(These paragraphs are for you, Sandi!)
Prior to our Oct. 29 departure from Arusha, I received an email from our Kenya tour operator that there was going to have to be a change in our itinerary.
We were supposed to have spent Oct. 30 & 31 at Lewa Downs, Nov. 1 & 2 at Samburu Intrepids and Nove. 3 & 4 at Elsa's Kopje in Meru. But because of two days of rain, Lewa Downs had closed. Confirmed bookings were being advised to go elsewhere. Yikes!
A couple of options were presented to us and we decided to do Samburu for 3 nights and Meru for 3 nights. Our hectic itinerary in Tanzania made the three & three sound deliciously relaxed.
We flew Oct. 29 to JKIA in Nairobi. We checked into the Intercontinental, showered and changed our clothes and met a friend for lunch at Tamambo Bar and Grill, which I highly recommend. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, relaxed a bit (by writing out postcards) and before we knew it, it was time to meet another friend, this time for dinner. We ate at Trattoria, which is just a short walk from the Intercontinental. I would highly recommend this lively Italian restaurant.
After good food and good company, it was time to go back to our hotel and prepare for our time in the bush.
The flight from Wilson Airport to Samburu was smooth and we had a picture perfect view of the glorious Mt. Kenya. Our flight was uneventful and when we landed at the airstrip, our guide was waiting for us.
Samburu had received some rain as well, so I stepped off the plane expecting parched and brown vegetation, but there was plenty of green and flowers were beginning to bloom here and there. Lovely.
Enroute to Samburu Intrepids, we saw numerous giraffe, impala, gazelle, dik-dik, oryx, buffalo, etc. Located on the bank of the Uaso Nyiro River, Intrepids is a tented camp and was to be our home for the next three nights.
Even though it had rained a few days before our arrival, many of the roads throughout the park were still covered by water or were extremely thick with mud. This did not impede our game-viewing, however. It just made it all the more of an adventure!
Our game-viewing in Samburu was good, albeit a bit difficult because the rains resulted in many trees and shrubs blooming, making the game sometimes difficult to find. I cannot complain, however ... we saw numerous lion, three glorious male cheetahs (one of which tried to jump on a fallen tree for better viewing, but slipped. Poor fellow! He actually looked embarassed!), a female lion stalking gazelle, large herds of giraffe, gerenuk, buffalo, and my beloved elephants, who were a glorious shade of red from their mud baths!
Because it was so warm during the day, Michael and I opted to sit by the pool until it was time for an afternoon game drive. This leisurely pace went on for three days and it was heaven. Pure heaven.
We left Samburu Nov. 1 and made our way to Meru National Park. What should have taken about 4 hours took nearly six, as much of the road from Meru Town to the park gate had been washed away from heavy rains. As a matter of fact, there were times I did not think we would even make it to the park gate. Michael and I had our heads out of the vehicle window, talking the guide through a maze of muddy ruts, huge gullies, etc. Yikes!!!
But we finally made it to the Meru National Park gate. Many of you know how fond I am of Selous in southern Tanzania. Meru is much like Selous in that it is very remote and one of the least visited parks in Kenya. It is for that reason it is such a good place to visit.
In addition, a visit is a pilgrimage of sorts, since Meru is where the famed lioness "Elsa" was released back into the wild after being raised by George and Joy Adamson. Visiting Elsa's grave, especially on this trip, was extremely important to me.
Our guide was supposed to have stayed with us during our stay at Elsa's Kopje, but due to a death in the family, he asked if he could return to Nairobi. Of course, and arrangements were made for us to use a camp vehicle and guide.
How does one begin to describe Elsa's Kopje? "Heaven on earth" is appropriate. "An architectural achievement" is another. What a place!
It is built on top of Mughwango Hill, which was George Adamson's first camp, then known as Elsa's Camp. Even driving up to the accommodation, you cannot see it until you pull up into the parking area. The entrance is dotted with wonderful pictures of George and Joy Adamson and, of course, Elsa.
There are only cottages and they are spread apart for the ultimate in privacy. In fact, two of the cottages - including ours - are completely separated from the rest of the property by a suspended rope bridge. How would one describe our cottage? The Flintstones meet Shabby Chic may be appropriate. In order to ensure the ecosystem, the cottages were all built around boulders. Some of the boulders are still in the rooms, and are in fact used as tables for lamps. The "hallway" between the bedroom and bathroom is lined by giant boulders. The bathroom has flush toilet, bidet and shower. But some of the rooms, including ours, has an outdoor tub built into the deck, just a few steps down from the bathroom area.
The view from our patio took my breath away. As far as the eye could see and not another vehicle or building anywhere in site. Meru is definitely my kind of place.
The pool is amazing. Again, the natural boulders were incorporated into the design of the pool and when in the pool, you have an unsurpassed view of the park. In fact, anywhere you are is an phenomenal view of the park.
Like Klein's and the Crater Lodge, Elsa's has a personal butler for its clients. Rooms are equipped with walkie talkies.
The lounge/bar area is stunning, with numerous chairs and couches to fall into and every book that George or Joy Adamson ever wrote is available for perusal.
What a place! I used to say that Sand Rivers is my favorite, I now have to rank Elsa's right up there.
Luxurious accommodations aside, the game viewing in Meru was very, very good. Like Selous, there is a lot of shrubbery and you have to work to see your animals. Unlike other locations, there are not a lot of vehicles driving around with guides sharing information. During three days worth of game drives, we only saw one other vehicle and that belonged to the KWS.
Even though Meru is the driest national park in the country, there are numerous rivers and streams that run through it. Subsequently, there are numerous oasis. Fantastic! While most of the park is covered by bush, there are areas of open grassland, acacia woods and pockets of rain forest in the far northern area of the park, which is 700 square miles.
Did we see the number of animals we had elsewhere? No. But we did see a herd of magnificent elephants (They are being brought to the park from Sweetwaters, which has too many for that area), crocodiles, large herds of buffalo, large herds of giraffe and rhino. There is a rhino sanctuary in the park. We saw a glorious pair of white rhino from about 40 feet away. Eventually the rhino in the sanctuary will be released, but poaching is still very much a threat to their existance, despite all the valiant efforts of the KWS.
One morning we came upon a pride of lions consisting of four females and one juvenile male. Imagine our surprise when it took us several minutes before discovering the male was 15 feet up into a tree. We though his tale hanging down was a sausage, considering it was a sausage tree he was in! Good stuff!
My visit to Meru would not have been complete without a visit to Elsa's grave, which is appropriately alongside a river at the edge of the park boundary. Although she does not know it, Elsa paid a huge role in my life. From the moment I saw "Born Free" when I was four years old, I was obsessed with Africa.
I asked Michael and our guide to leave me alone for a while and they obliged. I sat on Elsa's grave and talked with her and told her of my journey thus far. I told her about all the lions I saw in the Serengeti and that perhaps one was related to her. (When Elsa died she had three cubs, which were later taken to the Serengeti for release by George and Joy Adamson.)
I told Elsa how important she was to me and how it was my mother who introduced me to her - "Born Free" was the first movie my Mom ever took me to see.
I cried my heart out at Elsa'a grave, but, you know what? It felt good. I just wish my Mom had been there with me to pay homage to Elsa. My Mom would have known that my tears were those of joy not sadness.
All in all a very emotional and sometimes bittersweet trip, but one that I would do all over again.
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(These paragraphs are for you, Sandi!)