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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men … a somewhat turbulent safari to Kenya


twaffle
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Ahhh........it's started again - good thing I had it on "series link" :D.

 

The mid-season break was worth the wait - absolutely gorgeous photography!

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Well, despite your concerns @@twaffle it is working just fine. You and Mr Twaffle are shooting some special stuff (especially you, but he would deserve a mention for the uber-copyrighted LBJ shot alone)..... such beautiful pictures with a lovely sense of the place. I was going to start reading up again on Meru but I don't think I'll need to do so. I'll just get my map and out, load google in another window, and try to follow.

 

Looking forward to the rest of the threatened long and disjointed part of this report. Make it really long, please..... and If this is disjointed then disjointed is fine! Repetition will be welcome.

Edited by twaffle
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@@africapurohit you watch too much TV, man! :D

 

Don't worry about repetition, just means there's more for us to read. Always good. Plus you need to pad it out with your photography skills.... Awesome leaping kudu.

Edited by Super LEEDS
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I'm in love with Rinaldo....

 

and the stunning scenery...

 

Waiting for more. What a group!

 

Edited by twaffle
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Thanks for the feedback and compliments, much appreciated.

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Keep it coming. Rinaldo is a man after my own heart- I, too, am particular on my wine temperature, especially the reds, which most often confuses the folks on safari!

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks for a brilliant report, guys ............. Loving every single post!!!

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The posts by Twaffle are certainly an advanced degree course in Safari Planning. (I'd add Atravelynn and a couple others to the list of safari professors.) That's the great thing about reading all of the trip reports on ST - you can easily model future trips by cobbling together pieces of other travelers' itineraries. This might be one course where it is ok to copy others.

Edited by PT123
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MERU’S OFFERINGS (twaffle)



Two and a half years ago I visited Meru and was enchanted by the topographical variety, the many animals we saw and the excitingly wild feel of the place. I made some landscape photos which I found completely different to anything else I had done, with many of them looking for all the world like they came out of some prehistoric era. We drove through the commiphora belt and visited the Tana River, driving over the bridge into Kora. It was such an adventure and although we didn’t see any predators, I didn’t feel the loss of them as so much else was going on.



On this trip, I didn’t expect too much more, knowing that whatever we found would be enough.



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Certainly, I think that I should let the images describe the journey of the 4 nights we were there as sometimes words get in the way. However, there are some sightings which didn’t fall in our lap and we have to gratefully thank Squack for his expert combination of knowledge, tracking and all around guiding skills for finding them for us.




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One such sighting came on our first morning, after a night disrupted by lions calling from what seemed to me like different directions. Leaving early, as usual, Squack determined the direction he thought the closest lion had been calling from and we set off in that direction. Every now and then we stopped (not just for good or interesting sightings) and Squack studied the tracks on the road. We changed direction a few times but eventually Squack found what he was looking for, lion tracks, and we knew we were heading the right way. There is a small track which leads down a shallow valley. I don’t think many of us would have bothered with it as it looked like the road to nowhere (which it eventually turned out to be) but down that track we certainly went. We were rewarded with a few nice sightings, but more than that we were rewarded with a small pride of 7 lions on a buffalo kill. At least I think it was 7, we counted and recounted so many times and I didn’t write it down.



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My lionless safari was turning into something which was anything but …..



It was on this exceptional morning drive that we encountered the massive herd of elephants which came out of the trees and bushes in ever increasing numbers until we exhausted the counting at over 150.



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In fact, looking at my images I realised that we saw much more than I have remembered and with some poor photos kept just for reminding me including a beautiful python in a creek near the rhino sanctuary to a crested eagle hunting a small rodent; innumerable Bateleur eagles; palm nut vultures; hartebeest … the list goes on.



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I thought that this could very well be the best morning's game drive of the trip, little did I know what we had in store for us only a few days later.

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Elephant herds

 

 

 

 

In my youth growing up in Kenya and even in Uganda, it wasn't unusual to encounter very large herds of elephants.  In Tsavo, a park that we visited often, the extent of the herds was impossible to come to terms with and it wasn't until I saw the aerial photo in Peter Beard's somewhat controversial book The End of the Game (first published in 1965, with various later editions) and counted, within the frame of the picture, roughly a thousand elephants that the sheer numbers hit home.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was Africa then. It is all gone now.

 

 

 

 

True, you can still see impressive elephant concentrations in some parts of the continent, most notably along the Chobe river on Botswana's northern border or at waterholes in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.  But not in Kenya, not since a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

According to Squack, these days you need to be very lucky to see a herd numbering close to a hundred members, anywhere in the country.

 

 

 

So it was with a bit of surprise that, on a late morning, when we were traversing a plain just north of Mulika Swamp and ready to go back to camp for lunch, we saw a large group of pachyderms emerging from the trees onto the plain.

 

 

 

They were cows and calves, but then a few bulls started to appear, and then other matriarchs and youngsters, and many more behind coming. They seemed everywhere, a peaceful army of giants (big and small) intent on their own activities (feeding, sparring, suckling) and slowly but surely moving towards us.

 

 

 

 

 

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They crossed the road both in front and behind our vehicle, a few individuals raising their heads and ears to give us a good look. Whilst they crossed, we tried and counted them. We estimated that the herd was roughly 150 strong, but it is likely that we missed a few.

 

 

 

 

 

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Where did they come from? What ancient routes are still available to them, in spite of the ever growing human population, the relevant encroachment and the increased poaching?

 

 

 

 

 

Not in a Beard-esque scale, but it was pure magic.

 

 

 

 

We ended out being extremely late for lunch. But no one even noticed

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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IN PRAISE OF SMALL MOBILE CAMPS

 

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Small, mobile camps have a charm about them which can’t realistically be replicated by larger, more permanent operations. The amenities may be less extensive but I have always found that it makes it possible to relax more fully, leaving modern day expectations behind. Even the bush shower, which I absolutely love on safari but which I would hate if having to deal with on a daily basis at home, has a powerful effect on the psyche. Every drop of water is treasured and planned for and the mind is conscious at all times of what sequence the washing is in. At home I can waste water showering for too long, drifting in some day dream place of my own, and when finished wonder if I actually enjoyed the shower as I hardly remember a moment of it.

 

 

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The tents took me straight back to the adventures of my childhood and instead of feeling like I was in a tented palace, where my behaviour and dress needed to live up to some predetermined standard, I could relax and unwind totally. Certainly, about 10 minutes after entering our tent and organising our bags, I felt a deep sense of relaxation and peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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Indeed, I am one of the lucky ones and when on safari my mind automatically puts me in ‘safari mode’ where many of the things which matter at home are put behind a ‘safari curtain’. Unlike our fellow travellers, who were particularly concerned with culinary items, we Australians were thankful just to have edible, healthy meals and a few cold drinks. The food in camp, prepared by Mirjam’s mother was exceptional by any standards and in fact, the food throughout the trip was nothing short of perfect. Perfect flavours, perfect combinations and perfect environment. Terry, being a vegetarian, was so well catered for that I had moments of considering my need for meat.

 

 

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The staff in camp were all Squack and Mirjam’s personal staff so the atmosphere was beautifully relaxed and homely and I can honestly say that I have never experienced quite such a thing before. Normally there is some need for separation between staff and clients, although I have found Alex Walker’s camps have come pretty close for a relaxed atmosphere, especially at the small Nkorombo camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would I have stayed longer? Absolutely. But we had made allowance for 5 nights at Ishaqbini (in the same camp) and were unable to find time to make 5 nights in Meru as well.

 

 

 

 

What were the down sides to the camp? Perhaps the lack of a hammock waiting for a game drive weary client to swing in? Who would have the time. Realistically, I find hard to think of any at the moment. If you have lots of battery charging needs, perhaps the lack of electricity in camp would be an issue, however, we managed very well with the power board and inverter in the vehicle so never had problems.

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by twaffle
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PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

 

 

 

 

It is so peaceful sitting here at the front of the tent in Meru National Park. There’s a pleasant breeze drying my hair after my refreshing bush shower. A small yellow butterfly lands on the tiny white flowers which drift amongst the tangle of green vines which fall in a haphazard way over the dead log in front of the tent. If you close your eyes you could almost believe you were at the beach with the sound of the wind through the doum palms sounding for all the world like the seaside. A vervet monkey scurries down the tall yellow fever tree in front of our tent and heads towards the river. Fortunately, neither the vervets nor baboons have learnt to harass humans. My short idyll has ended and the time to head out again has come.

 

Edited by twaffle
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Whatever the conditions, being it a year of plenty or one of struggle, Meru in the dry season always offers a wilderness and wildlife experience which is unique and unforgettable.

 

Edited by twaffle
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FAREWELL

 

We left Meru after 4 wonderful nights there and I wondered why more people don't spend time to include it. Apart from one cranky woman in a white 4x4 who didn't like the fact that we had stopped in the middle of a road so that we could set up tripods and take some sunset photos, we saw no other tourists. An avian photographer would have had a field day there, lots of active and interesting birds. Certainly someone with better birding skills than I would have had some very good success, I think. Some parting shots from Meru before heading for the longish drive to the Laikipia Plateau.

 

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Edited by twaffle
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Not sure what's happened but on my iPad I have duplicate photos all over the place and some in the wrong sequence. I'll fix it tomorrow so if anyone sees the same, many apologies. :o

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Not sure what's happened but on my iPad I have duplicate photos all over the place and some in the wrong sequence. I'll fix it tomorrow so if anyone sees the same, many apologies. :o

I am reading this on my iPad, and I haven't seen any duplications? All looks great to me.

Loving it... Meru looks fantastic!

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I now feel the same about mobile camps; I don't think I'd want to stay in anything but ~ more intimate to ones' surroundiings; close to the ground,you hear and smell more of "Africa" and the amenities are much more apprciated. I had no idea I'd love it so much.

 

Squack's looks like my kind of place!

 

And now I know to add a wine thermometer to my bag. Being a red wine girl, it is hell when hot wine is served! Bravo, Rinaldo!

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Such a pleasure reading this wonderful report.

 

Just reading some each day brings that Africa relaxation feeling into my soul, for which I am grateful. Magical team work; thanks to you  @@twaffle

Edited by twaffle
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This is a hard act to follow, honestly it's fantastic. I might print it off and bind it if I ever head to Meru and Shaba! If you'll permit me of course @@twaffle .

 

I have to admit I'm waiting a bit longer before posting my TR, I can only hope it's half as good as yours is!!!

 

Can't wait to read the next instalment :D

Edited by twaffle
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Thanks everyone, I do appreciate the comments.

 

A word of warning for all the wine aficionados. Try to remember that you're 'on safari' and all that it means. You aren't on a wine appreciation tour and if the wine isn't exactly as you would have it at home it isn't really a make and break, if it is I'd seriously rethink your safari needs.

 

Same with coffee or tea or even the cheese. Some of these isolated camps on safari in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania just don't have the means to cater to our very Western needs and we are putting huge stress on them by demanding similar food and wine delivery as we would expect in our home cities.

 

I know most of you are only joking around .........

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You guys had incredible sightings. That's as good as it gets for Shaba and Meru, I think...

 

The photo of Liam and Rinaldo is priceless!

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Sorry, I think I missed this bit: where did the bush baby come from?

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Really quite a fabulous trip report, evocative writing and photos. This one...

 

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Puts me in mind of a vintage safari camp, something that Martin and Osa Johnson would have put together. Marvelous!

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Super Leeds, the bush baby belonged to Squack … not nearly so noisy as the ones which kept me awake on our first night at Meru. They were playing and screeching all over our tent!!

 

 

Thank you Matt, it did feel like an authentic and old fashioned camp which is probably why we all enjoyed it so much. And as you can tell, we didn't go without.

Edited by twaffle
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I now feel the same about mobile camps; I don't think I'd want to stay in anything but ~ more intimate to ones' surroundiings; close to the ground,you hear and smell more of "Africa" and the amenities are much more apprciated. I had no idea I'd love it so much.

 

Who would've thought? Now I really can't wait for your trip report. Wish my wife was as convinced.

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