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!
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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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:).
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