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