

We turn our attention back to the lion couple, the lioness has shifted to lying on her tummy. The male stands up and takes a step towards his mate and licks her ear. This leads to the female rising to her feet and then the two walk into the tall grass that borders their resting place. The grass swallows them from sight and I assume that our time with the lion couple is over. Oh yes, another vehicle arrived a few minutes after we did so we are sharing this lion encounter. However, Dominic backs the Cruiser up a few yards and there are the two lions in the act of mating! The two lions look a bit surprised at our appearance, and I feel a little guilty about our intruding into the pair’s private business. Although our presence seems a bit rude it certainly doesn’t deter the felines from proceeding with their intimacy. Paul points out that they aren’t too worried about spectators or they would have chosen a more remote place to mate rather than right by the road!

Whispering sweet nothings in her ear?

Whispering sweet nothings in her ear?

Just before the lions disappear into the brush and grass

Just before the lions disappear into the brush and grass

 

The mating session ends quickly and with a snarl from both parties, although no snapping jaws or slashing of claws are part of the finale as often happens with mating cats. However, I noticed some fresh scratch or bite marks on the lioness that would indicate that some of their prior mating sessions weren’t as benign. The lioness falls back on her side looking quite satisfied, while the male scent marks with urine near where the lioness is resting. Eventually the dark maned male lies down beside his mate and they fall back to sleep. Dominic tells us that the two will probably sleep for quite some time now so we drive away with the same happy look on our faces as the people we met on our way to the lions.

Witnessing the mating act. The snarl isn't for us by the way

Witnessing the mating act. The snarl isn’t for us by the way

A satisfied lioness

A satisfied lioness

Lion marking territory with his urine

Lion marking territory with his urine

Seeing the lions this morning means that we have accounted for the big five in Meru. The big five consists of Elephant, Cape buffalo, Rhino, Leopard, and Lion. The big five is very hard to acquire anymore due to the demise of the rhino and we know we are very lucky to have achieved this coup.

Our morning fun isn’t finished however as we find two gerenuk that are feeding! You might think big deal, but gerenuk mostly feed standing up on their hind legs so they can reach upper leaves on small trees and bushes. Watching the gerenuk through our binoculars we marvel at the rather odd looking antelope balancing on their hind legs while they stretch out their long necks to reach the most desirable leaves. In the background of the dining gerenuks is an elephant with red dust swirling around it due to the pachyderm picking up the dirt and throwing the dust on itself. Too bad we aren’t closer to the animals as this comparison of the delicate gerenuk and the enormous dust bathing elephant would have made for a great video or photo.

Gerenuk balancing on its back legs to forage

Gerenuk balancing on its back legs to forage

Dust bathing elephant in the distance

Dust bathing elephant in the distance

Dominic turns onto a rough track that meanders through a small valley where we see another baobab tree. All of us smell the odor of rotting flesh but as carefully as we look we can’t find the source of the stench. There are no vultures or any other carrion eaters around that would help us find the carcass which seems a bit odd. If the carcass has been placed in a tree by a leopard we aren’t able to spot it. We see a few zebra, Oryx and impala as we drive through the little valley so maybe one of their herd mates met its demise last night.

Baobab tree we saw while driving through the small valley

Baobab tree we saw while driving through the small valley

Zebra and Oryx

Zebra and Oryx

After leaving the quiet valley Dominic drives us back near the rhino sanctuary. There is some wire fence not far from the road that must have been part of the sanctuary at one time but it isn’t electrified anymore. A big bull elephant is standing behind the irrelevant fence feeding on the white flowers that are growing profusely here. The pachyderm has plastered himself with red mud and his eyelashes are stuck together so you can hardly see his tiny eyes. Dominic points out that the elephants tusks have been sawn off and tells us that the big guy is a trouble maker. The ornery fellow enjoys knocking down the rhino sanctuary fence, electrified or not.

Elephant plastered with red mud

Elephant plastered with red mud

Moving on we find a troop of baboon moving through the tall grass which makes them very hard to see. One baboon is on the other side of the road perched atop a small tree and occasionally he lets out a soft whoop. I’m not sure what that sound means but soon the group of baboons is crossing the road behind us, glancing at us nervously as they pass by. Several baboon cross to a lone doum palm and scamper up the trunk of the leaning tree. One of the tree climbers must have violated the pecking order because a larger baboon grabs and bites the poor thing causing it to shriek in fear or pain.

Some of the baboon troop that crossed the road

Some of the baboon troop that crossed the road

Baboons climbing up the doum palm

Baboons climbing up the doum palm

We have also been watching a bull elephant near the palm tree that the baboons climbed that has all the tale tell signs of being in musth. Musth is when an adult male elephant reaches a state of having extremely high levels of testosterone. The elephant has been checking us out plus just acting as though he doesn’t know what to do with himself. At one point prior to the baboons crossing the road, he places his head against the very palm tree the baboons are now in and shook it vigorously, then checked the ground in hopes that some nuts had fallen out. Getting back to the shrieking baboon, this seems to really irritate the elephant and he starts walking towards the tree with his trunk raised in the air while also shaking his head. This terrifies the baboons and they race back down the tree howling and screeching with fright and disappear into the waving grass.

Bull in musth checking us out

Bull in musth checking us out

Bull elephant shaking the palm tree

Bull elephant shaking the palm tree

The big bully continues to the doum palm where he backs up to the trunk and begins scratching his behind. Once he has satisfied the itch, he again places his large head against the tree trunk and pushes causing the top of the tree to vigorously shake. There are no nuts in the tree so his search for fallen nuts is futile. The elephant leaves the palm tree and advances towards us but changes his mind (thank goodness) and walks to a small water hole. At first it appears he is going to lie down in the muddy pool but ends up digging at the mud with his tusks. We finally decide to leave the mixed up elephant and continue on our way back to camp.

Scratching an itch

Scratching an itch

Taking a mud bath

Taking a mud bath

Digging in the mud

Digging in the mud

Two incidents happened on this morning’s game drive that had nothing to do with African wildlife. When we were near the rhino sanctuary a private car was speedily approaching us. Dominic slowed down and came to a stop to offer the normal bush greeting. The white car never even slowed down, enveloping us in a cloud of dust as it sped by. Dominic stares after the car and raises his hands, palms up, in a questioning gesture. He shakes his head in disgust and drives on. Obviously not stopping to visit is considered bad etiquette in the African bush.

As we near the camp two rangers are parked in their official vehicle on the side of the road. Dominic slows and calls out “Jumbo” and the rangers return the greeting. As Dominic prepares to stop the Cruiser but the rangers shake their heads no and gesture that we must move on. We haven’t driven far when we meet two police trucks filled with determined looking policemen. Bringing up the rear of the convoy is a private truck containing two men. Dominic states the obvious that the authorities are after somebody and it must be serious since the police and rangers are working together. Interesting.

At lunch we meet a couple that has arrived from the UK and find out that they have stayed at Offbeat Meru camp before. It doesn’t take long to figure out that things will be lively with this very extroverted and humorous couple! They are here for four nights and will follow us to Laikipia where we will meet up again. They tell us that on their way from the airstrip to the camp they saw three cheetahs in the distance, standing on the road. The supple cats melted into the grass before they could get much closer.  No way, the odds of seeing cheetah in this tall grass or bushy terrain would be nearly impossible. They know how lucky they were and take this as a sign of good things to come.

Colorful bird near camp. I thought it was a yellow bishop but it doesn't look like the picture in my bird book??

Colorful bird near camp. I thought it was a yellow bishop but it doesn’t look like the picture in my bird book??

After lunch I exercise up and down the various paths. Last night I paced back and forth in the tent for fifteen minutes to get a little more exercise but that gets old in a hurry. I feel better plus I believe it is loosening my back sprain somewhat. Paul reads and both of us take a nap.

We opt for the five o’clock leave time for our afternoon game drive. Dominic tells us that the police convoy we met this morning were looking for one hundred head of cattle that were stolen last night and that the people following them were the owners of the cattle. The police and rangers suspect that the rustlers have brought the cattle into the Park or the Reserve. Holy Smokes, how do you rustle that many cattle and then make them disappear like that? Remember no big semis are around to load the cattle on in this wild country.

Male Queleas and completed nests

Male Queleas and completed nests

We stop and check out the queleas again and are astounded at how many nests are complete. We laugh to see a few males who have completed their nests lift one wing in the air to attract the attention of the females. It is fascinating to watch a female approach the wing waving male, hop into his nest then, (at least in the ones we witnessed), the home shopper would leave the begging male and go inspect more nests. I guess it is wise not to settle for the first abode you look at even in the bird world.

Look at all the quelea nests!

Look at all the quelea nests!

We turn onto another road and our mouths just drop at the high density of quelea nests in the trees and bushes. Paul and I also notice an aroma that smells like curing hay, and it takes us few minutes to realize the aroma is coming from the thousands of quelea nests where the green grass is curing just like cut hay. There are tens of thousands of quelea flying in their undulating columns behind, over and in front of us and it truly looks like a biblical plague. Dominic tells us that crop farmers despise these birds because if they decide to feed in a field of ripening grain the queleas can literally strip the field clean in short order. You don’t need any imagination to see that this would be the case.

We meet up with another bull elephant in musth (pronounced must) that immediately comes towards our Cruiser although at a walk. Dominic drives on but stops down the road so we can watch some hartebeest. The elephant has continued to plod after us, and once he gets too close for comfort we continue on our game drive. A mud covered buffalo, more giraffe and impala are on the agenda.

The bull who kept following us at a plodding walk

The bull who kept following us at a plodding walk

Family of Common Waterbuck

Family of Common Waterbuck

Cape buffalo after wallowing in the mud

Cape buffalo after wallowing in the mud

Dominic finds a beautiful site for us to enjoy our last sundowners in Meru. We are sad to be leaving this lush, game-filled park and reserve, but we are also excited to experience a new place.

Our last sundowner in Meru

Our last sundowner in Meru

Tonight we are served beef and due to poor experiences with beef in Africa on past safaris, we are surprised to find this beef tender, flavorful and delicious. There is a lot of laughter at the table due to our personable British companions. Paul and I decide that we have an English version of Mista Tembo as “B” isn’t afraid to state what he thinks plus he loves Tusker beer! We say our so longs tonight as we won’t see each other in the morning but we tell our new friends we look forward to seeing them in Sosian.

From Meru to Laikipia

 

 

 

 

 

Meru part 4 2016

More Meru, part 4

Sunrise in Meru

Sunrise in Meru

Except for waking up sometime in the night and hearing a lion roaring in the distance,( I loved that), I slept wonderfully. It is amazing what a thin piece of canvas can do for your peace of mind :).

The morning begins the same as yesterday. The alarm rings at 5:20, a few minutes later a voice cheerfully calls good morning to us and today we immediately retrieve the tea-tray. Once we finish the tea and cookies we put on our binoculars, our jackets, grab the day pack and cameras then go sit on the chairs on our porch. Paul figured out yesterday that we can hear the Cruiser door slam when Dominic is leaving the guides living quarters and if we start walking up to where Dominic picks us up after hearing the door slam, we arrive there at approximately the same time he does.

This morning there is another dramatic African sunrise which we dutifully take photos of. A giraffe is walking between us and the sun which makes for an indelible image. I love this time of the day.

Giraffe at sunrise

Giraffe at sunrise

Yesterday in our conversations with Dominic we talked about the wildlife we had seen in Nairobi National Park. When we mentioned the two sunni we had seen, Dominic seemed a bit skeptical. I guess we read him right as this morning he asks if we have a photo of the sunni. It takes me awhile to scroll through all my photos but I finally locate the picture of the half-obscured antelope and I hand the camera to Dominic. He looks at the photo and declares, “Yes, that is a sunni” and then wistfully adds, “I have never seen a sunni”. I guess we did not realize how fortunate we were to see that small antelope.

This morning we find a troop of baboons near a small stream not far from the road. We watch as three baby baboons play ring around the rosy on the trunk of a yellow fever tree. It makes us laugh out loud to watch the antics of the playful trio. Many adults are sitting on limbs of various trees soaking up the early morning sun. One baboon has situated himself on the narrow stub of a broken off tree and for the life of me I can’t see how this perch can be in the least bit comfortable. When we have our fill of studying the baboons that appear to be studying us, we move on down the road.

Warming up in the early morning sun

Warming up in the early morning sun

This seat does not look comfortable

This seat does not look comfortable

Dominic turns off on one of the minimal track roads where thick-bladed grass and white flowers, (are they hibiscus?) are thriving. A handsome bull elephant is feasting on the grass quite close to the road. The gigantic elephant doesn’t pay much attention to us as he is too busy ripping off large clumps of grass and stuffing it in his mouth.

Elephant feasting on grass

Elephant feasting on grass

A bit farther down the dirt track we see a…car!! This is only the second tourist-carrying vehicle we have met in Meru so far. We met another cruiser with tourists yesterday as we were leaving the mass of elephants. Can you believe that? As is normal on safari it is only good manners to stop and exchange greetings when you meet another vehicle and Dominic follows the protocol. The people are stopped next to a tower of giraffes and for some reason when our truck pulls up the giraffes take off running. They run into a brushy area and stop. Soon there are giraffe heads peeking at us over the tops of the vegetation which strikes me as very funny. O.k. I’m easily amused.

The shy giraffes peeking at us over the vegetation

The shy giraffes peeking at us over the vegetation

This morning Dominic is taking us to the Rhino sanctuary and we arrive at the gate shortly after we leave the shy giraffe. The sanctuary’s 27 square kilometers is ringed by a high voltage electric fence, but once inside you drive away from the wire fence and don’t notice it. Dominic navigates the Cruiser down a hill over a rough road which leads us into a beautiful valley where small mountains can be seen in the distance. I doubt we have driven a half mile when we find four white rhino grazing within a few feet of the road. Amazing. The rhino completely ignore us as they crop the grass with their wide muzzles. We spend quite some time watching the clunky beasts as they contentedly feed in the safety (hopefully) of the sanctuary. Oh yes, we spot another pair of tourist in a Cruiser on their way out of the sanctuary.

The vista across the valley and one of the four rhino

The vista across the valley and one of the four rhino

Two of the four white rhino we saw within minutes

Two of the four white rhino we saw within minutes

As we continue on our search for more rhino, Dominic must stop the car as a few Plains zebra want to cross the road. Dominic had hoped that  grevy zebra would be traveling with them as they often are, but no grevy are with this group.  I believe there are only seven grevy zebra in Meru so the odds are not great that we will see the rare zebra.

A few of the plains zebra that crossed in front of us

A few of the plains zebra that crossed in front of us

We continue along the edge of the sweeping valley for a while before we drive uphill and wend our way through a forested area. An old bull rhino is standing, rather listlessly, in a forest opening with a few scraggly bushes scattered about. Dominic brings the Cruiser to a halt and I snap a few photos of the motionless rhino. The white rhino doesn’t move a muscle for the time we spend with him and we wonder if the beast is ill or just really old. We continue on in our search for more rhino and grevy zebra but come up empty.

The lone rhino that was so listless.

The lone rhino that was so listless.

As we descend into the valley on our way back to the gate, Dominic sees three grevy zebra half way across the verdant valley. Paul and I must use our binoculars as we can barely make out the shapes of the zebra with our bare eyes, let alone tell that they are grevys. How in the heck did our guide recognize them as grevys at this distance! As we are studying the heavy-set grevys, a giraffe floats in that dream like walk they have towards the three zebra. When the giraffe reaches the zebra the tall mammal bends its long neck down towards one of the grevys, The zebra lifts its head up and the two very different species touch noses. How interesting.

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu sitting near the exit to the sanctuary.

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu sitting near the exit to the sanctuary.

When we reach the gate to exit the sanctuary, a man comes to open the gate for us. Before he can open the electrified gate a husky Kenyan walks up to exchange greetings with Dominic who introduces the man to Paul and me. When Benjamin finds out we are Americans he immediately begins to talk about Americas presidential candidates. Are you kidding me, we are in the middle of nowhere and here we are listening to a man who works at the rhino sanctuary giving us his opinion on every candidate that is running for president. To say Benjamin is not afraid to tell us what he thinks of some of the candidates is an understatement. Paul and I find ourselves roaring with laughter at some of Benjamin’s statements, (some are ludicrous stories he has read on the internet) but again we marvel at how much interest Kenyans have in politics. He ends his rather one-sided visit with us by telling us about a past Argentinian president that had a three-legged dog for his security detail and drove a Volkswagen and this proved he was truly a man of the people. Whaaat? I need to check that story out because I have never heard that one. As Benjamin is walking away he tugs at his shorts that look like the American flag and tells us how much he loves America. The poor man who has waited patiently to let us out of the sanctuary finally can open the wire gate and let us drive through.

We are driving along just enjoying the fresh air and our surroundings when Dominic stops the car. Dominic tells us that there is a naked mole rat in the road. Say that again? As Paul and I poke our heads out the windows of the Cruiser to take a look at this creature with the strange name it doesn’t take long to see that it is aptly labeled! That is one ugly rodent and Paul likens it to Gollum from The Hobbit.  These are the critters that make the miniature dirt hills in or along the roads we have been seeing and often there is dirt being thrown out of these mounds making them resemble miniature volcanos. The naked mole rat is nearly blind and when this unfortunate looking animal decides he wants to return to the den, he falls on his side and moves his head around to locate the den hole. When he finds the opening to the den the hairless mole rat stands up and crawls down into his den, mooning us unintentionally (I think). We stay for a little while and we can clearly hear the buck toothed rodent gnawing at the hard ground which is the way they excavate their dens, but no fine dirt is thrown into the air as I had hoped for.  I would have liked to have had a photo of that although it would have been hard to capture in a photo anyway.

Naked Mole Rat. Yes he is supposed to look like that.

Naked Mole Rat. Yes he is supposed to look like that.

Mooned by a naked mole rat, not a pretty sight.

Mooned by a naked mole rat, not a pretty sight.

This is not the work of the naked mole rat we saw but these are the dirt piles they make and often plumes of dirt are being kicked out of the hole.

This is not the work of the naked mole rat we saw but these are the dirt piles they make and often plumes of dirt are being kicked out of the hole.

When we have our breakfast this morning out in the bush, Paul tells Dominic his Swahili name that was given to him by Mrefu. Mapumbo doesn’t compute with Dominic who tells Paul that this word is not familiar to him. After hearing the story of why Paul was given this name it does make him laugh though. He tells Paul the name for testicles in Swahili in Kenya is different but it is also very derogatory. Paul had already introduced me as Mama Ndege which Dominic even uses at times when he speaks to me. Paul then tells him a few other Swahili names Mrefu has given some of our safari friends such as Mista Tembo and Mama Mbuzi, explaining to Dominic how the safarists earned these names. However the Swahili name that causes Dominic to literally grab his belly as the laughter bubbles out of him is Mama Mavi (I think I spelled that right). We tell Dominic that our friend was given this name due to her interest in all kinds of animal scat. He admits that it is an appropriate name and then lapses into more peals of laughter.

Our breakfast spot for today. Paul's photo

Our breakfast spot for today. Paul’s photo

After breakfast we leisurely make our way back to camp. There are more giraffe to enjoy and a large male Somali Ostrich with his striking grey/blue neck. We come upon an elephant who has placed his large trunk over his lone tusk (the other tusk is just a stub), has rested that tusk on a low branch in the tree he is standing under and then rested the rest of his trunk in the v where the tree trunk divides, giving him further relief from the weight of his heavy appendage I guess. There is another young elephant standing nearby the old bull. Eventually, the lazy elephant withdraws his trunk and walks towards us. Now we see the reason for this rather bizarre posture, the bull is in musth which is evident by the white secretions oozing from the glands on the side of his head and the fact that he is continually dribbling urine. Bulls in musth are unpredictable and Dominic watches the big guy closely but although he approaches the vehicle he makes no aggressive movements towards us.

Bull resting his trunk on his tusk and the tree

Bull resting his trunk on his tusk and the tree

An easier image to see the elephants trunk over his tusk and coming out the other side of the tree

An easier image to see the elephants trunk over his tusk and coming out the other side of the tree

The bull comes in for a closer look at us

The bull comes in for a closer look at us

Not far from camp we stop to watch red-billed quelea in a nesting frenzy. We have driven through this area every day where these sparrow sized birds are residing, but it has been early in the morning and we only heard the singing of the queleas as they were beginning to wake up. At other times of the day we have witnessed the huge columns of the numerous birds that look like dark plumes of smoke as they fly overhead. This morning we stop to have a closer look at the bustling birds that are starting to weave nests in every bush and tree around. I’m not talking one or two nests in each selected site but nests being constructed so close together that I don’t see how the birds know which one is theirs! We need to return to camp for lunch but we vow to take more time this afternoon to sit and watch these avian home builders.

A red-billed quelea just beginning to weave a nest

A red-billed quelea just beginning to weave a nest

After lunch and another interesting visit with Craig, Paul and I return to our tent. It is quite warm inside so we decide to return to the open sided lounge to see if it is more comfy. It is cooler here as there is some air flowing through the lounge but Paul, who is sockless and wearing his flip-flops has his ankles come under attack by mosquitos so we retreat to our stuffy tent. I decide to go back out and walk the circuit from our tent to the mess tent to the load up area, because we are not getting any exercise! I can tell my waist band is already fitting tighter and we have only been in Africa for five days! I walk about a half mile before I have to quit due to the heat. We both do take a nap despite the warm interior of the tent.

The pool at the camp

The pool at the camp

Path leading down to where we sat around the fire before dinner. The small river is close by this area

Path leading down to where we sat around the fire before dinner. The small river is close by this area

We leave a half hour later than usual  on our afternoon game drive due to the heat. We stay true to our word about quelea watching so when we come to the quelea nesting area, Dominic parks alongside the road and we just sit and observe the intense avian activity. There are a lot of raptors sitting in the trees watching the busy birds too, such as Tawny Eagles and Long-Crested Eagles. The birds of prey seem to be hypnotized by the huge numbers of quelea flying all around them. We never see the raptors even attempt to pick one of the little birds off for a meal so we figure they have already eaten their fill or they simply can’t focus on a single bird due to the constant motion and the close proximity in which the birds fly.

A Tawny Eagle watching the quelea

A Tawny Eagle watching the quelea

Dominic drives us a bit farther down the road where we see large groups of quelea dropping out of the sky into grassy areas and then taking off again. The nest-building birds are gathering grass, which is the material they use to weave their nests. It is amazing to see how the healthy stand of grass is mostly stubble once the birds vacate these spots. When the foragers take to flight again you can see long pieces of grass streaming out behind them and occasionally another bird will grab the free end and pull part of that stem of grass away for himself. It is only males that are gathering and weaving the nests according to Dominic. He tells us the males will work swiftly to construct the nest and then try to entice a female to choose his nest. When the female does select a nest along with its builder, the two will mate and then the male leaves the female on her own to incubate and raise the chicks.

Red-billed Queleas pulling grass to weave their nests with. The birds are just a blur of motion so you can see why the raptors seem confused

Red-billed Queleas pulling grass to weave their nests with. The birds are just a blur of motion so you can see why the raptors seem confused

One other amusing incident we witness is a fork-tailed drongo harassing a Long Crested Eagle that is perched in a tree. The drongo picks his moment and dives down on the eagle delivering a nasty peck on top of the eagle’s head, causing the black bird to flinch. The eagle will watch the drongo intently for a while but as soon as the eagle diverts his gaze elsewhere, the drongo hones in like a missile and drops his beak bomb on the inattentive eagle. All three of us have a laugh at the Long-Crested Eagles expense and the drongo is still causing havoc for the eagle when we drive away.

The Long-Crested Eagle that the Drongo kept pecking on the head. I wasn't fast enough to photo an actual attack.

The Long-Crested Eagle that the Drongo kept pecking on the head. I wasn’t fast enough to photo an actual attack.

We enjoy our Tusker beer while watching a large herd of Cape buffalo in the distance. On our way back to camp we see eyes glowing in the road far ahead but the creature runs into the bush before we can reach it. Dominic uses a spotlight to light up the side of the road and I use my headlamp too. Suddenly there are eyes glowing where I am shining my headlamp. Dominic backs up and we are able to see an African Wildcat which looks a lot like a domestic cat in size and shape. Cool! Paul and I have never seen this small cat on our past safaris.

As we drive on enjoying the cool evening air, Paul asks Dominic if there are bush babies here. Dominic answers in the affirmative and before long he has pulled the Cruiser off the road next to a couple of trees. He shines his spot light into the tree canopy and we can see two sets of shining eyes staring down at us. We get a good look at the big-eyed critters through our binoculars.

After returning to camp, Paul and I walk to the tent to shed ourselves of our binoculars, cameras, and daypack and to freshen up. We than flash our headlamps outside the tent for our escort to return and walk us to the camp fire. We have a new guard tonight who is carrying a rifle that is nearly as big as he is! We also have a new bartender. Craig tells us some of the staff have taken the night off. Paul, who discovered that they have Amarulla in the bar, opts for this African liquor that he loves. I have a small glass of Tusker to go along with the snacks that are served to us.

Here is a real tusker to compliment my Tusker beer.

Here is a real tusker to compliment my Tusker beer.

The dinner topic with Craig tonight turns to his family’s business which is growing roses. Craig talks about the various aspects of rose farming but the most interesting part to me is that the roses are shipped to Holland and sold in an auction to be dispersed throughout Europe. I would put a photo of Craig here but Paul and I failed to take a picture of the man.

When we are ready to return to our tent, our little guard marches along in his worn, oversized boots and we dutifully follow. When we reach the tent I see that the canvas on the front is still rolled up. I suppose the person who let the canvas down last night isn’t here. We tell the guard that we want to unroll the canvas and Paul begins to unhook the fasteners. Our serious escort, (he surely was a park ranger or in the army at one time), tries to help but he has a flashlight in one hand and his rifle in the other, plus he can hardly reach the hooks anyway. Paul ends up letting the canvas down mostly on his own and once we are safely inside the tent the little man turns and marches away.

One more full day in Meru. Nancy

Giraffe portrait

Giraffe portrait

The Somali Ostrich we saw today

The Somali Ostrich we saw today

A vervet monkey

A vervet monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meru part 3

Meru day two, part 3

Paul and I settle in for our first night in Offbeat Meru camp. We have been escorted back to our tent after dinner by one of the staff. When we are safely inside the tent our escort says goodnight and walks away. I have taken my shoes off and Paul is over by the   wooden shelving used for our clothes, when he tells me to come over and look at this. I peer down to where he is pointing and see a scorpion! Real nice.  Paul, who still has his shoes on, stomps on the beige, rubbery-looking arachnid, lifts his shoe and unbelievably the creepy thing scuttles away hoping to crawl under the wardrobe. Paul lands another blow on the escaping scorpion but when he lifts his shoe this time there is no sign of the scorpion. We use our headlamps and shine them behind and under the shelving but we can’t see the creepy crawler. I grab the can of “doom” spray and liberally douse the area behind and under the white wardrobe. Paul has walked away and when I get back on my feet, I had to kneel to spray under the shelves; I see the scorpion just a few inches from where I was kneeling. Yikes, it makes me jump but the good news is that the creature is dead. Paul and I figure that it was stuck to the bottom of Paul’s shoe and when he walked away it fell off. Yesch! Paul picks it up with some toilet paper and flushes the dead invader down the toilet.

No scorpion photo. How about a pleasant giraffe instead!

No scorpion photo. How about a pleasant giraffe instead!

When we retire to our tent for the night, even before the scorpion is discovered, I notice right away that the canvas has not been lowered on the front of our tent and only the tight mesh netting separates us from the outside. I ask Paul if he thinks they forgot to lower the canvas but we agree this isn’t the case since the canvas on the sides and back have been let down. Hmm, I don’t recall ever staying in any tent, mobile or permanent like these, where the canvas isn’t put down for the night no matter how hot it is.

I’m not sure what time I wake up with a jolt but the reason for my eyes flying open is a bad dream, well a nightmare. I will have these bad dreams/nightmares occasionally throughout this safari and I don’t know if the Malarone is to blame, or the rich food we consume a couple of hours before we go to bed. The hyenas are chattering wildly and it sounds like they are very close to the camp. Normally, I would relish lying in bed listening to the laughing and whooping of the hyena but with the dream fresh in my mind their maniacal sounds just add to my discomfort. There is enough moonlight that I can make out the outlines of trees through the mesh screen and I see other shapes that I’m not sure what they are. I immediately think, “If I can see things outside of the tent then wild animals can easily see inside the tent”.

This Superb Starling looks as though it has had a few nightmares too!

This Superb Starling looks as though it has had a few nightmares too!

“Paul, wake up, we need to put the canvas down on the tent”. Paul does wake up but insists that we are perfectly safe and that he really doesn’t want to go outside the tent. He turns over to go back to sleep and I lay there with my eyes open wide. After a few minutes I hear a deep grunt which is repeated a few times. “Paul do you hear that”? “Yes, Paul answers, “but it is a long ways away”. I continue to lay there listening and looking and when the sound comes again I sit straight up in bed. Paul sighs and says ” I see we are not going to get any sleep until the canvas is down” and he crawls out of bed, gets his headlamp and after flashing the light around the front of the tent to make sure nothing is out there, he steps outside and has the canvas rolled down in a couple of minutes. Paul informs me that the canvas has not been rolled down for ages and again thinks I’m being silly. That could be but I know that once I can’t see out I drift off to sleep within minutes.

The alarm goes off at 5:20 and at 5:30 a friendly voice calls good morning from outside our tent, then he is gone. It takes Paul and I a few minutes to figure out the man has left the tea tray on the table that is on the “porch” of the tent. Paul brings it inside and we enjoy the tea and cookies before walking up to the dirt lot where Dominic is waiting in a Land Cruiser for us although it isn’t the truck that caused us trouble yesterday. Dominic greets us with a smile and good morning and we are off on our morning game drive. Driving through the park, we watch a beautiful sunrise that begins with a hint of color on the horizon to watching the bright yellow orb rise over the tree tops. Gorgeous.

Beautiful sunrise. Paul's photo

Beautiful sunrise. Paul’s photo

Dominic takes the road that runs next to Leopard Rock, which he laughingly tells us the guides call No Leopard Rock because they have only found a leopard there once. This makes us chuckle but we enjoy looking at the kopje, leopard or no leopard, which is made up of a jumble of red rocks with a few trees and bushes managing to find a place to grow among the colorful rocks.  This morning a small group of reticulated giraffe are browsing at the base of Leopard Rock, the early morning sun making both giraffe and rock glow. The giraffe evidently don’t like the fact that we have intruded into their space and as they begin to walk away I marvel at how they appear to be almost floating over the ground. I do love to watch giraffe in motion.

Reticulated giraffe strolling next to Leopard Rock

Reticulated giraffe strolling next to Leopard Rock

Two of the giraffe that are walking away from us

Two of the giraffe that are walking away from us

I have discovered that due to the muscle pull in my back that I can’t stand up for any extended time while the vehicle is moving. I hate this because one can see so much farther when you are standing on the seat and looking out the top of the vehicle. Oh well, I will just have to rely on Paul, who does stand up most of the time, and the sharp eye of Dominic to spot whatever is out there!

As we drive into open grassland we begin to see elephant on the horizon. Not just a few elephants but lines and lines of elephants. As we get closer to this memory of elephants, (the couple from the UK gave us this neat name for a herd of elephants), the reality of just how many of the pachyderms there are is almost hard to comprehend. Dominic continues down the road until we are in the middle of this mass of mammals. When he stops the vehicle we are literally surrounded by elephants. Dominic says a lot of different families of elephants, for what reason he can’t say, are converging with one another. For the most part the elephants are more interested in each other than we humans. The young males are scuffling with each other; the little ones are checking each other out and engaging in some play, many of the elephants are greeting one another. This is a fascinating thing to watch as two elephants will entwine their trunks, sometimes draping their appendage over each other’s tusks and often placing the tip of their trunk into the other elephants mouth. We do have one half grown elephant step into the road, fan its ears and shake its head at us but then it continues across the road. One huge bull approaches the vehicle from the side where Paul is sitting, his ears fanned, and he walks to within a few feet of the truck. Dominic is not concerned at all, but still, seeing the head of an elephant that large staring at you through the window is a bit disconcerting.

Some of the elephants when we first catch sight of them

Some of the elephants when we first catch sight of them

greeting one another

greeting one another

Paul and a friend.

Paul and a friend.

The memory of elephants is traveling in the same direction as we are, so as they move on Dominic drives very slowly staying within their midst and we just enjoy being part of the parade. At one point I count the elephants that I can see to the left, center, and right of us and come up with a rough count of 100. I know I didn’t see all the babies that are swallowed up by the tall grass and I am sure I missed others. I didn’t even try to count the elephants that are behind us. Paul and I figured there were nearly as many elephants trailing us. Since there are a reported 500 elephants in Meru just think how incredible it is that we saw over a third of the elephants together in one sprawled out group.

Paul took this panoramic photo and still only got a small percentage of the big herd.

Paul took this panoramic photo and still only got a small percentage of the big herd.

Surrounded by elephants

Surrounded by elephants

This Elie definitely has the right of way

This Elie definitely has the right of way

After spending an hour with these interesting creatures we continue on our exploration of Meru. Truthfully, I’m never sure if we are in the conservancy or the National Park so when I say Meru I really am referring to both places. Dominic stops so we can watch a few Cape buffalo and the ever present cattle egrets that accompany the bovines. One of the buffalo has three white egrets trying to hitch a ride on his back but they are too far away for a decent photo. We hear an elephant trumpeting behind us in the distance and we turn in the direction of the sound to see what the fuss is about. On the horizon we watch an elephant chasing another one and Paul and I assume the one running away has been defeated in a fight, (victorious bulls or cows always chase the loser after a fight). Dominic is laughing and we soon understand why as the elephant running away suddenly stops, backs up to the pursuer and we witness elephants mating from afar. I’ll be darned; this is another first for Paul and me in seeing Elephant Cowabunga!

Hopefully in 20 plus months the Elephant Cowabunga will result in a baby as cute as this one.

Hopefully in 20 plus months the Elephant Cowabunga will result in a baby as cute as this one.

Dominic takes us to a hilltop that overlooks a wide valley fringed in the distance by hazy hills. I’m fairly certain that Elsa’s’ Kopje, of the movie Born Free fame, is the jutting, lone hillock we can see from across the valley. Below us we see our first Oryx, a herd of impala, wart hogs and a few zebra. Dominic unpacks our breakfast and lays the fare out on the hood of the Cruiser. There are sausages, boiled eggs, sandwiches that contain thin slices of tomatoes cucumbers, cheese and bacon (I loved these sandwiches), cereals, including a granola the chef made from scratch (delicious), juice and tea/coffee. We enjoy our open air breakfast while watching the mix of animals in the valley. At one point an impala begins running and bucking out of sheer joy I guess. The enthusiastic play by the impala induces another impala to join in the fun. It left us chortling with delight to watch their exuberant behavior. After over eating, something that will be the norm on this safari, Dominic loads up the leftover food and dishes and we continue on our drive.

Dominic our wonderful guide and our breakfast laid out on the Cruisers' hood.

Dominic our wonderful guide and our breakfast laid out on the Cruisers’ hood.

This was our view while eating breakfast

This was our view while eating breakfast

The morning is heating up and the track we are traveling is fairly devoid of animal life although there are birds to be seen and lovely flowers sprinkled throughout the landscape. I’m feeling a bit sleepy due to a full tummy and the warm sun. Dominic suddenly points to a tree and tells us to “look at the tree”. We look at the huge acacia tree whose twisted trunk and limbs are quite vertical to the ground and we agree that it is a lovely tree. Dominic keeps excitedly repeating for us to look at the tree. O.k., it is a really nice tree but our guides enthusiasm seems a bit overdone. Dominic has stopped the Cruiser and finally manages to make us understand that there is a leopard in the tree!! Upon finally seeing the sleeping leopard, my mouth literally falls open as I gasp in delight. I’m pretty sure Paul’s reaction is very similar to mine. Good grief, poor Dominic probably thinks these two Kansans are a bit slow on the uptake.

This is a photo of the leopard from the better vantage point without using any zoom. Dominic spotted the cat looking through the foliage on the left side of the tree! It is a beautiful tree tho:)

This is a photo of the leopard from the better vantage point without using any zoom. Dominic spotted the cat looking through the foliage on the left side of the tree! It is a beautiful tree tho:)

From this angle the leopard is fairly obscured by foliage so Dominic drives us into a better position for viewing this handsome cat. I ask Dominic how he managed to see the leopard from the road and he replies that they always check this tree out because lions like to lie on the thick, vertical limbs. He certainly was not expecting to spot a leopard in it. Dominic suggests we take our photos quickly because the leopards in Meru are very shy and he expects the feline will melt away into the understory before long. I don’t know if it is because we are quite a distance from the leopards lounging place but he is not concerned in the least with our presence.

What a beautiful leopard! I couldn't do a thing about the limb that was obscuring part of him however!

What a beautiful leopard! I couldn’t do a thing about the limb that was obscuring part of him however!

The young male, I think Dominic identified the leopard as a male, cooperates for our photos by raising his head occasionally and looking curiously in our direction. Mostly the content cat just lays sprawled out on the tree limb and dozes. The three of us watch the big cat in awe, reveling in our luck at having seen this leopard, and the fact that we alone are here to enjoy this beautiful animal is just icing on the cake!

As you can see the leopard is quite relaxed.

As you can see the leopard is quite relaxed.

Oh why not. One more photo of this lucky sighting

Oh why not. One more photo of this lucky sighting

It takes quite some time for the buzz of seeing the leopard to wear off but a half hour after we leave the big cat dozing in the tree we come upon a mix of animals a few hundred yards from the road. There are Oryx, impala, waterbuck, an ostrich, zebra, Grants gazelle and gerenuk. It is quite warm by now and many of the animals are standing in the shade of the trees.

Despite the heat these Oryx are standing in the open and bunched together

Despite the heat these Oryx are standing in the open and bunched together

There is a variety of behavior among this menagerie so we spend some time watching the animals. A male Oryx is doggedly following a female that must be coming into estrus. Occasionally the tired female will stand still, but as soon as the bull rests his head on her back, she begins plodding along rebuffing the males overtures. Dominic points out to us how gaunt both animals are and surmises that they likely have been moving like this for hours.

Look how gaunt these two courting Oryx are.

Look how gaunt these two courting Oryx are.

The lone ostrich is busy dusting himself, stirring the dirt into a cloud that envelopes the big bird. Sometimes his head disappears; I can’t tell if he has tucked his head under his body or it is just placed on the ground where I can’t see it. At times there appears to be a headless, legless, ball of black feathers quivering in the dirt. This sight is a bit weird to say the least.

The dusting ostrich

The dusting ostrich

The gerenuk, an animal Paul particularly wanted to see again, is not feeding but has elevated its front feet on a nearby mound of dirt. Another gerenuk is hiding behind a tree but before we leave this hive of activity it walks past an impala giving us a better look.

Not a great photo but a gerenuk nevertheless

Not a great photo but a gerenuk nevertheless

The second gerenuk walking by an impala.

The second gerenuk walking by an impala.

There are two waterbuck posturing and soon they are in fierce combat, kicking up the fine dirt as they push and shove at each other. We watch the fighting bucks waging their battle until the slightly smaller one breaks away and begins to flee with the winner in hot pursuit putting an exclamation point on his victory.

We return to camp elated with this incredible morning drive! Paul and I walk back to our tent through the myriad of butterflies that are fluttering around us. The butterflies are quite lovely, white with delicate, lacy designs of black etched on their wings. It gives the camp ground a fairy tale feeling with the butterflies floating in the air all around us. I could never get photos of them as they would alight on a flower for a nanosecond and then flit away.

Here are some yellow butterflies that we often saw on our game drives. That is a Martial Eagle standing by the water. It has two legs Brian!

Here are some yellow butterflies that we often saw on our game drives. That is a Martial Eagle standing by the water. It has two legs Brian!

Paul and I freshen up then walk to the mess tent to have lunch with Craig. Craig inquires how are morning went although I bet he can guess that it went well by our wide grins and our faces might even be glowing! After we recount all our experiences to him, I declare that if we see nothing else after this morning we wouldn’t complain! I do question Craig about leaving the front of the tent open at night and the young manager affirms that this is a common practice here. I ask if they would lower ours while we are dining tonight as I just feel more comfortable with the canvas down. He replies that it will be no problem to do this.

Paul and I “chill” out in the warm tent, the canvas has been rolled back up, but it is still a bit stuffy. I have borrowed a book from the camp library that someone has left behind and begin to read it once I have gone through my photos and recorded some more items in my journal. Paul too, has brought a book from the lounge area that is actually one of many African related books that belongs to Offbeat camp. We both drift off to sleep and have a nice long nap.

Four o’clock rolls around quickly, of course it was nearly one o’clock before our morning game drive concluded. They serve tea or whatever drink you want plus a snack but I don’t remember if we even consumed anything as we are still full from lunch. At 4:30 we walk up to the loading area where we find Dominic who is flashing his beaming smile at us. Paul and I crawl into the Cruiser and we are off to see what we can see. The sun is still quite intense and the animals seem to be in short supply this afternoon. There are plenty of birds to observe though which is another reason it pays to enjoy birdlife! Dominic has stopped the vehicle where a Rosy-patched Bush Shrike is sitting and just as I click the shutter of my camera the bird launches into the air. I don’t see it but I feel the Shrike brush my leg as it flies into the vehicle and then flies back out. Paul and Dominic are both open-mouthed and so am I. We wonder if the Shrike spotted an insect sitting on my leg and decided to grab it. Dominic says he has never witnessed this before. It was pretty cool no matter what the reason.

The Rosy-patched Bush Shrike that flew into the vehicle

The Rosy-patched Bush Shrike that flew into the vehicle

Paul spots a bull giraffe that has multiple lumps on both sides of his jaw. The abscesses are old and you can see the scars where they ruptured. The big fellow looks very healthy although I’m sure that when he was fighting the infection that attacked his jaw tissue that he probably had a rough time of it. We get a similar or maybe the same thing in cattle that we call lump jaw. A foreign object, perhaps thorns in the giraffe’s case, gets stuck in the flesh often inside the mouth. An infection sets in and eventually is walled off forming a lump. The abscess eventually bursts and drains, but as seen on this giraffe, the animal will have a large, hard lump for the rest of their life.

Look at all those lumps.

Look at all those lumps.

Here is a clearer view of one side showing the healed abscess

Here is a clearer view of one side showing the healed abscess

We enjoy tuskers as we watch dusk fall over the beautiful Meru landscape and then return to camp ready for that hot bucket shower. I know we have another wonderful dinner but I didn’t write down what was served, food just isn’t why we come to Africa. We enjoy Craig’s company at dinner again and one of the questions we ask is why there seem to be so many fussy elephants. He tells us that part of the reason for recalcitrant elephants are that elephants and farmers have conflicts on the edges of the park over the farmer’s crops. The pachyderms don’t forget the negative encounter with humans. Another reason is that problem elephants from more heavily visited Parks are often relocated here, (Dominic may have given us this info)! After dinner we are escorted back to our tent and I am happy to see the canvas has been lowered as I requested!

Dusk settling over Meru.

Dusk settling over Meru.

More Meru soon, Nancy

 

Two Red billed Hornbills having great fun dusting themselves.

Two Red billed Hornbills having great fun dusting themselves.

Paul took this photo of the giraffe with the interesting rock in the background

Paul took this photo of the giraffe with the interesting rock in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bisanada National Reserve and Meru National Park, part 2

The Giraffe sculpture that greets you at the entrance of Nairobi National Park

The Giraffe sculpture that greets you at the entrance of Nairobi National Park

Bisanadi National Reserve and Meru National Park, part 2

 

Paul and I are up shortly after five a.m. dressing and packing what we weren’t able to put away last night. Still half asleep, I pull my money belt, wallet, and passport holder from the pocket of my shirt and lay them on the bed. I place the wallet in my pants pocket and hook the passport holder to my belt and then wander off to attend to other things. Passing back by the bed I notice a money belt laying there and ask Paul if that is mine or his. Of course it is mine, I just laid it there! Paul suddenly realizes that he doesn’t have his money belt on and asks me where it is. I reply that I have no idea because I gave it to him last night.

Paul says he has no recollection of me giving him the money belt, (we had them locked in our suitcase for the day rather than wear them on our game drives). I insist that I did and remember that I laid them on the bed, and then I took my things and zipped them into the pocket of my shirt but I have no idea what he did with his. Paul checks his backpack first and comes up empty. We rifle through the suitcase and tote. Nothing. We unroll the clothes that we rolled up in plastic packing bags last night. Nope. I have crossed the line into panic a while ago but I can see my normal steady as a rock husband is beginning to join me in that realm. We both know that the money belt has to be here somewhere but where in the world is it!

Our nerves are about as prickly as this whistling thorn bush!

Our nerves are about as prickly as this whistling thorn bush!

A staff member has arrived with our tea tray and we unzip the tent so he can bring it in. I hope we thanked him but to say we are somewhat distracted is an understatement. Once the young man has left we continue searching for the missing belt. We are down to turning over rugs, taking the sheets off the bed, looking under pillows, and even checking inside the duvet. It looks like a hurricane has hit our tent. I am at a complete loss to where to search now, when Paul suddenly returns to the backpack that he first checked and pulls out the missing money belt! Paul remembered getting the tip money for the staff and Andrew out of his money belt last night which prompted him to recall where he had stashed this rather important item. Paul had put it in the plastic folder with our trip documents. Whew, my nerves didn’t need this first thing in the morning.

We hastily drink our juice, eat some toast and a little of the cereal we requested but neither of us have much of an appetite. We brush our teeth and pile our luggage near the tent entrance just before some of the staff arrives to escort us to the main area. The young man that is lighting our way with a flashlight, well we both have our headlamps too, asks us if we mind using a different path. There is a cape buffalo that has bedded down next to the path we normally use and he thinks it is wise not to disturb him. Um, I believe that is a good idea and we gladly traverse the alternate, grassy path to the headquarters.

Just a reminder why it is best to let sleeping buffalo lay! This of course isn't the bull that keeps us from using the normal pathway

Just a reminder why it is best to let sleeping buffalo lay! This of course isn’t the bull that keeps us from using the normal pathway

Paul stuffs some money into the tip box for the staff and then we walk out to the vehicle where Andrew is waiting for us. Our luggage is stashed into the Toyota Land Cruiser, we give our thanks to the staff and wave goodbye. Other than a couple of hare, we spot nothing else in the headlights on our way to the Park gates. Andrew has been on the phone with the person that is supposed to pick us up but it seems that he is stuck in traffic and isn’t going to make it in time to pick us up. Luckily, Andrew has no clients to take on a game drive this morning or this could have been a big problem. Therefore, Andrew will drive us to Wilson Airport.

Once on the main highway we can see why one must allow so much time to reach your destination. Andrew is quite pleased though as the traffic is actually moving, albeit slowly, instead of sitting at a standstill. In the hour it takes to get to Wilson (which is only 9 miles away), much quicker than the expected time of three hours, our conversation runs the gambit of Andrews family, the Chinese who are building roads, including one that took some acreage out of the Nairobi Park, (the government via the Chinese are trying to build a railroad through the middle of Nairobi National Park sadly enough), Kenya politics and yes, American politics (groan). Andrew helps us get our luggage into the small airport and makes sure we are listed among the passengers. Once he is satisfied all is well, we bid him goodbye and Paul hands Andrew an envelope which includes a tip and a private note Paul has written to him. Andrew was a great guide and an interesting man.

 An aerial photo of the highway being built that took a chunk out of the edge of the Park

An aerial photo of the highway being built that took a chunk out of the edge of the Park

A note to those reading this that might be going to Africa via Nairobi. Paul and I both agree that it is well worth your time to spend a day and night or two in this unique park. Hopefully it will survive the pressures of a burgeoning Nairobi.

We have a couple hours before we board an Air Kenya plane to fly us to Meru. We take advantage of the Wi-Fi here to check emails and send an email to let relatives and friends know that we indeed made it to Kenya. Our plane arrives and we hand the yellow plastic boarding ticket to a young man who leads us out to the small plane. There are another half dozen people on this flight which will make three stops, Meru being the first one.

869After an hour or so in the air our plane touches down on a dirt airstrip and taxis to a halt. Paul and I are the only passengers to exit the plane along with the pilot and copilot. The pilot retrieves our suitcase from the cargo hold and hands it over to us. There is no vehicle waiting alongside the “tarmac” so the young woman who is the copilot walks over with us to a shoddy building where a lone employee is standing in the “office”. The man is very unfriendly, hardly acknowledging us, but he makes a phone call to the Offbeat Meru camp. After an exchange between the co-pilot and the grumpy guy, the pretty young lady says that someone from Offbeat will be here in a few minutes and says this man will stay with us until our ride arrives. We nod in agreement and the plane is soon lifting off the ground to fade away in the distance.

Paul and I make use of the restroom which is in a bit of disrepair but surprisingly fairly clean. We then watch a giraffe glide across a patch of open area before disappearing into the trees. A troop of baboons scamper across the road not far from the airstrip, and a cape buffalo is grazing a few hundred yards on the far side of the runway. The mid-morning sun is beating down with some intensity so I pull my hat out of the suitcase to get a little relief from the humid heat.

A Toyota Land Cruiser pulls up driven by a young man in full Masai regalia along with a couple of safarists that by the looks of their cameras are serious photographers. The guide smiles at us, says “hi guys”, and introduces himself as Stanley. He tells us that he and his clients were eating breakfast not far away when they saw our plane approaching. Stanley knew that the camp wasn’t expecting our flight yet so he decided to come and assure us that someone would be here soon. The couple generously offers us some of their bottled water but we decline as we have our own. They begin to drive off but come to a halt and return to where we are rather forlornly standing. It seems the manager has called Stanley and told him to load our luggage and us and bring us to camp. Paul and I feel like we are intruding on this couples game drive but they insist that it is fine.

As I begin to climb into the vehicle, I slip on the metal step, catch myself but instantly feel a pain in my back. Crap. When I sit down there is no doubt I have pulled a muscle midway down my back. All of us introduce ourselves and we again thank the British couple for sharing their vehicle with us. Soon we are off on our first game drive in Meru National Park and the Bisanadi Conservancy where Offbeat Meru Camp is situated.

My first impression of the park on this sunlit morning is that everything is so lush! The verdant grass is waist high, there are flowers in a variety of colors scattered through the grass and bushes, the foliage of the trees are thick, and there seems to be water everywhere. The dirt roads are rough in spots and we bounce over ruts and ditches that recent heavy rains have left in their wake. When the Toyota traverses the washouts the bouncing vehicle leaves me wincing due to my recently strained back muscle. Lovely.

Reticulated Giraffe

Reticulated Giraffe

It is hot and humid so we are pleasantly surprised with the number of wildlife we encounter this late in the morning. We see reticulated giraffe which I find more attractive with their bold geometric designs than the Masai giraffe which populated Nairobi Park. There are four Cape buffalo wallowing in a mud hole, baboons, and lots of common waterbuck including a cute baby. We stop to watch a small herd of elephant drinking water from a ditch near the road. The herd crosses the road in front of us when they have quenched their thirst. One big matriarch approaches the front of the vehicle with her ears fanned wide, probably on the defensive because there are some little ones in the herd. Two young bulls are fighting, their tusks clanking together sounding like two swordsmen dueling, although the sound is hollower than that of metal on metal. The elephants aren’t play fighting either and they continue their duel as we move on down the road.

The matriarch that stood in front of our vehicle with her ears fanned.

The matriarch that stood in front of our vehicle with her ears fanned.

These young elephant fought all the time we were watching the rest of the herd

These young elephant fought all the time we were watching the rest of the herd

There really were four Cape buffalo here. I cut the fourth out so I could get the giraffe in the photo

There really were four Cape buffalo here. I cut the fourth out so I could get the giraffe in the photo

Common Water Buck and baby

Common Water Buck and baby

A dazzle of zebra are near the road and we stop to take photos mainly due to the cute baby in their midst. One of the zebra walks over to a tree and seems to strike a pose just for us. All of us dutifully respond as our camera shutters click away. Traveling on down the road in this animal filled venue, Paul calls out for Stanley to stop and back up. Paul thought he had seen a waterbuck but then realized that this animal had thin stripes. When we reach the spot where Paul saw the antelope we just catch a glimpse of a lesser kudu before it melts away into the understory, kudus’ are good at vanishing like that. Stanley finds a Nile monitor resting among tree roots as we cross the small Mirera River.

An adorable baby zebra

An adorable baby zebra

Striking a pose

Striking a pose

Nile Monitor

Nile Monitor

Craig the manager of Offbeat Meru Camp is there to meet us when we arrive at the camp; gosh he looks so young, and apologizes for the mix up this morning, reiterating that the airline gave them the wrong landing time. We assure him it is fine and then we are shown to our tent. It is a family tent with a king sized bed along with two twin beds that are situated in a side “room”, a flush toilet, bucket shower, and a chair with an end table in one corner. There is a place to hang up clothes and also shelves for luggage and clothes. There is a sink but no tap, water is provided in a glass jug for washing hands, face, and underwear. There is a front porch so to speak with two chairs and a table, plus a clothes line to hang womens’ undergarments. The camp will do all of our other laundry but not these unmentionables! Our tent looks down towards the river and it is really a nice view. We are quite tickled with our accommodation!

A really poor but only photo of our tent

A really poor but only photo of our tent

The view from our tent. The water isn't visible but is where the trees are lined up.

The view from our tent. The water isn’t visible but is where the trees are lined up.

Once we have things organized in the tent, we wander down to the mess tent/lounge area and give Craig the bag that he supplied to us for our valuables, so he can place them in his safe. It is time for lunch and we are served thinly sliced ham, potato salad, and a salad mix of raw fresh vegetables which we decline. When we see that our UK companions are eating the vegetables with gusto, I inquire if they think this is safe. They assure us at Offbeat camps you need not worry about eating anything as the food is handled safely. Paul and I take them at their word and help ourselves to the vegetables. The vegetable salad tastes as good as it looks. As we exchange information with our dining companions, they reveal that they too are safari talk readers and contributors! That news livens up the conversation between Paul and the Brits as they talk about various members of the website and how Safari talk helped Paul put together our trip. I think it was a factor in this couple coming here too.

The lounge area next to the mess tent. They had lots of old books on Africa and Meru and other books that people left there.

The lounge area next to the mess tent. They had lots of old books on Africa and Meru and other books that people left there.

Paul and I retire to our tent after lunch and wait out the heat of the day going through our photos, writing notes in our journal and taking a nap. At four we walk to the public area for tea but I opt for water. There is also a snack offered but I don’t remember if it was cookies, cake or some other sweet treat. At 4:30 we walk up to where the vehicles come to pick visitors up. Here we meet our guide for the rest of our stay, Dominic. Dominic is also garbed in a bright red Masai outfit, adorned with strands of beads. He has an infectious smile and like Craig and Stanley he looks very young! Dominic asks what interests us and we reply “everything” plus we tell him we want to take our time and sit and watch the behavior of the animals and birds.

Dominic takes us at our word and he stops the vehicle for nearly every bird and animal we encounter.  This is great for us but after several stops the engine begins to hesitate when Dominic turns the key. Paul and I are sure the Toyota isn’t going to fire back up a couple of different times as the starter groans and turns over reluctantly. We voice our fears out loud telling Dominic that this does not sound good at all, that his battery or starter is giving out. He doesn’t seem worried but our fears come true after stopping to look at one of the brightly colored birds of Meru. When Dominic turns the key the engine tries to start but then nothing happens. Well at least we weren’t stopped by a herd of Cape buffalo or some cantankerous elephants!

I'm pretty sure these White-throated Bee Eaters are what we were looking at when the truck wouldn't start.

I’m pretty sure these White-throated Bee Eaters are what we were looking at when the truck wouldn’t start.

Dominic hops out of the truck and lifts the hood, then calls someone on the phone. Paul asks if he needs some help to which Dominic asks if he knows anything about mechanics. Paul admits that he doesn’t know very much. Dominic obviously doesn’t know much either and seems at a loss at what to do. Paul gets out of the Land Cruiser and tells Dominic to turn his headlights on. They are shining brightly so we know the battery is fine. Paul then suggests that he and Dominic push the vehicle while he volunteers me to steer the broken down truck and to pop the clutch once the two of them get up a little speed. I question Paul on whether his knee is up to this (he hurt his knee a couple of weeks before we came to Africa, but that is another story) and he insists his joint will be fine. Dominic jumps at this suggestion and puts the Cruiser in second gear and I climb into the drivers seat. The guys start pushing and when they get the truck rolling at a decent speed, Paul yells at me to pop the clutch and give the truck some gas. The engine sputters to a start; I put it in neutral and give it some gas to make sure it doesn’t die. We are all laughing partly in relief and partly because it is just funny! We tell Dominic he mustn’t turn the engine off after this!

It seems that this day of unexpected events isn’t over as shortly after our car trouble we encounter a group of elephant that are not friendly. The herd is in front of us and on both sides and all of them are trumpeting, shaking their heads, fanning their ears and swaying from side to side. Frankly the worked up elephants scare the heck out of me. Dominic assures us that they always act like this but never follow through with any action. I am more than happy when the angry pachyderms give us enough room to get the heck out of there!

I'm not moving the camera, these elephants are swaying, trumpeting and shaking their heads at us. Scary

I’m not moving the camera, these elephants are swaying, trumpeting and shaking their heads at us. Scary

Another big momma fanning her ears at us.

Another big momma fanning her ears at us.

Just before dusk we encounter between forty to fifty reticulated giraffe of all sizes. The towering animals are just beautiful as they stroll across the plains or browse on the scattered trees. It dawns on me how much I enjoy just watching these graceful, peaceful mammals. We end our game drive enjoying a tusker beer and chips, while watching some elephants in the distance, as the sun sinks below the horizon. Yes we listen to the idling motor during our sundowners:).

Just what the doctor ordered after the fussy elephants. Graceful and peaceful giraffe.

Just what the doctor ordered after the fussy elephants. Graceful and peaceful giraffe.

We return to camp after dark and on the way Dominic spies an owlet perched in a bush next to the road. I have no idea how this young man saw the owl in the dark! Once we are in our tent, hot water is brought for Paul and me so we can shower before dinner. When we go down for dinner (escorted of course) we are first taken to an area near the river where a fire is burning. There is an array of liquor bottles set on a table and Nura asks us what we want to drink. Paul orders a gin and tonic and I have a small glass of tusker beer. The Brits are also here and we visit about what we have encountered on our afternoon drive. Everyone has a laugh about our vehicle problem and the solution.

I don’t recall what we had for dinner but since all the food was superb throughout our safari I can tell you that it was delicious. We enjoy visiting with our UK companions who have a great sense of humor. They are leaving Meru in the morning and we will have left on our morning game drive before they get up. We say our goodbyes tonight and wish each other good luck on our remaining days in Africa.

Another great day in the wilds of Africa despite a few glitches which just make for good stories!

More Meru coming soon. Nancy

Interesting flower actually in Nairobi National Park

Interesting flower actually in Nairobi National Park

European Roller

European Roller

The only Baobab tree we saw.

The only Baobab tree we saw.