Micato Musings


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.

Dec

08

Kenya Creates a New National Park: Setting Aside Even More Land for Wildlife

Posted by: Micato

Christmas has come early for Kenya’s wildlife. This year, the towering giraffes, lumbering elephants, leaping gazelles and sauntering big cats have been given the greatest gift that Kenya’s government could give them—its protection.

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki affirmed the country’s commitment to conservation this past November, when he designated a 17,100 acre piece of land as Laikipia National Park. Top priority for this park? Opening relevant corridors to wildlife migration—a key piece of the conservation puzzle for grazing animals like wildebeest and Cape buffalo, as well as the predators that stalk them as they migrate.

This new park is a sparkling addition to Kenya’s already quite brilliant crown of national parks, from Amboseli and the Maasai Mara in the south to Mt Kenya and Samburu in the north. These parks are known for their magnificent and abundant game. Of course, wildlife has no borders—animals can be found roaming freely throughout Kenya. The downside of this is that sometimes migrating herds find themselves on the highways and byways of the populated portions of the country or worse: in the crosshairs of a poacher.

The need for proper migrating pathways is so pressing that the government even constructed an underpass just for migrating elephants, which opened almost exactly a year ago. The biggest land mammal in the world, a herd of migrating elephants presents a daunting challenge to city planners. The government hatched this conservation scheme, and the results were astounding: the elephants compliantly used the tunnel, and both villages and elephants were saved.

With the dedication of Laikipia National Park, Kenya is again asserting the country’s commitment to this one goal: that its people and wildlife coexist safely and harmoniously.

“The government is convinced and committed to wildlife conservation in the natural habitat,” asserted the President, assuring the press that Kenya has more than adequate land to protect its wildlife as well as house and feed its people.

Laikipia National Park is ideally situated between two of our favourite private reserves in Laikipia Plateau—Loisaba and Lewa Downs—and thus can act as a bridge of safe crossing for migrating animals. It’s also a stunning new destination for anyone staying at either adjacent private reserve. The land is breath-takingly beautiful, dotted with a mix of acacia and prickly-pear cactus and capped with a massive sky. The plateau is also at quite a high elevation, with views of Mt. Kenya, so the evenings in Laikipia are crisp and cool and the big sky is thick with stars. This is a magnificent place, and the government’s commitment to keeping it that way is truly admirable.

Dec

01

Movie Night With Micato: Our Five Favorite Films About Africa

Posted by: Micato

Micato’s New York offices have already experienced their first snowfall of the year, with the accompanying power outages and a weekend full of Trivial Pursuit. December marks the advent of winter for those of us in northern climes, which means a renewed need for indoor amusements.

To this end, we’ve compiled a list of our five favorite Africa films, so that even on the greyest, slushiest day you’ll be able to drift away at a moment’s notice, down the Zambezi with Katherine Hepburn or in a bush plane with Robert Redford—it’s not a bad life, in Micato’s Africa.

Out of Africa: A long-time favorite of ours, this romantic drama, based on the same-named book by Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen), defines the classic safari experience. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford fall in love over thrilling encounters with wildlife, candlelight dinners in the bush, and a breath-taking ride in a bush plane that may actually bring tears to your eyes. Warning: you will definitely be hankering to go on safari after seeing this film.

 


Snows of Kilimanjaro: Safari aficionado Ernest Hemingway wrote the short story that this film is based on. Hemingway was even around to heartily approve of the casting, being friendly with the female lead Ava Gardner. We have no complaints about the male lead being Gregory Peck either—he heats u p the screen even while playing a forlorn writer, struggling against death in the jungle.

 

African Queen: This film has it all: adventure, romance and witty banter to boot. A rough-and-tumble boat captain Humphrey Bogart reluctantly gives a ride down the Zambezi River to a prim missionary played by Katherine Hepburn. True to the time period (it’s based on a 1935 novel by C.S. Forester) they get into many a scrape involving the invading Germans. I won’t reveal the ending, except to reassure you that it’s happy.

 


The Gods Must Be Crazy: A kooky comedy of errors, this film charts the path of a glass Coca-Cola bottle dropped from a plane into the path of a South African bushman. The tribe finds that the novelty causes arguments, and so the warrior leaves with the bottle, bent on throwing it over the edge of the world to return it to the gods. On the way he comes across a bumbling scientist and his crush, a backcountry schoolteacher, as well as a band of clumsy guerillas on the run.

 

 

Mogambo: With an all-star cast of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly and a lovingly interpreted glimpse at safari life, this film is sure to warm up even the coldest winter afternoon. Kelly and Gardener both vie for Gable’s affection while journeying deep into the bush searching for gorillas to film. Throughout, you’ll see some of the best African wildlife shots taken in this time period, and the music is all performed by native tribes.

Nov

17

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

Posted by: Micato

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.

Nov

04

How to Pack Like An Old Safari Hand

Posted by: Micato

Wildlife. Captivating, prodigious, eternal wildlife. It draws you to Africa. But there’s one safari beast that may vex you more than any other.

We are, of course, talking about packing.

Let’s face it, nobody likes to pack, and packing for a safari seems particularly daunting. We understand. We’ve been there. And we here at Micato have tamed the packing beast.

We’ve experimented tirelessly with how to pack (Hint: rolling your clothes actually saves more space than folding) and we even equip all our guests with a safari bag for their smartly-rolled belongings. And of course, the Pinto family and the rest of the Micato team have extensively field-tested what to pack, resulting in the constantly evolving packing lists that we send to our guests.

Much of what we recommend in the way of clothing and supplies likely wouldn’t surprise you. But over the years we’ve learned that some items that may not seem obvious are ones we simply wouldn’t want to do without. Here are five of our top-secret essentials.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oct

20

An Easy Way to Help Kenyan Girls Live Better Lives

Posted by: Micato

868,000 Kenyan girls miss nearly a week of school each month because they can’t afford to buy sanitary pads.

Appalled at this number, Lorna Macleod, the executive director of Micato Safaris’ nonprofit arm, Micato-AmericaShare, founded a separate non-profit focused on getting sanitary products to girls who need them most. This program not only keeps at-risk girls in school, it also helps protect them from predation and sexual diseases. Thus Huru International was born.

That was in 2008, and Huru has been distributing kits containing reusable sanitary pads to girls in Kenya ever since, having put Huru Kits in the hands of over 20,000 girls. The kits are manufactured at a workshop based in the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Centre, which is staffed by members of the community.  Huru Kits are distributed throughout Kenya with the assistance of more than 30 local partners. Kits are delivered through school-based information sharing events, which engage girls in discussions and activities focused on HIV prevention. In just three short years, Huru has found partnerships with many well-respected organizations, including Johnson & Johnson, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, among others.

Most recently Huru has partnered with the o.b. Brand on a Share-it-Forward campaign with the potential to raise $25,000 for Huru. To put that number in perspective, for every $25 donated, Huru can supply one girl with all the sanitary supplies (including underwear, reusable pads, soap and even life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention information) that she’ll need for between one and two years.

It’s a simple campaign—from now through December 5th, anyone who “likes” the o.b. Brand Facebook page may share a message about Huru’s mission with all their Facebook friends at Facebook.com/obmightysmall. For every individual that shares the message, o.b. will donate $1 to Huru. If the donation goal is reached, that means that 1,000 more young girls will be given the gift of education, safety and hope.

115 million children worldwide aren’t getting an education. Most of them are girls. Isn’t it time to Share It Forward?

Oct

13

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

Posted by: Micato

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.