When someone mentions a Kenyan safari, my mind automatically ventures to the savannah plains of the Maasai Mara or the herds of elephants silhouetted against the sunset in Amboseli with Mount Kilimanjaro not far off in the distance. So when Dad mentioned going off to Meru for the weekend, I certainly did not expect much from it, but I was gravely proved wrong.
Meru National Park, 300km North of Nairobi and 67km East of Meru Town, is in an oasis of its own. The setting is unlike any other with vibrant red cotton soil, the multi-branch doum palms, and 13 winding rivers that draw thousands of animals to its banks. No number of Kenyan safaris had prepared me for Meru’s exceptional beauty.
We started our journey early leaving home at 6am, after a quick cup of tea. Sleepy but excited, the drive to Nanyuki was short and uneventful. Once in Nanyuki by 10am, we stopped at the Le Rustique café. We had decided the night before that we wanted to have brunch at the famous Le Rustique that was previously located in Nairobi; however our driver didn’t seem to know where it was, and we kept going around in circles. Then thanks to a quick Google search and a phone call, we found the café located in a rustic area next to the golf course.
My wheelchair was all packed in the car, so I had to be carried inside. We were the only people at the café. We placed our orders and once my order arrived, I had to take the obligatory food shots; I mean, force my sister to do it. I then went on to sinfully indulge in my waffle. So so delicious!
By 11am, we were back on the road to Meru. The journey seemed long and tiresome; but I was excited for the weekend getaway, as I had no idea what was to come. It was one of the few times I had carried out absolutely no research on where we were headed. Usually I’m that annoying know-it-all person who knows waaay too much about the destination.
Whilst we were on the way, the manager, Craig Allen, called us to ask about our lunch preferences. We were already being spoiled before even getting there. Nothing makes me happy than getting pampered! Uh okay, maybe donuts may top that 😉
At around 2pm, we reached the entrance of Meru National Park. Once we waltzed through the entrance where several baboons were lazily lounging around, we drove straight to the small, but luxurious, Offbeat Meru Camp. We managed to spot a few antelopes, zebra and giraffes on the way there.
Once we rolled in to the camp at 2:30pm, Craig, who was waiting for us, gave us a welcoming wave. Until that point, I didn’t notice how hot, dry and dusty Meru was. The rest unloaded the baggage and my wheelchair. My cousin assembled the wheelchair, which had been taken apart so as to fit in the car, and then I got out. At that point, I realized that the entire pathway was sandy, and so I had to be literally dragged along the path as the wheelchair kept sinking into the sand as I tried to manoeuvre through.
After a short, grueling drive, we reached the main tent. A large tent, about the size of two rooms, housed the common area, including the lounge, deck and the dining area. Craig immediately explained the layout of the camp, with the outdoor pool by a running stream besides a small bonfire area. We then went to our tents.
My tent, Tent Three, was the closest, to allow easy access, but it was far from the rest of the group, but it was okay, as we barely spent time in the tents. We were the only people at the lodge, as Offbeat Meru can only accommodate 14 people at a go.
The tented room, which gave off a 1920s vibe, was rather simple with a bed and a small open closet. There were two bedside tables that housed solar-powered lamps. There were no electrical outlets, so all electronics could only be charged in the main office. There was an en-suite tent that housed the bathroom. It was quite huge and spacy. There was a modern toilet, and a sink but no water tap. Instead, there was a jug filled with water which if we ran out, the camp guides would fill up with warm water. Similarly, there was an open shower, where a bucket outside needed to be filled up. Then there was a switch that, when pressed, released the hot water.
We headed back to the main tent and had lunch. The chef had made us a vegetable quiche, served with a salad and Italian bread, and fruit for dessert.
After a quick change, since it was already 4:30 in the evening, we headed back to the common lounge. It was a struggle being dragged across the sandy path. But we made it to the waiting cars. Craig had given us a towrope that helped pull the wheelchair along.
We are given two open safari 4×4 vehicles that each could only seat five people, so we split up (as we were seven) and started the safari. Our driver, Stanley, who also doubled as the game guide, was excellent at spotting the animals. As we drove off into the park, we spotted several reticulated giraffe; several antelopes such as the impalas, waterbucks and dikdiks, and some buffalos. The best part of the game drives was crossing through the many winding rivers and streams with the open 4×4 vehicles.
We then stopped in the middle of Meru National Park, as both Stanley and Dominic (the other driver/guide) laid out a spread of drinks and snacks such as nuts and crisps and they even got us some chevdo*. As we enjoyed the impressive sunset, I was stunned by Meru’s untouched beauty. As the sun set, the weather cooled down, and we enjoyed the soft breeze after an incredibly hot day.
As the nightfall came, we drove back to the camp at 7pm and shared some popcorn seated by the bonfire, admiring the starry night skies away from light pollution. It was beautiful. At 8pm, the chef called us for dinner. We had a salad, pasta with a red tomato sauce, served with a side of steamed vegetables and French fries, and fruit for dessert.
Soon after dinner, we were all tired so we headed to bed. The camp is not fenced so the guides escorted each of us to our rooms. During the course of the night, I thought I heard some dogs barking, but there are no dogs at the camp so I had no idea what it was until later on (keep on reading to find out).
We woke up super-early at 5:30am, and by 6am, we were all ready in the cars with the bush breakfast all packed up by the chef. We witnessed a superb sunrise. The grass was golden, with the gorgeous hills behind. It just looked unreal, straight out of a National Geographic documentary. We spotted a young jackal, several zebra, more reticulated giraffes and buffalos.
Then, as we turned a corner, we saw a herd of elephants, hiding behind these bushes. One of them had a little baby that reminded me of my little adopted baby – Mbegu at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. One of the elephants had these gorgeous massive tusks that really reveal why only elephants look beautiful with their ivory tusks. It was a sight to behold!
We then drove to the Meru Rhino Sanctuary where we got up close to several rhinos. Due to severe poaching problem in Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service created the sanctuary to protect these precious animals from further harm. We even managed to see a young one with its mother. Oh! It was such a cutie. I may have wanted to bring it home 😉 We managed to see about seven rhinos. On the contrary, the most popular safari spot – the legendary Maasai Mara currently has very few hard-to-spot rhinos.
Suddenly Stanley exclaimed that he saw lion paw prints on the side of the road, and ten minutes later, lo and behold, across the river we spotted a pride of lions about seven of them. They were feeding on a giraffe carcass. No matter how many times you may have seen a lion, they always seem to captivate your attention. While we were watching the lions, I heard this barking sound; Stanley explained that this was a baboon on a nearby tree warning the rest about the lions’ presence. And that was the sound I heard the previous night!
DID YOU KNOW? Meru was the home to Elsa, the famous Born Free lioness. Her grave has been marked inside the national park.
Once we drove away from the lions, the guides chose a random spot in the park, and we got off. I was carried on a chair that they brought along, as my wheelchair could not fit in the cars. Then they set up a table, with pancake roll-ups, sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, muesli, fruit, juice, tea and coffee. We were starving after the morning game drive. And nothing beats a nice breakfast in the Kenyan wild!
Once we ate, we drove by to one of the waterholes, and admired the hippos lazing around. Subsequently we went along and saw some crocodiles nearby. Then it was back to the lodge by 12 noon.
By this time, we realized that it was easier for me to sit on a chair and be carried, rather than dragging my heavy electric wheelchair through the sandy paths, so I was basically carried around the camp. We then all freshened up and chilled around till 2pm. We then sat for lunch of a salad, lasagna and fruit for dessert. It was so hot during the day, that all we really wanted was just a glass of cold water. Because we still had time, we busted out the cards and played a few games.
Time just flew by and it was already time for the evening game drive. We saw more elephants (my faves!), Grévy’s zebra, waterbucks, impalas, dikdiks and reticulated giraffes.
Thereafter, as the sun started setting, making for another spectacular sunset, we stopped for a sundowner. But this time, we stopped in the middle of the road. On one side, the sun was setting and on the other, there was a herd of buffalos just grazing. It was surreal!
As the night fell upon us, we went back to the camp where we chilled as we waited for dinner. This time, the chef made us a veggie curry with chapatti and rice, a side of steamed veggies and French fries. For dessert, he made us individual apple crumble pots served with fresh cream. I’m a sucker for anything with apple so I loved it!
After a long day where we managed to see the big four, only missing the leopard, we finally went to bed after admiring the beautiful starry night, of course.
The next morning, our last day in Meru, we just ate a quick breakfast of eggs, toast and fruits. By 6:45am, we were on our way back to Nairobi. It was a seven-hour non-stop journey as we drove through Embu, another Kenyan town. This route was much shorter than the one we had used to get to Meru, however it was riddled with numerous speed bumps.
We were home by 2:30pm, exhausted but happy!
TL;DR – Meru is that perfect safari getaway that’s one of Kenya’s (not-so-)hidden gems. So what are you waiting for?
*An Indian snack mix
Pictures for this blog post are provided by Diva, Hitesh and Mikhil Shah.