Micato Musings


Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

Cheetah Takes the Prize as Micato Photo Contest Winner

  • February 26th 2015

Every month our past safari travellers submit scores of eye-catching, often breathtaking photos to the Micato Photo Contest.  And every month, our judges have the unenviable task of poring over these very deserving images and selecting only one monthly winner as well as a runner-up.

We’ve long posted these winners to our website — they’re simply too good for us to keep to ourselves! — and going forward we’re also going to share them more regularly with our gentle readers here at the blog.

For December 2014, Micato traveller Lori Simmons was selected as the Grand Prize winner for her stunning cheetah photograph featured below.

We got in touch with Lori and asked her to share the story behind the photograph. Here’s what she told us:

My husband, son and I were on our morning game drive in Lewa Downs, Kenya, with our Micato guide and our two guides from Lewa House.  My husband noticed that all of the impalas near us were looking in one direction, and when I followed their gaze I saw what I thought were two big cats in the distance.  He confirmed through his camera lens that there were two cheetahs in the grass, so we drove to their location to get a better look.  After a few minutes of viewing at very close range, the young male walked over to our open-air vehicle and jumped on the hood.  He remained on the vehicle approximately 15-20 minutes and at one point he looked as if he would climb over the windshield and into the interior, but he did not.  We assumed that he just wanted a better vantage point, but we were very still while he was on the vehicle.  We all shot some wonderful photos and videos and will always remember this experience.  The six of us, “Our Team” as we referred to ourselves, forged a special bond that day.”

Cheetah-Seeks-Vantage-Point

This photo of a cheetah seeking a high vantage point earned Micato traveller Lori Simmons the Grand Prize in the Micato Safaris Photo Contest, December 2014

It certainly sounds like a safari moment to remember!  Thank you to Lori for sharing this story with us.

The Micato photo contest is open to all Micato travellers, recent and not-so-recent. So dig out your old photos and get in touch with us at photos@micato.com to submit your entry.  To see past Grand Prize winners and Honourable Mentions, visit the Micato Photo Contest online. 

 

Getting Wrapped up in the Wonders of Jaipur

  • February 11th 2015

by Becca Hensley

Today, I’m in Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan, India’s most awe-inspiring state.  Visiting for the second time with my friend, Kevin, we are ensconced at the Oberoi Rajvilas, a lavish five-star palace meant to mimic a maharaja’s country estate. Not far from the city’s frenzy in the countryside, with its own temple, walled gardens and private villas, this stately hotel has the appeal of a haven from pandemonium. We’re waiting to be reunited with our Micato guide, Hem Singh—a resident of this ancient capital, known for centuries as “the Pink City.” Hem has promised to join us for tea to make plans for our foray into this undisputed capital of intrigue, shopping and the arts.

A dead ringer for a Bollywood cast Sean Connery, sporting a prodigious mustache, Hem is sometimes called the most famous guide in India. I’m certain, though, that his celebrity extends beyond this nation to embrace the entire world.  Nobody having seen Hem can forget him. Dapper and jaunty, Hem mirrors Jaipur, his luxuriant city. Forever bedecked with a hat, he dons jodhpurs, immaculately pressed shirts and leather shoes which curl at the toes and vaunt gold filigree—like what you’d expect a magical genie to wear. Walking through town with him is to trek with royalty. I personally have seen people bow to him, cars and elephants stop at the wave of his hand, and bartering hawkers tremble in trepidation.

Today, he surprises us by remembering our interest in turbans. “So, I thought I would teach you to wrap a turban today,” he says. That’s so Hem. He doesn’t miss a thing. We’ve been entranced by Hem’s headwear both times while travelling in India. You see, Hem doesn’t just wear handsome hats. Hang out with him long enough and you’ll likely find Hem’s debonair head capped with a silk turban. Rambling through India, we’ve seen our share of turbans, and Kevin and I had been wondering about just what they mean and how in the world you get one to stay on your head. Hem brings along a bolt of orange and gold cloth. He tells us it takes nearly 30 feet of material to create the perfect head wrap. And, I’m stunned. I wore a sari the last time I visited Jaipur with Micato, which meant I was wrapped by the Oberoi “ladies in waiting” in 18-feet of emerald green raw silk, an adventure that opened my eyes to how much cloth it takes to create this elegant national Indian outfit. But 30 feet atop your head? That’s another story entirely!

Hem Singh, Micato India

Hem Singh with 30 feet of Turban Cloth!

Hem, utterly unperturbed, enjoys our excitement and lust for knowledge. Here, in the majestic gardens of Oberoi’s Rajvilas, he proceeds to wrap a turban for Kevin. It’s a sight to behold—like watching a fairytale character spin gold from straw or make stars from dust. Within moments, Hem’s created the Rajasthani version of a crown, and Kevin’s rocking it. Instantly, he is transformed from curious American photographer to noble sire.  Though women don’t normally wear turbans in India, I can’t help myself. I want one, too. And, bless Hem Sing’s dignified heart, he wants to make me happy. So, he wraps one for me, as well. He does it right there at the Oberoi, where the coral-colored stucco walls and garden’s white columns form the perfect backdrop for our game of dress up. Peacocks croon their otherworldly song as background music. Long lengths of cloth puddle on the floor. Hem Singh’s covered with sunbeams of orange and gold as he works, twisting and rolling the fabric. At last, he finished mine. Giddy with turban joy, we do a photo shoot. We’re American tourists in turbans, and Hem Singh, laughing at our ebullience, smartly attired in blazer and cravat, leather hat at a rakish angle, poses, too.

Becca Hensley and Hem SIngh in Jaipur

The Fine Art of Turban-Wearing in Jaipur

As it happens, it takes some training to wear a turban. After an hour or so, we feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world, so we leave our turbans behind and head to the city centre to sightsee. “How DO you do it?” I ask Hem Singh, as I rub away the slight headache left from the weight of the thing. He smiles, demurely. “Its an art,” he says, shrugging, giving me his arm so he can escort me through traffic as thick and unyielding as molasses. We’re off to explore the Spice Market in the centre or Jaipur. Here, an exotic perfume greets us amid the grit of the immense city. There, carts, stands, buckets, wagons and store windows hold golden curries, black, smoky cardamom, pungent coriander, shelled pistachios and salts. Men in white gowns (and snow-colored turbans) make tea using outdoor burners, their silver ladles dipping into the masala-spiced liquid. We taste betel leaves wrapped around spices—aniseed, cloves, rose petals. And, we devour sweets, such as mawa kachori and deep fried, honey-flanked ghewar.

That night, we’re in for another surprise. The day before Hem has asked us to choose some colours and textures from a room full of cloth. A tailor measures us. When we arrive back to our suites at the Oberoi, we find that someone has filled our bathtubs with bubbles and rose petals, and left us each a parcel. Inside, I find a beautiful sari, and Kevin discovers a long, Hem Singh-worthy tunic and a matching turban—each made from the cloth we had chosen the day before. With today’s parcel, we also receive a written invitation from Micato to join Hem Singh and a host of locals—including the Maharaja of Jaipur and other luminaires– at the City Palace for dinner. This is something unique which only Micato can offer—and it is worth every string they pulled to make it happen. We arrive though arches and colonnades to be doused in flower petals, to see life-size marionettes dancing, adorned elephants standing at attention, camels swaying to flutes and other instruments in play, and a legion of dancers twirling. In the Maharaja’s royal dining room, we dine like members of the court on platters of rich Rajasthani cuisine.

And, all through the fete, there’s princely Hem Singh. His turban, as orange as the full moon that illuminates the sky, shines bright, a symbol for the glamour of Jaipur itself.

To discover the secrets of Jaipur with Micato India, contact our India Specialists at India@Micato.com.

Helpful Tips for Overcoming Jetlag

  • February 5th 2015

By Leslie Woit

Apparently, you know you’re getting old when you consider the quality of your sleep a valid topic of conversation. Thankfully that doesn’t apply to international travellers like us.

Trans-meridian travel is tiring and jet lag can affect anyone. We ask Dr Rozina Ali, microvascular plastic surgeon and presenter of the BBC science program “Horizon, The Truth about Looking Young” for a hard science approach to battling jetlag.

What is jet lag?

international-time-zone-clocks

Crossing time zones can make you feel ‘zoned out’.

It’s a temporary sleep disorder caused when your circadian rhythms — the body’s internal clock – are out of whack. Your eyes may see Zanzibar, but your body says “zzzz”.

What can we do on the journey to encourage sleep?

The first thing to do on a night flight is to put yourself in a place where sleep is a possibility. Wear comfortable clothes, pack your bed socks, try to relax yourself, avoid adrenalines, caffeine and drink plenty of water: Dehydration can make jet lag symptoms worse. Get yourself in dark, quiet conditions by wearing an eye mask and blocking up your ears. We have a hormone in us that responds to darkness: the melatonin in you is saying ‘It’s dark, go to sleep now’. After, in order to wake up and stay awake longer, we can use sunlight as a powerful tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

How does light therapy work?

Your body clock is influenced by exposure to sunlight. When you travel across time zones, your body has to adjust to a new daylight schedule. A good walk in the sunshine can ease that transition.

How about coffee and a cold shower?

We often don’t have the luxury on a holiday of adjusting gradually, an hour per day. So you have to give yourself a new sleep cycle straight away, or risk missing out on precious moments of our hard-earned vacation. That means staying up as long as you can the day of arrival. A little caffeine and some stimulants can keep you awake longer.

Is there a more natural approach than sleeping pills?

Melatonin is a hormone that controls the day-night cycle. As a supplement, it can be a sleep aid taken in the evening together with light therapy in the morning — a standard treatment for sleep disorders. When used several hours before sleep, small amounts of melatonin shift the circadian rhythm, helping you get to sleep quicker. It is a hormone and not available in some countries and there have only been a few long-term clinical trials. Melatonin is used, but it doesn’t mean it works. As a placebo, if you expect it to work, it may work for you.

What if I can’t access melatonin?

You may choose to supplement your body’s melatonin by taking 5HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid. It is required in the biosynthesis of two really important neurotransmitters: serotonin and melatonin. So in fact it’s even better than just taking melatonin because it may make you happy too!

What makes you happy?

The weathered sandstone of Petra, the Sydney Opera House, the boutiques of Paris… sundowners during an African sunset, the low golden light in Zanzibar, the friendly bustling markets of Dar e Salaam, the red sands of Mali and being utterly lost… and found in Timbuktu. These are moments worth staying awake for!

Sunset-in-Africa.

Sunsets in Africa are worth staying up for!

 

How do you overcome jet lag? Please share your travel tips in the comments space below.

 

Micato’s India and the Magic of Hem Singh

  • January 23rd 2015

They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. And while that old adage shouldn’t dissuade us from learning as much as we can, it’s true that it can be helpful to have the right friends on your side.

At Micato, we’ve seen even the savviest of travellers breathe a sigh of relief when they hear of our offices in-country that exist to act as that friend away from home. And whether you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation, emergency prescription refill, or virtually anything else, Micato ensures that a friend with trustworthy advice is only a phone call away.

But sometimes, it helps to have friends who are capable of solving the unsolvable, be it by magic or pure talent. Such is the case with Micato traveller Becca Hensley, who recently wrote the following story of her travels through northern India with Micato and our indispensable team on the ground there including our extraordinary Indian Tour Directors.

“When my camera breaks just an hour before my friend and I reach Agra in central India, I slip into despair. It’s bad enough that I’ve missed the chance to photograph my first snake charmer and his undulating cobra, lost the opportunity to record a painted elephant walking down the road amid cars overstuffed with people and camel carts, and been robbed of the shot of a group of women, colorfully clad in saris, balancing towers of cow pies on their heads. But now, just minutes away from my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, I must face the fact that I’ll be documenting that “wow factor” moment only with my eyes.

It’s then that I decide to share my gloom with our private guide, Mr. Hem Singh. “Give it to me,” he says. “I know someone who can fix this.” In a jiffy, Singh makes a call in lilting Hindi. As we bump through the glutted city traffic, I spy unattended little children in school uniforms boldly crossing the busy streets, and marvel over a man riding a bike loaded precariously with a tilting mountain of poppadums, or Indian flatbreads. Suddenly, as we idle at a red light, a motorcycle with two riders pulls up beside our van. Without saying a word, Singh hands my camera to one of them – just as my jaw drops and the motorcycle whizzes off in a whirl of traffic .

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Taj Mahal

Five minutes later, checked into the fanciful, Mughal-inspired Oberoi Amarvilas, my camera has become a distant memory. The vision of the Taj Mahal from the hotel’s balcony, lit violet by a golden ray of sun, obliterates all other thought. Nearly close enough to touch, the Taj floats in the air like a mirage. As my friend frantically clicks his camera beside me, Singh approaches and asks: “Do you want to use mine?” Without taking my eye from the view, I reach for what he presents and, upon focusing, realize it’s my camera – not his, but mine – that he puts in my hands. “What?” I mutter, ecstatic, but utterly confused as Singh laughs heartily at my amazement, then shrugs as if he’s used to waving his wand and conjuring such magic.

And so begins our journey of contrasts and enchantment,  led by the miracle worker, Hem Singh – a guide so famous he’s reputed to be the most photographed man in India. Fortunately, for the next 12 days, Singh is ours alone as we travel from Agra to Udaipur to Mumbai, all the while admiring his singular ability to follow one magic trick with the next.”

To experience the true magic of India, and that of Hem Singh, contact our Micato India Specialists today.  And while we can’t guarantee that your camera won’t break, we can guarantee that Mr. Singh has many other tricks up his sleeve that will provide you with an incomparable glimpse into the heart of India.

Becca Hensley’s article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Virtuoso Traveler and this excerpt is reprinted here with their permission. For the full article, please visit the Media section at Micato.com. To request more information on Micato’s India, email us at India@Micato.com.

Happy Holidays from Micato Safaris

  • December 24th 2014

Happy Holidays from Micato Safaris

Liquid Rituals on Safari in Kenya

  • December 11th 2014

by Leslie Woit

Waking to see the sun rise, pausing to watch it drop — ritual is at the heart of our ability to cherish great things in small moments. One place does this better than the rest. We raise our cups to Africa.

Nearly a week into the timeless rhythm of our Kenyan safari, fair to say we were getting a little Pavlovian about the day’s end.

Elegant ellies, stubborn rhino. Loping giraffe and a dazzle of zebra… as another afternoon’s extraordinary bush sightings drew to its end, our driver would begin to strategically loop back towards camp. Then with one more perfect day under our belts, like magic, as the light would wane so our thirsts would rise.

sundowner cocktails on safari in Africa

Sundowners on Safari

Parking the Landrover in pole position – one day near a cool river’s edge, next at the crest of acacia-speckled plain — out come the trestle table, the canvas chairs, perhaps even an impromptu camp fire to really get stuck in. Just as the red ball slowly begins its magic act, we’d clink glass to glass and toast the incredible good fortune that delivered us here.

One day our trusty Micato guide, that wily magician, surprised us when he jammed firmly on the brake. Voila, the ultimate dusky spectacle: we are nearly nose to nose with four lionesses languidly stirring from an afternoon’s snooze. For this spellbinding performance, we sit quiet as mice in Landrover Theatre – while he dips silently into a well-stocked cooler box, swiftly pressing filled glasses into our hands. “To lions. To life.” Sundowner dynamite.

What’ll you have? Traditional sorts plump for a classic G+T, whose tonic water has been a stalwart safari tipple since colonial times. (The quinine is meant to harbour mosquito-repelling qualities; the gin’s to make the medicine go down.)

For some, nothing cuts through the heat of safari day like an icy beer. Africa’s favourite beers even come with evocative names: Lion Lager, Black Label, Serengeti…. In Kenya, Tusker Lager is named for brewery co-founder George Hurst, fatally gored by an elephant in 1923. Cheeky or what.

Locals ask for Dawa. Swahili for “magic potion”, it’s a classic Kenyan cocktail of muddled lime, honey and brown sugar that meets ice and vodka. And soft drinks here are no pushover either: the up-the-nose pleasure sensation that accompanies the first swig of Stoney Tangawizi is a doozie. “Mainlining liquid ginger,” says one devotee.

morning coffee in Kenya

The Arrival of the Coffee in Meru National Park.

Dawn, and time for more elixir. An early yet gentle tap at our tent signals The Arrival of The Coffee. The scent of rich Kenyan brew instantly wafts through the veil that envelops our four-poster bed. They’ve been growing in Kenya since 1893; that famous coffee-grower, Karen Blixen, got her plantation up and running in 1914. And there’s tea too, of course: Kenya cultivates about 50 varieties of tea and over 90 per cent is hand-picked – only the finest top two leaves and the bud. Whatever you favour, its ritual delivery to your bed (or balcony, if you’re less of a morning refusenik than me) accompanies not merely the rising of the sun but the escalating cacophony of birds and beasts that is Africa’s wake up call.

Let’s drink to that.

The Micato Happy Video

  • October 30th 2014

Happy dancing on safari with Micato!

{It’s even better in full-screen mode! Click the white box in lower right corner of screen.}

Finding the Big Five: Africa’s Most Sought-After Animals

  • May 9th 2014

Stalking one creature for hours, days, even weeks, was not uncommon in the hunting safaris of yesteryear. Hemingway spends the entirety of The Green Hills of Africa searching for kudu, a breed of antelope with horns so curly that they look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Beryl Markham chronicled the unpleasant conditions that surrounded elephant hunting in West with the Night, from being cornered by a frightened bull to losing her compatriots deep in the bush. Today, with the changing of the times signaling a growing awareness of the merits of conservation, safaris are no longer synonymous with hunting. And of course, the only shooting that has ever happened on a safari with Micato is with a camera. But a safari still requires cunning, a predatory instinct for where to find the creatures you hope to see, and The Big Five—the lion, leopard, cape buffalo, elephant, and black rhino—remain the most sought-after animals: the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Elusive, fast and dangerous, each animal has, in its own right, earned its place on the list of the most coveted safari sightings.

1. The Lion: Royal for a Reason (more…)

Our Favourite Sundowners: A Slide Show

  • July 26th 2012

The Swahili word for sunset is magharibi. In Afrikaans, the sun dips behind the hills and the plains turn fiery red and gold at sonsondergang. And in Zulu, the magical time when we have our end of day drinks is known as ukumuka kwelanga.

At Micato , the word for an unbelievable sunset enjoyed with a cocktail in hand is sundowner. No matter what language you use to describe the moment, affection for the experience appears to be universal. It’s usually our guests’ favourite time of day. Ours, too.

There is an undeniable power and romance in a sunset, wherever you are—it’s a daily piece of artwork, given to us free of charge. In Africa’s untamed wilderness, the impact of a melting, coppery sunset is a hundredfold. Sit on a hilltop above the world, look out at the animals interacting as they have for hundreds of years, feel the warmth of a crackling fire and a glass of whiskey or wine: you’re living a quintessential sundowner.

Loving sundowners as we do, we of course have our favourite spots to indulge in them. Our past travellers will recognize some of the sundowner locations featured in the slideshow above, and maybe relive a moment from their own safari. Our future travellers will see places they simply must visit. Whether arousing passions or relaxing minds, an African sundowner is an experience of a lifetime.

The Elusive Leopard Tells All

  • June 28th 2012

Elusive. That’s me. Solitary, secretive, nocturnal… notorious for my stealth: the life of a leopard is much like that of a reluctant member of the royal family. So why am I writing a blog post for Micato Safaris? Well, it’s primarily because I just want to be left alone, and the rest of the Big FiveElephant, Lion, Cape Buffalo and Rhino—would not stop bugging me until I wrote about myself and completed the collection. So to get a little peace and quiet, I agreed to spill my secrets.

They Also Call Me:

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Chui. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Nkwe. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Ingwe; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Jagluiperd. (Which is sort of a funny mix between jaguar and leopard, isn’t it? We’re actually closely related.) My family members make all sorts of noises when they want my attention, from roars to grunts, but we’re famous for our purrs, which sound like someone sawing.

Best Places to Find Me:

This may impress you: my family has the largest distribution of any wild cat—East, Southern and Central Africa are the places where I thrive most, even in weird habitats where other large cats have long since disappeared. You can find me in such disparate places as Mount Kenya and Kruger National Park, and everywhere in between: I love the savannah and the rainforest equally. However, we haven’t heard from any of the North African family members in a long time, and I’m sad to say that they’re probably extinct.

I even have family members in Asia, though that portion of my family is small and scattered. You can find us in India, Southeast Asia, and China. I even have cousins in Russia who live in temperate forests, which get as cold as -13◦F. They don’t mind a bit—they have the most privacy of all of us. My theory as to why leopards are everywhere? Because we need so much space. Male leopards generally have a home range between 12 and 30 square miles, and there is rarely ever any overlap. I’m a lady, thus I don’t have qualms about making my home territory on a piece of land that overlaps a male’s home—as long as he doesn’t crowd me.

How to Find Me

Despite my family’s favourable numbers we are, as I said, reclusive. And if you want to follow suit, here’s a tip: learn to climb. This ability is something I’m known for. I rest in trees, lick myself clean in trees, drag my food up into trees to eat, jump up to 10 feet to get up onto a tall branch of a tree, and can even climb down trees headfirst. The black rosettes on my fur look a lot like the shadows of leaves, and my gift is to blend right in.

If you really want to see me (and I know for some of you it’s an obsession), stay at a lodge or camp that has a leopard blind. These fine people have learned that I like to do my eating in trees, where I can get away from those pesky other animals, so they hang meat right where I can smell it. You see, there is a limit to my solitude—I suppose I’ll let you see me in exchange for a side of beef.

Most Embarrassing Facts:

Quite honestly, nothing. I’m an all-star athlete—great at hunting, climbing, swimming, and running—and there’s no denying that I’m gorgeous. My lovely silhouette has been used as an emblem for sports teams and coats of arms in Africa, and I’ve been depicted in the art of places where I used to live but haven’t visited in ages, such as Greece, Rome and even England. Some call me proud—the Cape Buffalo even calls me a snob—but really I’m not. I’m just realistic about my talents and looks. And modest.

Favourite Food:

I love the hunt. LOVE it. Thus I’ll eat anything from tiny dung beetles to 2,000 pound eland—whatever allows me to exercise one of my favourite skills: stalking my prey with complete silence, then pouncing at the very last minute. Day-to-day I eat mostly antelopes and monkeys, but I’ve been known to catch rodents, reptiles, birds, fish and even smaller predators, like jackals. I even had an uncle who caught and ate a crocodile. Seriously. Don’t mess with leopards.

Everything Else:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivorous (these brilliant teeth aren’t just flair, you know)

Average life span in the wild: Twenty years

Size: Between four and six feet long, plus the tail, which can be up to four feet long!

Weight: For myself and the rest of the ladies, we’re small: between 50 and 130 pounds. Males are bigger—they can get up to 200 pounds. All told, though, we’re the smallest of the big cats in our genus (Panthera), the other three being tigers, lions and jaguars.

Protection status: We’re classified as “near threatened” which makes me nervous…

Group name: A leap! Because we’re so darn good at jumping up trees, at our prey, and away from poachers.