Micato Musings


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.

Oct

07

Micato Guest Shares Family Safari Tips

Posted by: Micato

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

 

 

Sep

22

Tusker Beer—Legend, Lore & Why We Love It

Posted by: Micato

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!)

Sep

15

Micato’s Top 4 Vacation Activities to Beat the Winter Blues

Posted by: Micato

Wrapped up in boots and parkas, scarves under our noses and hats pulled down over our ears, it’s hard to believe that some of the world is lounging pool or oceanside. This is what makes winter travel so special, as vacation comes to mean something more: you’re not just vacating your home and lifestyle, you’re leaving behind a whole  season.

And though the sunny, muggy weather of late may speak otherwise, now really is the time to begin planning winter excursions to exotic locales south of the equator. Once your dream escape is planned, you can sit back, sip your hot chocolate, and enjoy the brisk fall to come, knowing that, as the days get shorter and darker and the cold really descends, you will be winging your way to the white sands of Zanzibar, the golden savannahs of Kenya, or the gentle, rolling green of South Africa’s wine country.

To help inspire your planning, here are our top four safari experiences for curing the winter blues:

4) Meander down the Garden Route

South Africa is diverse, with a wealth of ecosystems and species, some unknown anywhere else in the world. The Garden Route famously encompasses many of them within its ten nature reserves, including 300 species of birds, the indigenous Cape Fynbos Forest, bays where southern right whales come to calve, and sanctuaries for both monkeys and elephants. Beautiful coastal towns tempt along the way, the wineries and farms that ring them promising luscious meals and memorable evenings.

3) Get lost on the ancient Isle of Spices

Zanzibar… the name is a vacation in itself. From the bustling spice markets in the old bazaar to the bewitching magic of the jade-green Jozani forest, alive with rare colobus monkeys jumping from tree to tree, this truly is a destination unlike any other. Add to this tastefully luscious boutique hotels atop peaceful white beaches—snorkeling, boating and diving aplenty—and you’ll forget that winter even exists.

2) Hot-air balloon over the famed Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara has one of the largest concentrations of animals in the world, and the best way to view them inconspicuously is at dawn, floating above the savannah, with the rush of the balloon’s flame removing the need to speak as you take in the rich panorama of life spread below you. After watching the predators of the night slink off to bed and the herds take over, munching dew-fresh grasses, you’ll be greeted upon landing by an elaborate champagne breakfast in the bush.

1) Canoe through the Okavango Delta

The floodplains of the Okavango are true virgin wilderness, where the only sounds are the light splash of paddles and the call of an African Fish Eagle sighting a Tigerfish–the birds are your only fishing competition out here. An estimated 200,000 large animals call this place home at different times of year, including elephants, hippos, lions and baboons. Stay in one of the Okavango’s beautiful tented camps for a true experience of Micato’s Africa—a place where authentic experiences and true luxury meet.

Sep

02

The Lure of Southern Africa: A Different Kind of Safari

Posted by: Micato

Pristine wilderness populated by thousands of animals is the constant in both East and Southern African safaris. The regions share endless stretches of wild land, lions stalking prey, lumbering hippos, and curious giraffes. Where they diverge is in the myriad activities available in the south. The countries of Southern Africa have come into their own in the past few years, offering diversions unique to this land, a sparkling jewel at the base of the continent.

Perhaps you’d care for a trip to Cape Town, a sophisticated city that is Africa’s most sought-after destination for a reason. In just a day, you can visit two oceans and view wildlife as diverse as baboons and penguins. Stroll the old Victorian streets of Simon’s Town in the morning and after lunch paraglide off of Lion’s Head with unbelievable views of the city—the sweeping ocean in one direction, the vast wilderness in the other.

Table Mountain beckons beyond Cape Town and the sea

Whether diving with sharks and learning to surf (not, of course, in the same place!) or taking a ferry from the famed Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to the legend-soaked Robben Island, which was once used to hold political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and current South African President Jacob Zuma, all types of travellers are sure to find a thrill in Cape Town.

For those seeking more pastoral pleasures, an idyllic destination is not far away. The Cape Winelands is not only stunningly lovely but also offers some of the world’s best vintages and hostelries, from boutique hotels to intimate farmstead-style lodges. The  fertile countryside not only yields world-class wines but also scrumptious farm-to-table meals, made with vegetables and herbs hand-picked from the garden, fish from the nearby sea, and local meats. A sojourn in South Africa’s Winelands should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.

Private dinner in a wine cellar

And while you’re making said list, don’t forget to add one of the Seven Wonders of the World: Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon of waterfalls. Hang-glide over the roaring falls and discover the true meaning of the word “awesome” or swim safely to the very edge in the famous Devil’s Pool. Because of the constant mists, this area is particularly cool and green, which makes it an excellent spot for golfing, tennis, and long walks in the rainforest, exploring this misty land of hippos and elephants, vervet monkeys and fish eagles.

The grandeur of Victoria Falls

Southern Africa’s active diversion are countless: fishing from helicopters, flight-seeing from bush planes, climbing Namibia’s gigantic sand dunes, exploring the Kalahari Desert by camel and quad bike, or gliding through Botswana’s Okavango Delta in a dugout canoe.

For a vicarious taste of travel in this unplumbed land, you can follow Micato’s own Pinto family as they explore the hidden corners of Southern Africa in distinctive Micato style (i.e. in absolute luxury). Perhaps it will inspire you to make your own trip south of the equator and into adventure beyond your wildest dreams…