Christmas with the animals in Meru

It was Christmas Day and we had decided to spend it at the Rhino River Camp and with the animals in Meru National Park. Early morning on Christmas Eve we had driven out from Nairobi – a longish drive but well worth it.

On the way we listened to the hilarious impeachment version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Even on the game drive on Christmas morning the carol was still lurking in my mind – I had also recently written about the Kenyanised version sung by at the Puppets254 show at the Garden City Mall. But on that first day of Christmas in the Meru Park it wasn’t a partridge in a pear tree it was a lion in a sausage tree. There were nine lions up that tree, in fact – nine lions climbing rather than nine ladies dancing, as the original carol has it.

I reckon the animals and the birds must have known it was Christmas. On that same game drive we saw a Bateleur eagle dip his wings three times – port, starboard; port, starboard; port, starboard – before entering a high tree. I guess he was trying to impress his mate who was at home sitting on their eggs. Back at the camp for lunch, we watched a couple of vervet monkeys swing with exuberance from tree to tree on the flimsiest of braches. In the evening a bush baby did an insect-catching pole dance for us on a standard lamp in the camp’s dining room.

The Rhino River Camp is set on the bank of the Kindani River and in eighty acres of what its website calls ‘privately owned wilderness’ on the western edge of the Meru National Park. It is not really my idea of a wilderness. It is certainly not a wasteland; much of it is a lush forest of raffia palms, tamarind and fever tress – something like the jungle of the Tarzan films I watched in my youth.

The small camp itself is an idyllic place. Five of its seven tents are on short stilts and by the river, which the genial manager, Fredrick Chileyi, told us, is usually quite placid. But because of all the rains it was more like a torrent.

The accommodation is in typical luxury safari tents – more like cottages made of canvas and wood. They are simple but spacious, with a comfortable double bed, electricity for lights and power points, a small dressing area, and a bathroom with a shower with water heated by solar panels. Also, each has a separate ‘meditation’ tented area for those who want to be on their own for sitting and thinking – or just sitting.

The bar lounge is tastefully designed, open to the river, and looking down to a small swimming pool. The food in the dining room is tasteful, too – imaginatively presented by an attentive chef. But twice we had our breakfast in the bush – a full English-style breakfast with eggs and bacon, sausages and beans, hot coffee and healthier things too.

For all our game drives we were in the hands – and grateful for the eyes – of the camp’s Samburu guide and driver, Peterson.

We needed the trained eyes of both Peterson and our also safari guide son, Andreas. The Meru National Park is challenging, even in the dry seasons, because much of it is forested. But it has lots of the more easily seen elephants and buffalos, and it contains a rhino sanctuary. And if you have patience, there are lions and leopards to be spotted – as well as over 400 species of birds.

The Rhino River Camp will become better known, because it is now being managed by Gamewatchers Safaris as one of its series of Porini Camps. For a few months there will be attractive introductory offers. Check with info@porini.com or 0722-509200.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation