Micato Musings


Archive for the ‘Micato Team’ Category

India: Brought to You by Micato Safaris

  • April 6th 2012

Vibrant. Colourful. Spicy. Spontaneous. Enchanting.

These are the words we use to describe India, though there are times—standing on top of a craggy mountain in the north, paddling down a gin-clear channel in the south, or watching a saffron-tinted, ash-scented ceremony on the Ganges—when we have no words at all. Two-sided India, as much clamour as serenity, regularly leaves us speechless.

“Why is an African safari company talking about India?” you may be asking yourself. The answer is simple: because Micato Safaris also operates in India. While Africa is our home and safaris are our passion, Micato’s founders, Felix and Jane Pinto, were born in Kenya of Indian heritage, and have sojourned frequently throughout their lives to their family’s ancestral home in Goa, India.

Felix and Jane founded Micato Africa in 1966 and built the safari outfitter into a revered name in the world of travel. With son Dennis at the helm in the 1990s running Micato USA, the company grew into the leading purveyor of ultra-deluxe safaris with an impressive list of clients that included virtually 100% of the world’s most renowned luxury cruise line calling in East and Southern Africa: from Cunard to Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Holland America, and others.

The cruise lines were so thrilled with the exceptional level of serviced provided by Micato in Africa that they approached Dennis with a rare proposition: if Micato would open a tour operation in India, they would support it with their business in order to receive Micato service and standards in that area of the world.

And so Micato Safaris in India was established with legendary Indian travel industry veteran, Cecil Haidar Ali, as General Manager. Cecil’s son and daughter would eventually join Micato as well, and the Haidar Ali family, just like the Pintos in Africa, offers Micato travellers unique, insider access to their homeland.

In India, a country where connections and family ties make all the difference, this is invaluable. Luxury cruise travellers eagerly queued up for Micato’s overland India excursions, and the word spread…. Soon the Micato India team found themselves operating over-the-top, private bespoke journeys for private, individual travellers as well.

It began twenty years ago, and today Micato’s bespoke journeys in India are still the best in the business (and we don’t mind saying so!) They are jointly hand-crafted by the Haidar Alis—who know India like the backs of their hands—and the Pintos, who know the desires and needs of their travellers, many of whom have become life-long friends.

Balmy beaches. Tigers in teak jungles. Crisp pine air in the mountains. Yoga with a guru. Snake charmers in the bazaar. Bollywood razzle-dazzle. Colonial games of polo and cricket. Dinner in a palace—with a Raj. And of course, curry, chili, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and clove…

Experience India as family friends of the Pintos and Haidar Alis… only with Micato Safaris.

Staff on Safari: Seeing Mt. Kenya on Horseback

  • January 19th 2012

I prefer to walk or bicycle whenever possible—that’s partly why I’m a converted New Yorker. Fortunately, options on safari with Micato are as varied as you want them to be. While preparing for my safari it was the alternative game-viewing opportunities that I looked forward to the most, but one stuck out for me especially: horse-back riding. I hadn’t been on a horse since I was twelve, but when our group arrived at Mount Kenya Safari Club on a fresh, misty day in November, I decided to give it a try.

As it turns out, horseback riding is the best thing to do when you’re 7,000 feet above sea level in Central Kenya. My guide was a taciturn young Kikuyu man named John, and one other member of my party joined me—a more experienced rider named Steve. Steve and my horses were named, respectively, Nat King Cole and Caspar. They were both gentle and sweet, and Caspar had a fondness for meadow grass that he indulged in whenever possible. Appropriately geared up, we ambled off of the Safari Club’s extensive property and into the montane forest.

The author on "Caspar"

The air was rich and spicy with the scent of cedar trees and sweet mint bushes, grounded by the earthier smells of wet grass and horse. Herds of zebras clustered together in the clearings, incongruous in the highly English-looking meadows.

Through the trees was the faint blue silhouette of Mount Kenya, the second-highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro), and the highest in Kenya. It felt good to be sitting tall, using my body to guide Caspar, and breathing in this impossibly clean air.

John pointed silently to the right—there was a rare albino zebra, white with very light brown stripes, just standing and staring at us, munching grass. A waterbuck, big in the chest and shoulders, jumped out and ran past the unfazed zebra. They were all so accessible, being eye-level with my horse. The wildlife was just an added bonus. I was focused on Caspar, remembering how to post, and grinning uncontrollably at being out on a horse with these green mountains and mist, cedar trees and baboons.

Yes, I also rode camels, but that's another story...

I was still grinning a few hours later when we trotted back up onto the Club’s grounds, passing the hedge-maze and the pool and coming up to a stop in front of the main lodge. Sadly, I parted from Caspar and headed into the lodge, a structure seeped in the history of past guests, including Bing Crosby and Winston Churchill. I had missed high tea, but the woman waiting on me, knowing that I had wanted the experience, brought me my own pot of tea and a slice of chocolate cherry cake. It was exquisite, just like the rest of the day.

Post by Mary Mann, Micato New York staff writer

We Did it Again! Eight Wonderful Years of Being Travel+Leisure’s World’s Best

  • July 14th 2011

“Becoming number one is easier than remaining number one.” – Bill Bradley

In 2003, Micato made it to the top of Travel+Leisure’s World’s Best list for the first time. One win might have been called serendipitous; the consistency of eight wins, however, has certainly dispelled any such notion!

The trick, as noted by former U.S. senator, Olympic gold medalist and Knicks forward, Bill  Bradley, is remaining number one. After our first win, we kept our noses to the proverbial grindstone to prove that the #1 spot really belonged to Micato.

Steadfastly striving to be the best does pay off, and this year we are both proud and humbled to be Travel+Leisure’s #1 Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter again, for the eighth time. This award—a result of an extensive Travel+Leisure reader’s survey—has always meant a great deal to us because the opinions of our guests are, and always will be, the truest measure of our service.

As a family-owned and operated company, we have something very personal at stake. Indeed, Micato’s reputation is virtually interchangeable with our own. We are grateful every day to be doing what we love—sharing our treasured homeland—and we are committed to always offering the best to our guests. It’s said that “a winner never stops trying,” and we couldn’t agree more.

Thank you for voting for Micato year after year. You and your fellow travellers are what inspire us to provide the “World’s Best” tours and safaris to our guests each and every day.

Micato’s winning secret: treat guests like the family we are. As we celebrate where we are, a look back at who we are….

Enjoy these photos of the Pinto family through the years:

L to R: Anna, Felix, Jane, and Dennis at the Taj Mahal, circa 1960s

L to R: Felix, Anna, Dennis, and Jane on the cover of Travel Agent Magazine, 2002

L to R: Tristan, Joy, and Sasha breakfasting in the Serengeti, 2003

L to R: Jane, Sasha, Felix, Dennis, Joy, Anna, and Tristan picnicking in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, 2010

 

Whether holidays or houses, Micato helps build dreams

  • June 16th 2011

“You will be at ease only in your own home” – African Proverb

As a safari company we have lots of practice helping people build their vacation dreams, and with our nonprofit arm AmericaShare we’ve learned how to help children build their futures. This past week, our New York office decamped to New Jersey for a day to build… a house?

That’s right, although our expert Safari Specialists know much more about luxury lodges and helicopter excursions then they do about hammers and shovels, they have nevertheless been trekking out to Paterson, New Jersey and working with Habitat for Humanity there for the last ten years.

Yet being an expert on Africa and volunteering to build a house aren’t as mutually exclusive as one might think. Of the hundreds of families that Paterson Habitat has helped, a significant portion of them have been Kenyan – in fact, 10% of all non-designated contributions go straight to their global partnership in Kenya. The direct cost of a Habitat house in Kenya is $1,000, so you can imagine how far even 10% of funds can go – HFH Kenya has helped to put a roof over the heads of 5,000 Kenyan families in the last 27 years alone!

In our experience in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi, where AmericaShare is based, we’ve grown used to the sight of ramshackle huts constructed of corrugated tin with rusted holes, each one-room building home to a multitude of family members. We’ve been inside some of them, stepping onto the clean-swept dirt floors, and marveled at the enduring smiles on the faces of the people who live here, making the best of what they have, as little as it may be.

Habitat has given our friends in Kenya, and people like them around the world, a reason to hope for something better. We were able to witness this firsthand in Paterson, as we dug holes and lifted cement blocks alongside local Habitat house recipients, who work for “sweat equity” on their new homes. One young woman spoke shyly about how excited she was for a real home to share with her mom, and the hope it gave her to someday realize her dream of working in the fashion industry.

Her words are echoed by the Kenyan’s who have received homes from HFH Kenya, with Paterson Habitat aid. A home can make a life, as Kisii, Kenya native Ruth Kwamboka Gisemba articulates perfectly:

“Like an old rugged cloth, my life was in a mess before I owned a HFH house.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them” -Henry David Thoreau

We Always Knew We Had the World’s Greatest Guides. National Geographic Traveler Agrees.

  • May 2nd 2011

We are proud as punch, but not surprised, that our Safari Director Kennedy Omwenga was featured as one of the world’s greatest guides in the 2011 May/June issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. In the full article, called “50 Tours of a Lifetime”, NG Traveler acknowledged the complex role of the consummate guide:

“Where once they were walking encyclopedias, today’s great guides are often a little like life coaches, asking questions to help you get the most out of your trip and pushing you out of your comfort zone.”

This is a fact for modern Safari Directors even more so than for any other kind of guide. For most of our guests, a journey to Africa means going halfway around the globe. When one is travelling so far away from all that is familiar, a truly great Safari Director is doubly important.

Your Micato Safaris Guide is not only an expert on all things Africa, he is also an expert on you, and will make it a point to meet all your needs and more – he’ll advise you of the right things to do and say upon entering a Kisii village, encourage you to taste that particular unfamiliar local dish that he knows you’ll like, and stand beside you as you board a hot-air balloon (knowing that, with your fear of heights, this is the growing experience of a lifetime). He is part grizzled backcountry pro, part streetwise local, part encyclopedia, and all friend.

This is true of Kennedy, and true of all of our treasured Safari Directors. We extend our full congratulations to Kennedy and the Omwenga family, for the honor of being featured in National Geographic Traveler, which has the largest audience of any travel magazine. See you in the bush!

You can read Kennedy Omwenga’s words here.