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.
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”.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
More Meru soon, Nancy