More Meru, part 4
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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