Micato Musings


Nairobi: Returning Home


We New York Pintos are good travellers. We pack fast (and plenty!), seamlessly hauling myriad bags through airports, and have perfected the security dance of removing shoes and laptops in a family-conveyor-belt fashion. We love a good flight, watch a movie (or two, if you’re a Pinto teenager), sleep like babies until touchdown in Heathrow, and repeat the process on the next leg of the journey.

The Wilson Aerodrome: Nairobi’s delightful hub of private bush planes

Finally, our goal, Nairobi. The faint wood-smoke scent that greets us on the tarmac welcomes us home, and the evening Kenyan air holds a sweet freshness. As some may know, Nairobi airport burned to the ground last fall, but a makeshift terminal was quickly fitted in a fortuitously-located oversized parking garage. The immigration lines were long, but not bad under the circumstances, and we were quickly rescued by Micato’s crackerjack airport arrival team, as are all Micato travellers.

Full disclosure: I love Nairobi. (This is Joy, the family wordsmith, speaking, but you’ll also hear from Dennis, and perhaps the children, Sasha (nearly 16), and Tristan (14) in the next few weeks.) I’ve been coming to Nairobi for 25 years, and the city has transformed into—and here I quote the New York Times — “a destination in itself. It has great restaurants, endless shopping, classy colonial-era hotels and plenty of wildlife within the city limits…” Don’t get me wrong—Nairobi isn’t beautiful like Cape Town or sparkling clean like Kigali, but it has a dynamic hip-and-happening new vibe. I always plan a few extra days in Nairobi—it’s where I get my best treasures from jewelry to artwork, and it’s a city bursting with a community of a fascinatingly engaged pan-African intelligentsia.

View from the air: Nairobi city limits and the hidden gem of Nairobi National Park

We also love the hustle and bustle of “Nana’s house.” Dennis’ parents Felix and Jane host every Micato traveller at their home, a sprawling, modern, Africa-meets-International Style home filled with a happy hubbub of action and people. Micato travellers are coming and going, the African gray parrot is squawking, the shy Alsatian is playing, Jane’s phone is ringing, neighbors are stopping by, and like every good African home, the cook is preparing heaps of food—and in Jane’s house, to fatten up the skinny Americans.

After a few days of catching up, we head to Nairobi’s sleepy Wilson Aerodrome— an airstrip charmingly reminiscent of a bygone era of flight—and board our light aircraft to a private game concession adjacent to Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park. After less than a minute in the air, we overfly the sharp border between the city and the unknown gem of Nairobi National Park, and just a few minutes later we’re oohing and awing at the astonishing beauty of the Great Rift Valley.

Our destination is Richard Branson’s one year-old tented camp, Mahali Mzuri. And wow! As you’d expect from anything with the Branson name, it is fantastical: outrageous tent architecture suggestive of space ships with full bells-and-whistles, stunning decor, to-the-minute cool, and oh-so-laid-back. A tad too laid-back, actually, in the service department, but we’re confident in the new manager’s plan.

Sir Richard Branson’s futuristic Mahali Mzuri

In the last ten years, the Maasai Mara area itself has undergone a stunning positive transformation: A little known fact is that it is one of the few game lands in East Africa that is actually increasing in size and wildlife numbers. This is thanks to the phenomena of enlightened Maasai elders joining together their tribal lands and dedicating them to wildlife. Enlightened and savvy, we might add—they’ve learned that wildlife pays for itself, and the entire Maasai community is benefitting from tourism revenues. Maasai stakeholders in wildlife conservation and tourism is a brilliant development of recent years, making a dramatic impact.

Enjoying a baby elephant walk, Micato style.

Branson’s camp is situated in a “group ranch” called the Motorogi Concession, but we’ve taken to calling it the Land of Multiples…we’ve been dazzled since we got here by a pride of 11 lions, a herd of 25+ elephant, a journey of 35+ giraffes, and that is just the beginning.

Stay tuned for more about the Mara in the next Pinto Dispatch … after which we’re off to Rwanda for some gorilla trekking.

We’re so thrilled that you’ve joined our journey!

Blog photos (the good ones, at least!) were snapped by Tristan, a serious photographer.

Weather Post Script:
For those headed to Kenya…it’s nippy! Perhaps even the chilliest we’ve been in 20 years of June safaris. Nighttime temperatures have probably dipped to the mid-50s, and during early morning game drives in open vehicles, we’ve been wearing heavy fleece jackets and wrapping up in blankets (provided to all Micato guests), but wishing we had brought our Patagonia down sweaters from New York. Pack warmly!

Post-postscript: More photos!
{scroll through or sit back, relax, and watch the show}

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