Micato Musings


Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

Greetings from a Lion

  • May 3rd 2012

Jambo from Kenya! Today we have a special treat for you. One of our Safari Directors left his  laptop unattended out in the bush, and returned to find that the blog post that he’d been preparing to writea well-researched piece on lionshad already been written… by a lion! Read on to get a rare perspective on the king of the jungle, written with his own paws (we assumeunless he got a monkey to do the typing.)

Well hello everyone! Yes, it’s me—the King of the Jungle! Which is a bit of a misnomer, as I actually spend most of time in the savannah… but we’ll get to that.

They Also Call Me:

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Simba (but of course, any Disney fan knows that). In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Imbube; in other parts of South Africa and in Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Leeu. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Tau. At home, the kids call me “Raaawwwr!”

Best Places to Find Me:

Well, that’s easy—the best place to find me is near a Micato jeep! No kidding, it’s almost spooky how good those Micato guides are at figuring out where I am.

But if you want me to be a little more specific… well, at one point in history my cousins and I were found all over Africa and Asia; we even hung out in Greece for a while (there was some pretty yummy goat to be found there.) I’m sad to say that most of my northern cousins—lions subspecies quite similar to me—are now extinct, and there’s only a small group of them left in India’s Gir Forest. You can still come visit me, though, in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly east and southern Africa. I especially enjoy spending time in savannahs and bushveldt, so the Serengeti, Maasai Mara, and Kruger are some of my favourite places to set up shop.

My immediate family is pretty diverse. If you want to visit some of my favourite siblings, I’d recommend stopping by to see my sisters in Linyanti Plains, Botswana, who are known as “surfing lions” because they hunt hippos. Crazy girls, I tell you. There are also my shy brothers who hang out with me in Kruger National Park, the white lions—I don’t envy them the amount of grooming they have to do to keep their coats so white. And I have some tough brothers in Kalahari Game Reserve, who you’d know as the black-maned lions. You should definitely spend some time with them, if you have a chance.

We’re all night-owls, so you can find us on the move in the early morning on the way home or at dusk on the way out for a hunt. And I’ll admit it… in the daytime you might catch me sleeping under an acacia tree—it’s the best shade in the savannah.

Most Embarrassing Facts:

What? Well, ok, hmmm…

I’m pretty lazy, for starters. Usually I sleep for 18-20 hours a day, which doesn’t leave me much time for hobbies—kind of explains why you don’t know any lions who knit or play guitar.

Also, I have one of those voices that really carries. I can’t help it! When I get going and really let out a good roar, you can hear it up to five miles away. I’m the loudest of all the big cats, and I usually only roar at night, so if it wakes you up from your peaceful sleep, I’m sorry.

Sometimes I get teased because the lady lions do all the hunting, but that doesn’t actually embarrass me. Those women bring home delicious food, and I have to admit, I get pretty overheated if I do too much work, since I have this huge mane (which is useful for impressing girls and intimidating rivals.) I’m pretty satisfied with my gal bringing home the bacon—and speaking of bacon…

Favourite Food:

Broccoli.

Ha, just kidding! No way would I eat broccoli. I’m all meat, all day, baby. Some of my favourite meals are wildebeest, impalas, zebras, and buffalo. If I’m feeling peckish and just need a little snack, I’ll settle for springbok or Thompson’s gazelle. And man, I do love warthog—it’s savannah bacon!

 

Everything Else:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivore (well, obviously)

Average life span in the wild: About 16 years

Size: We range from 5-7 feet long and 3-4 feet tall. The longest of my ancestors—we called him Grandpa Kubwa—was 12 feet long! He was, I’m sad to report, shot and killed in Angola in 1972.

Weight: Well that’s a rude question—oh, alright… we range from 300-550 pounds. My heaviest ancestor—Grandpa Nono—was almost 700 pounds! He passed on in 1936 in South Africa.

Protection status: Vulnerable (even though we look tough, we’re sensitive—lions need love too!)

Group name: Pride (which says it all, don’t you think?)

 

Using a Smartphone in the Bush

  • April 19th 2012

The pleasures of safari are many… and the absence of a ringing, buzzing, beeping phone is one such. The interruptions on safari are far more interesting: a distant lion roar, the sight of an elephant quietly feeding property few yards from your hammock…you get the idea. The collective natural song of the bush has long survived without brassy ringtones.

That said, many travellers do desire a way to keep in touch with family and friends—even business contacts—while in the bush. So, although being “off the grid” is an appeal for safari travellers, we’d like to offer some handy tips for those of you who want to stay connected, but don’t want to be blindsided by astronomical phone and data charges after you arrive home.

Before you go:

1)      Consider your needs: Do you want to able to both make and receive calls? Do you only want to text? Do you need internet? What about GPS? Make a list of all the things you want to be able to do or have access to while in the bush, and then…

2)      Contact your cell phone provider: Policies and fees vary by provider, and it’s essential to know what works for your particular phone. You can research online— visit AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon or Virgin to find handy, detailed webpages for travellers—or call your company to find out what your options are (phone numbers will be on the website, and often vary depending on where you live.) Remember: even if your service plan includes international roaming, that doesn’t mean that it is the most reasonable option.

3)      You have options. If taking your current phone on safari just doesn’t seem like a viable option (if your everyday phone doesn’t have its own international card or the capacity to be fitted with one, it’s probably already a non-starter) there are many other options for staying in touch. You can buy a calling card or rent an international phone. If you have a laptop that you want to bring for other purposes, you can very easily  talk to friends and family via Skype or Google Voice.

In the bush:

1)      Know how to turn off “data roaming.” Unfortunately, just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean your phone isn’t active. It’s a good idea to turn off “data roaming” and “data synchronization” on your phone whenever you’re not using the internet or an application. You can usually find these options under “settings” on your phone. Find out how to do this before you leave.

2)    Monitor your mobile data usage. Smartphone apps for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry can track your data usage, which is incredibly handy. If you have internet access, you can also visit the website of your provider, log into your account, and check your data usage this way.

3)    Consider Airplane Mode. If you just want to use the internet and don’t need to make calls or use apps, Airplane Mode is ideal. It turns off the cellular and data radio but leaves your Wi-Fi receptor on. This solution only works if you’re at a lodge, hotel or camp with Wi-Fi, so ask your Safari Director or Guide first. Just using Wi-Fi, you can use services like Skype and Google Voice to call friends and family overseas for a fraction of the cost—or free!

Your last option, of course, is to skip all the hassle and leave the phone at home. It’s a daring move, in this day and age, but the benefits of essentially being incommunicado stretch far beyond mere financial savings—something that hits home when you’re lying in a hammock overlooking a gently flowing river, listening to hippos chortle and bubble below and birds singing in the trees. A butler brings you a refreshing cocktail, and a gentle breeze whispers in the acacia trees, bringing scents or eucalyptus and sweet wild mint. At these moments, email should be the last thing on your mind…

Your Own Home in the Wild

  • April 12th 2012

Greet the dawn on your sea-view veranda in Cape Town with a delightful breakfast cooked by your personal chef. Sip cocktails brought by your private butler as you lounge beside your pool, watching as the giraffe walk by in the majestic Kenyan landscape that seems to exist only for you. Dinner is a family affair, just you and your travel companions laughing and sharing stories in the glow of a thousand candles.

Have everything—from the menu to the bedding to how many cubes of ice in each drink—tailored exactly to your expectations and desires. It’s your home, after all—at least for the duration of the holiday.

Exquisite properties all over Africa are building homes for exclusive use—turning an already sumptuous experience into something sublime. There’s a home for every kind of traveller, from the savannah in Kenya to the bushveldt in South Africa; the sophisticated Cape Town to the adventurous Kalahari Desert—just tell your Micato Bespoke Safari Specialists a little bit about yourself, and they’re guaranteed to find the ideal combination of private ranches, family homesteads and upcountry estates.

Make Memories as a Family

Children delight in eating passion fruit picked off their own tree with help from the butler at Loisaba Cottage in Kenya, or playing Marco Polo in their own pool at Singita Serengeti House in Tanzania, their happy shouts silenced by the awe-inspiring spectacle of a herd of zebra rushing across the plains. And everyone in the family revels in the experience of sharing the landscape with a herd of resident elephant at Camp Jabulani’s Zindoga Villa in South Africa—one of the beauties of the private bush home is the guarantee that your only neighbors will be fascinating wildlife.

Revel in the Romance

It’s no surprise that Prince William and Kate Middleton spent a large portion of their engagement safari at Lewa House—stunningly beautiful and private, couples can while away the days here horse-back riding or flight-seeing in a bi-plane together—much like Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out of Africa.

Honeymooners may find bliss in the airy Molori Clifton, a private home with panoramic views of the ocean and Cape Town, where “your song” can be playing in every room thanks to iPod docking stations, and the infinity pool beckons. Or celebrate your anniversary at Ol Malo House in Kenya, where you lounge together in a hammock, watching the animals pass by without a care in the world.

Whatever your desires, we can guarantee one thing: your Micato Bespoke Safari Specialist can find the exact right property for you.

“I fell in love with Africa long before I ever went there. When I got there it felt like coming home.” ~Jane Goodall

5 Reasons to Travel to Rwanda

  • March 22nd 2012

1) Tracking the Endangered Silverback Gorilla

You trek out at first light, the crisp green-scented air suffused with pale pink light. You’re surrounded by the sounds of the jungle waking up: strange calls of exotic birds, hoots of distant monkeys, the last drops of dew plopping off of huge leaves. Then your Micato guide points, and time stops.

You’ve come across a family of gorillas.

There’s nothing between you and them, and there’s nothing to do but sit and stare. The family is in the throes of their everyday life—feeding, playing, resting; raising their young. As one mother turns to groom her child, she catches your eye, and you experience a powerful shock of recognition. The intimate experience of encountering the Silverback gorilla in its natural environs is sure to be the most emotional wildlife experience of your life. There are only 700 of these magnificent creatures left on the planet, so the time to see them is now.

3) Experiencing Country Clean-up Day

Hot coffee in hand, you step out onto your veranda and are greeted by a stunning sight. The landscape is dotted with people, all bent over and picking up trash. A pleasant hum of conversation rises from the scattered clusters of people. Some are in rags, others in business suits, others in tribal clothing. But today they’re all one.

This is Country Clean-up Day, a mandatory monthly event for which the whole country turns out—even the president. This is just one way in which the Rwandan commitment to preserving the environment manifests itself. Rwanda’s path toward unity was an incredibly rocky, heart-breaking one, and to see the results so clearly and positively displayed is hugely moving.

2) Hiking the “Land of a Thousand Hills”

Rwanda is called the “land of a thousand hills,” and we can assure you, the nickname is apt. The lower hills are the realm of the farmers—90% of Rwandans farm for subsistence—and the emerald slopes seen from above look like a patchwork quilt spread over a lumpy bed: each square planted with sweet potatoes or bananas, beans or cassava, tea or coffee. But the mountains—these belong to the intrepid.

The Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes, is our favourite place to hike. Mt. Muhabura is one of the “Ultras,” the most prominent peaks in Africa. It tops out at 14,560 feet, and from its craggy cap all of Africa fans out around you, lush and rich and wild as far as the eye can see. Hale and hearty, pink-cheeked with the pleasure of having hiked all the way up the winding trail, you marvel at the vivid colours and spicy, earthy scent of this gorgeous country.

When you finally tear yourself away from the view, you find that your Micato guide has laid out a magnificent picnic. It’s a hearty repast you’ve fully earned, and makes this excursion truly a delight for all the senses.

4) Getting to Know the Rwandan People

The faces of Rwandan people say it all: gentle smiles paired with liquid eyes. This country has been through a lot, but its remarkable people have turned their heartaches into patience, love and gratitude for life. It’s incredibly rewarding and inspiring just to spend some time with the warm and welcoming locals.

With a renewed country comes new high spirits, and Rwandans certainly know how to celebrate. Music and dance are features of every occasion, ranging from commemorating excellence and bravery, acting out marriage or other  rituals, or teasing each other with humorous one-act imitations .

Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in a village. Even more exclusive, Micato can arrange a performance of the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore—literally “The Chosen Ones”—once performed exclusively for the Royal Court.

5) Discovering the Rare Golden Monkey

With your Micato guide, you come across a group sitting in a clearing grooming each other. A mother swings effortlessly down from a tree with a tiny baby clutching her chest. Two young males come running, tumbling into each other, so much like two human children that we have to laugh. One of these males approaches a female flirtatiously but is rebuffed. The other eyes the alpha male, who is being groomed by a bevy of females—possibly he’s plotting a coup? The tableau is like one of Shakespeare’s plays, and it’s so mesmerizing that we’re moved to simply sit and observe.

The Golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti) is quite rare, and—much like its cousin the Silverback gorilla—it can only be found in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes. An opportunity to view these small, engaging creatures in their habitat is not to be missed.

Why Africa Packs Appeal for Writers

  • March 1st 2012

Why does Africa pack such appeal for writers?  Perhaps it’s the wealth of the region, its surface thick with fantastic plants and animals, its underbelly crusted in jewels. Maybe it’s because the continent is the cradle of mankind and as such, perpetually nurtures us.

For Micato, the writerly appeal comes from the simple expanse of it all. Africa is a land where it is easy to get lost, in the best sense of the word. In the bush, disconnected from the noise of everyday life, much about the self is cherished, and discovered, and rediscovered.

And this was the appeal for two of our favourite explorers and memoirists as well: Beryl Markham and Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway: “This Girl Can Write Rings Around All of Us”

Africa for Markham was home. It was the place where she learned to train horses and fly planes; where she fell in love and married not once but three times; and where she faced almost certain death more times than she could count. It was in Africa that she befriended legendary authors such as Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince), and it was where she became an author of some renown herself, with her startlingly fresh and gripping memoir, West with the Night.

This memoir was admired by none other than Hemingway himself, who wrote:

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? …She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl… can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers… it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Who Loves Africa More?

Hemingway’s own African explorations were characterized by a gruff machismo that serves as a counterweight to Markham’s wry humour and exuberance. In the autobiographical Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway, in his trademark serious, short prose, recounts days of hunting elusive kudu in the bush. And because he is there for only for a short time, he yearns to stay:

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” —Green Hills of Africa

Markham, on the other hand, grew up in Kenya from the age of four, and loves Africa in a steadier, less yearning way. In West with the Night, she writes:

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home.”

Views on Hunting

The writer’s thoughts on hunting were also vastly different. For Hemingway, hunting was his sport of choice and a source of pure poetry. For Markham, it was a source of money and the object of some derision.

Markham spent many years of her life piloting hunters high above the countryside, spotting elephants and making impromptu landings. Flying was her passion, and hunting was a funny thing that men did:

“I suppose if there were a part of the world in which mastodon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant… At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.”—West with the Night

Between Markham’s irreverence and Hemingway’s solemnity, we have a full picture of the glory that is—and has always been—the wilds of Africa. The savannahs, bushveldt, deserts and beaches invite wanderers and dreamers. The people, the animals, the landscape… The very air in Africa has an unparalleled richness and freshness. This land sparked two of the best memoirs the world has ever seen, and we feel quite sure that there are more and better yet to come. Could yours be one? Join us in Micato’s Africa and find out…

Educational Exploration with Micato

  • February 23rd 2012

Kids see the world differently. A backyard can be the infinite wilds, and an unfinished basement a cavern to explore. A neighbor’s dog is actually a lion. The garden hose is an elephant trunk.

When simple suburbia yields so much delight, imagine what kids can experience when they’re out in the world beyond. An endless savannah populated by real lions and elephants is the stuff of dreams and food for the imagination. It is also the stuff of a Micato family safari.

Tribal cultures come to life on a Micato village visit, and your little ones find that kids the world over speak the same language, a combination of impishness, silliness, and knowing glances about their sometimes-embarrassing parents. There is much talking with hands. A cartwheel competition or impromptu soccer game may commence and just like that, your kids will have made friends with a Maasai warrior’s young ones.

That’s why we love to plan adventures for families—exploring with kids is not just fun, it’s a learning experience to last a lifetime. From helping researchers track lions in the Serengeti to stomping grapes in the Cape Winelands to participating in archaeological research with the Leakey’s in Turkana Basin. The dreams of childhood quickly become reality in Africa.

Kids skip away from a remote Kisii village with a priceless understanding of different cultures and people. They climb out of Olduvai Gorge with an intimate knowledge of the “cradle of humanity.”  Africa is the land of teachable moments, wrought that much more meaningful by Micato safari directors and driver-guides, irrepressibly sharing tidbits from their own incredible childhoods: herding cattle for their villages and encountering wildlife in the bush.

But perhaps the most powerful experience for kids in Africa—more than even being close to lions and waking up to the sound of monkeys on the roof—is a sobering and inspiring visit to see Micato-AmericaShare’s work in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum. Your children come face to face with children of the same age who share a one-room house with three generations of family. These are children whose families can’t afford even the most minor of fees required to attend a crowded government elementary school. Micato-AmericaShare helps them to reach their full potential with the School Sponsorship Programme and our One for One Commitment.

Kids return from this experience with a fresh view on the world and memories that last a lifetime. The backyard is still a wilderness, and on a hot day the garden hose still makes an excellent elephant’s trunk. But now your children know that these things hold an even greater magic than make-believe—they are symbols of their good fortune. Gratitude and good works spring from such early understanding of the world. A Micato safari, truly, changes lives.

Flamingos Aplenty and Archaeology, Too: Why UNESCO Honours the Kenya Lake System

  • November 17th 2011

Four million Lesser Flamingos make the three lakes of the Kenya Lake System their home. To put that into perspective, that’s more flamingos than there are humans in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, combined!

For most of the year, the flamingos move between Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita, foraging in their shallow alkaline depths. When they move from one lake to another, they rise together to fly away in one great, pink sheet—like a living sunset.

As the Kenya Lake System is the single most important foraging spot for the Lesser Flamingo, there is truly nothing like this breathtaking spectacle anywhere in the world. And this is only one of many reasons why the Kenya Lake System was named a UNESCO site this year, and granted all the protection that entails.

The three lakes are treasures in and of themselves, as their high alkaline content (the reason why they’re called “soda lakes”) makes them perfect for the abundant growth of green algae, which in turn nurtures an astonishing diversity of wildlife.

Not only home to the flashy flamingo, the lakes are also vital nesting and breeding grounds for Great White Pelicans, and are home to over 100 species of migratory birds including the Black-Necked Grebe, African Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, Little Grebe, Yellow Billed Stork, Black Winged Stilt, Grey-Headed Gull and Gull Billed Tern.

Not a keen birder? That’s okay. “Diverse wildlife” really does mean diverse. Birds share this property with sizeable mammal populations, including black rhino, zebra, Rothschild’s giraffe, greater kudu, lion, cheetah and wild dogs. The simple life-giving presence of water and algae sustains an eco-system that encompasses fish, birds and all sorts of mammals, including, of course, humans.

In fact, as the lakes are nestled on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, the animals share this part of Africa with some of the greatest finds in archaeological history. This area was the birthplace of mankind, and when you’re there you can feel the truth of that. Standing next to a soda lake, watching a sheet of flamingos rise and a rhino lumber by, you’re transported to the earth of our first ancestors, born in this land of hot-springs and geysers, sheltered by the steep escarpment of the Rift Valley.

Need A Dose of Cute? We’ve Got You Covered with the Makgadikgadi Meerkats

  • October 13th 2011

The meerkat is easily the cutest creature within the 6,100 square miles of Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. In the dry season this may not be saying much, but when the rains bring large herds of wildebeest and zebra and their accompanying predators, the sight of two meerkats hugging each other (which they do just because they like to) might still consume the majority of your camera film.

Not only do meerkats hug, they also babysit for each other, feed sick members of their colony, groom their mates as part of courtship, and purr and trill to communicate. The appeal of meerkats, then, is not solely dependent on their tininess (1.5 pounds), soft fur, large eyes and penchant for standing on their hind legs to peer around the desert. We like them because they are cute. But we are drawn to them because they are kind to each other.

The meerkat’s sense of community extends, of course, to guarding the colony from predators. Meerkats post sentinels who bark as a warning when they sense danger. They’re quick on the draw, as a tiny meerkat is an easy snack for an eagle or a jackal. Gaining a meerkat’s trust is a difficult feat.

How to Habituate Your Average Meerkat

In fact, in order to study the meerkats, the researchers at Jack’s Camp have to go through a long habituation process, convincing the meerkats to accept humans as simply “part of the scenery.” Researchers don’t offer them food because they don’t want the meerkats to become dependent. Instead, they hang around the meerkat colony constantly, establishing human beings as safe company. It can take up to six years to fully habituate an entire colony—the length of the average wild meerkat’s life.

Once habituated, the meerkats simply treat humans as handy elevated vantage points for spying predators. If you’re sitting near a colony of habituated meerkats, be prepared for the day’s appointed sentry to scamper up your arm, stand on its hind legs on your shoulder, and perform an anxious scan of the horizon. Once satisfied, the meerkat will saunter back to its family, ignoring your presence.

Don’t be hurt; after all, meerkats are celebrities. A computer-animated meerkat in a smoking jacket was the star of the UK’s popular Compare the Market commercial. A nature documentary called The Meerkats was narrated by Paul Newman—the last film he worked on before he passed away. Meerkats even have their own “soap” on Animal Planet, Meerkat Manor.

And THAT is the power of cute.

Micato Guest Shares Family Safari Tips

  • October 7th 2011

Olivia and friend

New Yorker Melissa Tucker Berger travelled with Micato to Kenya and Tanzania this summer, her husband, sister, daughter, and stepsons in tow. As a family company we’re unabashedly keen about families travelling together on safari, and were delighted when Melissa agreed to share some of her experiences (and wonderful photos) from Micato’s Africa.

Micato: So how was your safari?

Melissa Tucker Berger: We loved every single moment of it. And there are so many reasons why, but first and foremost it was the people. Our guides Edwin Mapelu and Augustine Mwangotya, our drivers — Anthony, Simon, Bernard, Wazeri, and Daniel — and Irene our Micato concierge were all so fantastic.  I absolutely cannot say enough about them, they made us feel so welcome and taught us so much about Kenya and Tanzania.

At one point [we noticed] one of our drivers was sitting on a log just chatting with [my daughter] Olivia and treating her so beautifully. The guides and drivers gave her buttons all the time for her vest, which was covered by the end of the trip.

Were you worried about what kind of safari traveller Olivia was going to be?

MTB: Olivia is a great traveller. But one of the reasons we did a Bespoke safari was that Olivia was seven and we honestly didn’t know how she was going to be. But she enjoyed it, even with sixteen flights, including our transatlantic ones. She never once said she was bored. Truthfully, I think most parents know if their children are going to be mature enough for this kind of trip.

Zebra watering hole. Image: Ethan Berger


That said, what’s the key thing parents need to know about planning a safari?

MTB: The most important thing to understand is that this is not a typical family vacation. It’s not a resort vacation or a trip in the same sense as touring around Europe is. You’re on the move a lot and there are some early morning wake-up calls. But it is so rewarding when you find that leopard in the tree. Parents need to be on the up-and-up with their children and say, “this is going to be an early morning, though there will be pool time in afternoon.” But you have to jump into it like you’re going on this amazing trip together.

What was the smartest thing you packed?

I packed a little kit for everyone with things like tissues, bug spray, and hand sanitizer and I think that was the perfect thing to have. The packing list Micato gave us was great, it was pretty much on the money.

What did you all think of the food?

MTB: The soups in Africa are amazing. Olivia ate two bowls of tomato soup [in one sitting] and the camp sent us the recipe. We also went to an Italian restaurant in Nairobi and the food there was excellent.  The Pintos hosting people for a meal in their home is such a nice touch. It sends you on your way with a really amazing feeling. They welcome you into their family. And they have these four huge tortoises at their home. Olivia loved the tortoises and the parrot.

With a Maasai warrior. Image: Melissa Tucker Berger

 

Let’s talk about your boys (Ethan, 18, Zach, 22). What was the safari experience like for them?

Two things they really loved were going to the Masaai village and visiting the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Centre [the community center of Micato’s nonprofit foundation]. And both of them said to me on more than one occasion that they were glad we chose to see the Harambee Centre. You have to drive through a very difficult area, [the Mukuru slum], where it is just heart-wrenching to see the poverty, but it is very important to me that our children understand charitable giving and see what is going on in Kenya. Olivia didn’t focus on it as much [on the ride over] because she’s shorter and she was more interactive with the children there once we got there. And she wasn’t looking out window, but even if she was, I don’t know if it would have registered that there was so much poverty. But for the boys, it really did [register].

How did the Mukuru experience affect you personally?

MTB: I got very choked up going through the slum, seeing people living in those conditions. But even though the children are living in the most dismal of circumstances they are dancing and singing and smiling, and children wanted to come up to us and give us and high five us and were singing for Olivia in Swahili.

At the end of the day, we get to go back to a luxury hotel and these kids go back to their community in the slum. But here they are, laughing and enjoying and smiling and it says something about organizations that go into these areas and try to make a difference. And I attribute that to Micato and AmericaShare. On the tour [of the Harambee  Centre] everyone took such pride in what they were doing…participating in this effort to make this community better and to empower themselves, and it really shows—the children in the classroom, the whole experience. The safari was amazing, but seeing that aspect of what goes on at AmericaShare really touched my heart.

Any final thoughts?

MTB: Don’t miss out on this adventure. Our boys had their phones with them the whole time but never even turned them on! This is a great family trip to take and we’re going to remember it for the rest of our lives.

The whole crew: Dan Berger, Zach Berger, Victoria Tucker, Ethan Berger, Olivia, and Melissa

 

 

Tusker Beer—Legend, Lore & Why We Love It

  • September 22nd 2011

If you’ve had friends safari with Micato, you’ve likely heard tell of Tusker Lager. Our guests and staff return from Africa with memories of many different favourite delicacies and cocktails, but we invariably find ourselves waxing lyrical about Kenya’s favourite beer.

But why the wistfulness? What makes Tusker so darn good?

As with all good things, there’s a good story. George Hurst went on a hunting trip on a fine day in 1923, just a year after founding Kenya Breweries with his brother Charles. The day turned tragic when George was killed by a rogue male elephant, known in the local parlance as a “Tusker”.

Turns out the brothers had been in the process of creating a lager. In memory of his brother, Charles Hurst named the resultant brew Tusker and underscored the idea with the beer’s famous elephant logo.

Thus are legends made.

Today, Tusker is by far the best selling beer in Kenya, with around 30% of the market. Kenya Breweries is equally successful, and the fact that the majority of shareholders are Kenyan makes Tusker’s slogan—“Bia Yangu, Nchi Yangu” (“My Beer, My Country” in Swahili)—literally true. There’s even a Kenya Breweries football club, Tusker FC, which is the third most successful football club in Kenya.

Tusker’s success is not solely due to its backstory, evocative as it is of colonial adventures and exotic dangers. Tusker is also, frankly, delicious. Its bubbly crispness is especially refreshing after a long day spent rumbling through the bush seeking game, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, or perusing treasures at a Maasai crafts market. A sundowner cocktail can certainly be anything you want it to be, but there’s something about the Tusker taste, clean and sweet, that mirrors a day in the bush.

Micato Safaris was founded by Kenyans Jane and Felix Pinto as a way to share the land they love, and it’s in that spirit that we appreciate that all Tusker ingredients are locally sourced. The barley is harvested from farms near the Maasai Mara, and that the sugar is delivered from farms in the Rift Valley. Even the yeast is developed locally.

So if you haven’t been on safari with us yet, you can add Tusker to your (very) long list of reasons to go. Of course the beer’s popularity now means that you can potentially get Tusker in your hometown in the U.S. now. But safari veteran friends will all say much the same thing: Tusker tastes a hundred times sweeter when you’re standing on the soil that grew the hops, watching the beer’s namesake trundle along the horizon, and raising a glass to the experience with your safari director—“Afya”! (Cheers!)