ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
A heat haze shimmers around the Murera Gate entrance to Meru National Park. An agama lizard lifts its feet from the searing road, head bobbing up and down in seeming agitation. The KWS officer processes our ticket purchases with the slow motion of someone who is used to working in the heat. After the coolness of The Aberdares and the Meru highlands, this parched ground is confronting. At last we move through the gates, which are unadorned by any metallic animal as if this park, once the star of the Kenyan parks, no longer warrants special attention.
Hot and hungry we head to the Murera Banda’s picnic grounds. Walking down to the river we move under palms and other moisture loving plants and it feels as if we have moved into another world. A large baboon coughs the terrible cough of the doomed and we all wonder about his ill health. He hobbles past, not even eyeing off our lunch, intent only on keeping up with his troop. The blessed relief of the cool shadows washes over us all and we sit around a sunken bar area, enjoying the respite.
The interlude is short lived and we continue our journey along dusty red roads. There is a vastness here, not just because of the size of the park but also because of the isolation and lack of visitors.
The reticulated giraffe peers down at us, the fine net of white drifting over it with definition and style. The long, dark tongue grasps at the acacia, stripping the feathery leaves from between the thorns. In the background, other giraffe tend to their trees with just as much attention, paying us no heed at all.
Skittish eland move to a safer distance as we pass and Grant’s Gazelle give only a fleeting glance at us before leaping to safety.
Our arrival at the bandas is unheralded and in the afternoon heat, the dusty, rocky site lacks any attraction. A small swimming pool offers a chance of relief for those who enjoy such things (or who have brought bathers). The caretaker tells us that “no, there are no cooking utensils available” and despite the office having checked up on this we find ourselves without the means to cook. Also, there are no beds available for Ken and Amos, even though the bandas have no other guests. Haimba, the caretaker, lends us some basic utensils which Amos uses to cook amazing meals in the outdoor, primitive kitchen. In return we feed Haimba. I help Ken put up the tents he had fortunately thrown in at the last minute so he and Amos have somewhere to sleep and after a cooling shower, all becomes calm.
Eating dinner under the verandah in the African night, we marvel at the clarity and vibrance of the stars, undimmed as they are by any manmade lights. The vervets and baboons are safely settled in their trees and a cooler breeze improves our comfort.
As I write by the light of my headlamp, a tiny flying insect lands on my paper. It has a body barely 2mm long with airy wings reaching out like an old jet fighter. Most extraordinary is the tail which is like a fine hair and is 3 times the length of the insect’s body. I gently blow on it, so my moving hand doesn’t squash it and it hangs on tenaciously. Finally it moves away and I wonder what it is.
We drive along lonely, dusty roads and I try to wrap myself in the sounds, smells and sensations of the park. The heat from the sun; the breeze through the window; the smell of the bushes as kudu brush through; the way the spider webs reflect light and shimmer through the trees and on the ground; the elusive scent of animals which drift past you, teasing you with the hint of their passing. All this I attempt to trap in the blanket of my memories, to open and re-discover in another time.
The light in the kerosene lamp is dying down. Soon our time here will be over. The skies over Meru will shine again, but not on us. The animals will multiply in renewed safety, but remain unseen by us. The cool evening breezes will embrace other visitors, but not us. Our African time here has gone all too quickly and we leave the wilderness to other intrepid visitors with gratitude and sadness.