Micato Musings


Mar

08

Learn our Founder’s Favourite Sport

Posted by: Micato

If you’ve been with us in East Africa then you can probably attest to Micato founder Felix Pinto’s unbridled passion for cricket. His wife and company co-founder Jane declares that when he’s not at the Micato office in Nairobi, Felix is “practically glued to the games!”

And it’s no wonder—as a former batsman and fielder, Felix was playing a cricket match in Kisimu, Kenya when he first met Jane. That was in the 1950’s, right before the country declared independence, and their initial meeting was followed in succession by a wedding, a family, a successful farm and the founding of a tour company. So in some ways, cricket is responsible for the existence of the eight-time #1 world’s best tour operator: Micato Safaris.

South Africa's 1888 cricket team—don't they look serious!

Cricket began as a popular game among the former British colonies—hence its popularity in South Africa, Kenya and India—and has spread across the world. From Japan to Chile, Israel to Bulgaria and everywhere in between, cricket commands attention. The sport has somehow skipped over the United States, though you can sometimes catch a pick-up game played by expatriates in as unlikely places as Missouri or New Jersey. It’s a difficult game to understand, but that makes it all the more intriguing as the novice learns the depths of the sport.

And should you wish to learn cricket, South Africa is the place. Why?

South Africa's 2011 cricket team—quite the difference!

Cricket South Africa is one of the hottest teams to watch in the ICC (the NFL of cricket)—they were even chosen to host the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007. With family friends and a Micato office in South Africa, Felix has a convenient excuse to pop down and watch the games whenever he can get away, and he’s in good company with our South African guides, avid fans who delight in sharing the sport with pros or novitiates alike.

Our favourite places to watch a game? Sahara Park Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town is reckoned by many to be the most picturesque cricket venue in the world—the ground is ringed by mountains, their craggy shoulders swathed in clouds, and lovely old-world chalets and blossoming green trees that grace the surrounding lowlands.

It's sometimes hard to tell who's more impassioned—the players or the fans!

But then there’s also Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg—it has an electric atmosphere that comes from a storied history: the first match played here was against England in 1956, and the air has been charged ever since with the energy of the devoted fans.

Whatever venue you choose to begin your cricket education, the company of a Micato guide makes the experience all the better—they’re your local friends in this far-away country, taking you out for a day of cheering and laughter, followed by a few pints of South African Breweries much-lauded Carling Black Label or Castle Lager in the local pub. By the end of the day you may even find yourself to be a budding cricket fanatic—which would please our founder Felix to no end!

Mar

01

Why Africa Packs Appeal for Writers

Posted by: Micato

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…

Feb

23

Educational Exploration with Micato

Posted by: Micato

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.

Feb

10

Destination Wedding in the Wild

Posted by: Micato

Two long rows of Maasai warriors lock their walking staffs overhead, creating a pathway through which you walk with your betrothed, hand in hand, entering a new life together amid the chanting song of the warriors and the Maasai women surrounding them and throwing flower petals.

Or you exchange vows barefoot on a sugar-white beach beneath the great blue dome of the sky. A full-sailed wooden dhow is anchored off-shore in the gin-clear sea, waiting to take you away on a honeymoon adventure like no other—after your island reception, of course.

Perhaps instead your wedding day is old-fashioned safari chic—the groom in tweed and linen, the bride in crisp white muslin, tying the knot in a colonial club where Hemingway and Roosevelt once hung their hats. High tea is served to the bridesmaids as they prepare, and your wedding party is transported from place to place in vintage automobiles.

And these are just a few of the many options for a destination wedding in the romantic wilds of Africa—the birthplace of humanity and the inspiration for romances from Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa to Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart’s love in The African Queen. Hold your ceremony in the shadow of majestic Mount Kenya; take your wedding party to an exclusive location via old-fashioned railways; or pledge your love in a hot air balloon whilst floating over the Maasai Mara. The possibilities are as varied as they are exhilarating.

A wedding is the one chance that a bride and groom have to celebrate the beginning of their new life together with their friends and family. An exotic destination wedding is a holiday away from the ordinary—a venture into the realm of the extraordinary as a celebration of your love.

Each wedding is as unique as the couple, and our safari specialists are experts at creating the ceremony of your dreams, giving every last detail the attention it deserves—after all, we were drawn to our profession by the undeniable romance of safari life.

Create your own fairy tale—anything you desire—and it will be our pleasure to make it happen.

Feb

02

Louis Vuitton Knows Africa Is Not A Trip…It’s An Experience

Posted by: Micato

“A journey is not a trip. It’s not a vacation… It’s a process of self-discovery.”

So says Louis Vuitton in the company’s compelling video about the value of journeys, which struck a particularly lovely chord for us here at Micato when combined with their Africa -inspired 2012 spring/summer collection.

A journey is a true, authentic type of travel, bringing the traveller right to the heart of a place. We couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to travelling to our beloved Africa: a safari is not just a trip… it’s an experience.

“Every journey begins in Africa,” reads one of the Vuitton ads—an ad that supports Bono and wife Ali Hewson’s fair-trade clothing company, Edun. And strictly speaking it’s true—Africa is the cradle of mankind, the ground where human life began. This alone, Micato has always maintained, is a beguiling reason to visit the continent.

But “every journey begins in Africa” is true in another sense as well. From Kenya to Namibia, Rwanda to Botswana, this land has tempted explorers and adventurers for hundreds of years. Crusaders in the 12th century returned home with fantastic tales of beasts with impossibly long noses, larger than any creature they’d ever seen (elephants, of course.) In the 19th century, the immense unknown spaces tempted restless wanderers searching for the Last Frontier.

Dree Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway's great-granddaughter)

The true magic of Africa is in the very land’s steadfast determination to hold on to its glories. The crusaders and their way of life are long gone, but elephants still lumber across the savannah. Colonialism, thank goodness, is a thing of the past, and the infinite, virgin wilderness remains just as massive and unspoiled as ever.

The birthplace of humanity is a land of vast spaces, fierce wildlife, and wizened tribal elders with eyes that gaze into forever. It is undulating hills speckled with acacia trees, lions whose roaring shakes the windows, sunsets that turn the whole country red and gold. It is Maasai warriors dancing in flickering bonfire light, their shadows long on the ground.

Journeys have always begun in Africa, and they always will. So important is a journey of self-discovery to Louis Vuitton that the concept is one of the company’s core values. It’s safe to say that it’s one of ours, too. The mysteries of Africa run so deep that they remain largely unplumbed… and the only way to discover them is to experience this powerful continent for yourself.

Jan

26

The Hottest Travel Tip of 2012 – No Tips at All!

Posted by: Micato

Picture it.

You’re lying on a chaise lounge on your tent’s private veranda, without a care in the world. Spread before you is the Maasai Mara, a green landscape that undulates into infinity. A herd of giraffe nibble on acacia trees in the middle distance. Elephants are silhouetted against the sinking sun. Hippos chortle and bubble in the waters of the Mara River below.

A waiter comes to bring a bucket of champagne. You thank him with a smile. And you didn’t have to move from your chaise lounge to find your wallet…

Earlier that day you said goodbye to your driver guide in another game park—that “thank you” was said with a hug and an exchange of emails. You’ve promised to send him the video you took of him dancing and singing a song in Swahili.

You sip from your chilled glass, sigh and stretch to the last rays of sun warming your face. You haven’t had this few worries since childhood.

And your wallet? That’s been tucked away in a series of room safes since you arrived in Africa—you haven’t had to use it once.

Sounds too good to be true? It is… unless you’re on safari with Micato. This year, in a practically unprecedented move, absolutely every tip is covered on your safari.

Yes, we’re covering ALL tips, even those to your Micato safari directors, drivers, and guides—something virtually no other tour company in the world does. Also included are gratuities to the Micato concierges as well as the staff you’ll meet at every lodge, camp, and hotel during your safari. 

So imagine it. Throughout your safari, every “thank you” will be said not with cash, but with a handshake or a hug. In other words, friendship—the best thanks of all and with Micato, the only thanks necessary.

Jan

19

Staff on Safari: Seeing Mt. Kenya on Horseback

Posted by: Micato

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

Jan

11

Micato’s Africa… by Helicopter!

Posted by: Micato

Your helicopter grazes the leaves of a montane forest, thick with the hoots of monkeys and caws of birds. Remote deserts undulate off into infinity. Jewels of lakes teem with green crocodiles, or shine pink with flamingos.

Yes, we said your helicopter. Because while a Micato safari provides a lifetime of exhilaration, a Micato safari by helicopter literally takes exhilaration to a different level, making what once may have seemed inaccessible perfectly accessible.

The Pinto Family, left to right: Joy, Sasha, Tristan, and Dennis, and their pilot

The fact is, Micato has been arranging helicopter excursions for years, but recently we’ve seen an increased demand from our guests for this exceptional experience.

Imagine. In a helicopter, Africa’s majestic landscape is entirely yours. As you soar through the sky—flying low with doors open—you may see all manner of wildlife, from galloping herds to predators on the prowl. And the scenery is breathtaking. Your pilot cuts deftly between two towering kopjes, and you marvel at the landscape seen from this new and unimaginable angle.

Victoria Falls, seen from a helicopter

What makes your helicopter ride not just joyous, but convenient, is your ability to stop on a dime. From the rim of a crater to the top of a mountain, and everywhere in between. You might wish to visit a far-flung village, have sundowners on the steepes of a snowy mountain, or picnic near a gin-clear and isolated rock pool.

Having a personal chef cook your catch would likely provide enough fodder for a story to tell, but what if you caught that fish directly from your helicopter? And why not? Your wish is our command — that’s the beauty not only of an exclusive helicopter excursion, but of everything we do here. With Micato, by helicopter, the sky truly is the limit.

Jan

05

What’s on Your 2012 Bucket List?

Posted by: Micato

The newest edition of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die was released before the holidays, and we were delighted to find Micato Safaris listed as the tour operator of choice in one of our favourite game-viewing locations, the Maasai Mara.

This is the first update to the original 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which was released in 2003—coincidentally, also the year Micato won the first of its eight Travel + Leisure #1 World’s Best Awards. Travel writer Patricia Schultz and her team of researchers compiled the first edition as a geographically organized list of the best cultural, natural, historical and thrill-inducing sights and experiences in the world. It was an instant hit and a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It’s no wonder: the title alone is a magnet to those with even a drop of wanderlust in their blood.

Presciently, the first edition of 1,000 Places also came out a full four years before the movie The Bucket List hit theaters and made the term an instant shorthand for a personal list of things each of us might wish to see or do before we kick the bucket.

The new edition has been updated with recently-introduced experiences, heretofore closed areas of the world, and hidden wonders. Certain existing sections have been refined. The up-to-the-minute best hostelries are featured. And Micato is honoured to have been included on the world’s most widely-shared bucket list.

Indeed, we’re noticing that travel writers everywhere are compiling their top bucket list-worthy destinations for the new year. And we couldn’t have been more pleased to discover that we’d been included on another as well—Forbes.com journalist Larry Olmsted included Micato Safaris in his round-up of the top ten bucket list trips for 2012.

In fact, he was kind enough to write: “I would only travel to Africa with Micato Safaris…! I would not go with anyone else…”

Needless to say, while we’re happy to be on every traveller’s bucket list, we want to move the possibility of safari from your “wish list” to your “to do” list for 2012. Take a look at our safaris and give us a call—we’re experts at bucket list wish fulfillment.

Dec

22

Safari Holiday Gift Guide

Posted by: Micato

The Micato offices are buzzing with holiday cheer. From New York to Cape Town, Nairobi to New Delhi, everyone is talking about the best gifts for their loved ones and each other, and the highest item on the list is always safari gear.

We don’t mind admitting it: we’re a bit obsessed with safari life. Khaki clothes, Bushnell binoculars, lightning-fast cameras and Africa-themed books are usually the things that we end up exchanging during the holiday season. Red Maasai shukas (cloth wraps) also go over well –the color is festive as could be.

Fortunately we have the Micato Safari Store, which stocks everything from multi-pocketed photographer’s vests to head-lamps to Teva sandals. But there are other presents we love to give too, including handy convertible pants and cozy fleece vests, camera filters and lenses for the shutterbugs in the family, travel games, maps and even safari-handy apps for technophiles.

Our gifting lists have grown by leaps and bounds. We had just hunkered down to organize our lists and share them with you. Then we heard the news: BBC Travel had beaten us to the punch, crafting a superb gift list with a piece de resistance of a hot-air balloon safari with Micato.

As BBC says: Best. Gift. Ever. Well, it’s hard to argue with that.