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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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