The AirKenya plane flies in a loop above the dirt runway three times, unable to land instantly, because giraffes are lounging on the path; we are certainly not in Nairobi anymore. Shortly after, we hit the road for Rhino River Camp which sits on 80 acres of privately owned wilderness right on the edge of Meru National Park. The drive there takes some 80 minutes, made the more slower by guinea fowls which seem to enjoy ‘jogging’ on the road right in front of us like traffic police keen to keep us in that sweet spot of 10kmph. Meru National Park is thriving this time of the year; lush and green. The sky clears up and we see Mt Kenya’s snow-capped peak standing tall in the distance. A leopard is sprawled on a low-hanging branch, perhaps scanning the surrounding tall grass for his next meal. It slinks into the bushes when it spots us. The most vibrant yellow butterflies flit between mounds of animal dung on the brown earth, and I could wax lyrical about that contrast.
Moments after checking into our room, I am lying on my back gazing out in wonder through the rolled-up flaps of our semi-permanent tent which is raised on stilts and positioned on a wooden deck. I imagine that I am at the cinema enjoying a panoramic view of the greenest vegetation, with the soothing sound of the river streaming past as the soundtrack; the entire scene is covered by trees as far as the eyes can see, with numerous bird species flitting from branch to branch. The decor within this treehouse-of-sorts is understated and our river-facing tent is one of five, with two others being purely nestled into the forested folds of the property. This is the kind of spot that conjures descriptions like ‘secluded and serene’.
My boyfriend and I take the wooden walkway leading from our room, strolling hand-in-hand along a narrow path thick with foliage, to the common area which should henceforth be described as nothing short of ‘an arena of relaxation’. There is an open-faced restaurant, a chess piece laid out under a tree if you’re up to the challenge, a living area with comfortable sofas to lounge in and a little library in whose comfortable sofas you can sink into with a book. This entire lounge is spread across a raised ground and a path leads down to a pool which sits smack in the middle of a forested area. Right in front of it, a river rushes past, cascading over a huge rock to create a mini-waterfall. The scene is reminiscent of Bali, and right after lunch, we spend the rest of the day pottering around the pool well into the evening. Thereafter, we huddle around a campfire whose logs are ever so often adjusted by a nightguard. Wrapped in towels and still dripping wet from the swim, the night is spent sipping gin & tonics, watching glow worms, holding hands, chatting and trying not to fall asleep. It is the three course dinner that ultimately does me in; a carrot soup with warm freshly baked bread, rice with pan fried fish and vegetables and a delectable slice of pie for dessert.
We are off at 6:00am the next morning for a game drive during which we encounter a herd of elephants wallowing in the shallows. Reticulated giraffes prance around like supermodels at Meru Fashion Week. Several sightings later, our car comes to a stop at a signpost (for a viewpoint) where an Eastern pale chanting goshawk is standing on one long leg, upright, as though keeping watch. Peterson, our guide, sets up a bush breakfast at scenic gorge and just as we begin to dig in, monkeys come crawling out of the woodworks as though calling dibs on the spoils. The ground is muddy following the bouts of rain the previous night, and perhaps wearing white sneakers wasn’t the best idea. The boyfriend, stuck on the notion that we might be ambushed by a lion, scans the area with one eye while the other calculates the next bite of his sandwich. It is cool at this viewpoint which is accessorized even more so by doum palm trees lined along the riverbank. Soon, we pack all our trash and leave for the park’s rhino sanctuary which lies on the western boundary and where about 40 white and 20 black rhinos roam freely.
Rhino River Camp has been around for about nine years and was until very recently individually owned, but is now under the management of Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps who have been running it for barely two months. The plan is to expand their circuit to Meru National Park, in addition to the camps in Ol Pejeta and Ol Kinyei Conservancies, Maasai Mara as well as Nairobi and Amboseli National Parks. Going on such a safari circuit enables travelers to visit more than one camp under Porini’s portfolio, but an itinerary can also include a specific property for the domestic traveler.
With Rhino River Camp, Porini’s plan coming in is to do some renovations, refurbish the space and upgrade the quality of service offered by the staff, most of whom stayed on when the camp changed ownership. The room we stayed in will now be the honeymoon suite, aptly so, as it comes with a small separate room where we got massages accompanied by a soothing biophony. Perfect for families, there are two family tents and an array of other activities including walking safaris, short hill hikes crowned with sundowners, fishing in the park and more.