Micato Musings


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

08

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

Posted by: Micato

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

“As clever as a cat” is a shop-worn saying for good reason, and lions are no exception. They wisely make their home in the savannah, where the tall tawny grasses hide them and provide excellent camouflage, making them nearly impossible to find by anyone but a seasoned safari guide. If they are spotted, however, lions stand their ground, preferring to face their supposed challenger than to run and hide, and the sight of a lion staring regally ahead into the unknown is one that travellers will cherish. Their easy confidence is part of why lions have been associated with royalty for millennia.

Favorite safaris for spotting lions: The Micato Grand Safari is an excellent trek on which to see lions, as the purported “king of the jungle” is actually the king of the savannahs, found in grassy plains all over Africa.

Fun fact: A lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away. Just ask our guests!

2. The Leopard: Quicker Than You’d Think

Leopards are just as cunning as lions, but not nearly so bold. They are nocturnal and mind-bogglingly fast (able to run at speeds up to 35 mph!). When they sense that they have been spotted they will flee, more than likely shooting up the nearest tree, as these big cats are expert climbers. They are also one of the few big cats that purr, and to hear this domestic sound in the wild is lucky indeed.

Favorite safaris for spotting leopards: Leopards range all over the East and South, and The Stanley Wing Safari is an especially great expedition for leopard-spotting (pun intended!)

Fun fact: Leopards can climb trees while carrying prey that weigh as much as they do!

3. The Cape Buffalo: The Nervous Nellie of the Bunch

Although lions and leopards are the predators of the Big Five, neither is as deadly as the cape buffalo, which is considered the most dangerous of the Big Five by far, due to its nervous and unpredictable nature. Large (up to six feet tall and 700 pounds) and equipped with sizeable horns, they are one of the only bovine species that man has been unable to domesticate. Cape buffalo graze in herds, and the sight of them spread out in the savannah, viewed from a hot-air balloon or bush plane, is truly majestic.

Favorite safaris for spotting cape buffalo: Helicopter game viewing on the Botswana’s Great Herds safari is an ideal time to spot cape buffalo. They can usually be found near water, all across East and South Africa.

Fun fact: Buffalo bulls love wallowing in mud–this is very good for the buffalo’s skin as it helps remove unwanted parasites such as ticks and mites

4. The Elephant: It Never Forgets. Or Whispers.

Elephants are also amazingly fast, for their size (up to 12,000 pounds), and the shrieking charge of a threatened elephant is not something that one will ever forget. They have reason to fear—the demand for ivory made elephants one of the most hunted animals on the planet, and foundations like The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are still struggling to ameliorate the effects of continued poaching. Fortunately, elephants are also quite smart, and when faced with something or someone that does not intend them harm they are gentle and peaceful.

Favorite safaris for spotting elephants: Elephants are everywhere! The African Splendour safari is an excellent trek for spotting elephants in many different habitats.

Fun fact: Elephants can swim – they use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.

5. The Black Rhino: The Rarest of Them All

The rarest of The Big Five is the black rhino, an animal prized by poachers for the medicinal properties of its horn, a quality that has driven this ancient animal (a 50 million-year-old species) nearly to extinction. There are only 4,000 of this shy and solitary animal left in the wild. Rhinos are large (the second-largest land animal in the world, next to elephants) but quick, nearly as fast as the leopard when charging, and because of their elusive nature they are quite a treat to capture in the viewfinder of your Nikon.

Favorite safaris for spotting rhinos: While there are not many black rhinos left in the world, their range is wide, and there is a possibility that you’ll sight one on all of our classic safaris—The Livingstone Wing Safari is great for seeing rhinos!

Fun fact: Rhino horns are made of keratin, like human fingernails and hair.

The concept of The Big Five has been around for so long that many riffs have been done on the theme. The most widespread of these variations is The Little Five, comprised of small animals found in Africa with names corresponding to The Big Five: rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver bird, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, and the ant lion.

In South Africa you might also hear tell of The Big Seven, a list that includes the traditional five plus the great white shark and the southern right whale, highlighting the incredible diversity of the region.

The legendary Big Five are indescribably magnificent to see on a Micato safari, in their native habitat, enacting age-old dramas on the endless savannahs. And so many more splendid animals await: giraffe and zebra, kudu and eland, hippos and crocs to name a few. In the great wilderness of Africa, there is majesty and beauty at every turn. We look forward one day to showing you where they all hide.

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…

Aug

25

Dr. Livingstone, We Presume

Posted by: Micato

In the 12th century, crusaders in Africa returned to Europe with beauty-glazed eyes, raving about unbelievably giant and gentle animals with curved and glimmering tusks and preposterously long noses; they partially made up for this seeming madness by bringing home novelties of sweet-scented oranges and cloves for their wives.

Nearly a thousand years later, when it seems practically impossible to “get off the grid,” there are great swathes of Africa that can still be called virgin wilderness, and much left to be learned from the ways and mores, sights and sounds of this ageless land, where wanderlust so often plants its tattered and brilliant-coloured flag.

Two of Africa’s most iconic explorers were Dr. Livingstone and H.M. Stanley. Their classically British meeting in the jungle is iconic—having been immortalized in film and song—and their individual journeys seem crafted from the stuff of fireside tales and swashbuckling children’s books. Micato has immortalized the men, too, as their adventuring serves as a blueprint of sorts for two of our most popular journeys, the The Stanley Wing Safari and The Livingstone Wing Safari.

Livingstone’s Africa

Livingstone moved to Africa as a missionary, but soon discovered that his passion lay in exploration. He quit his evangelical position and with the help of a very handy friend, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, was appointed to the dreamy-sounding position of Her Majesty’s Consul for the East Coast of Africa.

Thus began his beloved but ill-fated explorations. First he went off to open up the River Zambezi for trade, however the river was completely impassable due to churning rapids. He then attempted to navigate the Ruvuma River, but was thwarted yet again, and his crew disappeared quickly, dying or jumping ship. Alone and unsuccessful in the rough country, Livingstone nevertheless refused to throw in the towel, famously declaring “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”

And, remarkably, he did go forward, safely extracting himself from the wilderness. The wilderness, however, did not extract itself from him, and Livingstone returned to Africa soon enough. This time he was bound for Zanzibar, to seek the source of the Nile. His luck had not improved, and three months in found him down and out once again, with pneumonia and cholera. His supplies were stolen, and with little hope, friend, or food, he hitched a ride with a caravan of traders as far as Bambara, where he was caught by the wet season. In exchange for desperately needed food, Livingstone agreed to eat his meals in a roped off open enclosure for the entertainment of the natives.

He took it all in stride, and his pains and pangs contributed greatly to western science and cartography—he “discovered” Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, Lake Bangweulu and Victoria Falls, and his many geographical observations enabled large heretofore unknown regions of Africa to be mapped. For his trouble, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and was made a Fellow of the society, but his wandering heart couldn’t rest, and soon he was back in Africa and, naturally, back in trouble. He lost contact with the world for six years, and was presumed dead.

The Famous Meeting

Enter H.M. Stanley, a decidedly shiftier character. Born John Rowlands in Wales, Stanley moved to the U.S. at 18. Searching for a new life, he found a new name, adopting that of wealthy trader Henry Hope Stanley, whom he worked for, befriended and idolized.

Stanley served reluctantly in the Civil War, fighting first for the Confederate army, which he deserted, then for the Union navy, which he also deserted. Clearly not cut out for the military, Stanley took up journalism, to much greater success.

And thus Stanley embarked on a mission that quickly began to fall into shambles, mirroring Livingstone’s own disasters—Stanley’s horse was bitten by a Tsetse fly and died within days, the members of his entourage either deserted or died—but in the end he was victorious. He found Livingstone.

The moment is enshrined in our cultural consciousness as a pure representation of the famous British calm under fire. After a harrowing journey, accompanied by a skeleton crew of sickly porters, Stanley came across a sole white man in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. He approached the man and allegedly said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

This was most likely Livingstone’s first encounter with a fellow countryman in six years, and these were years in which he had battled illness and even believed himself to be on the brink of death. Upon meeting Stanley, Livingstone reportedly smiled and responded “Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.”

It’s the very picture of a polite introduction at a high society social gathering, and the dissonance of this highly civilized interaction within the highly wild surroundings captured minds and hearts: a triumph of manners over circumstances that is unequalled. The same still holds true in some of our favorite lodges and camps. Come join us in Africa and see for yourself—the grandeur of the days of Stanley and Livingstone lives on.

Aug

11

Tribe in Focus: Samburu

Posted by: Micato

In the northern reaches of Kenya, in a great swathe of the Rift Valley between Mount Kenya and Lake Turkana, lies Samburuland. As the name implies, this is home to the nomadic Samburu, one of the most fascinating tribes in Kenya, and the de facto guardians of the virgin wilderness of Samburu National Reserve and Buffalo Springs National Reserve.

Samburu warriors

The Samburu, cousins of the Maasai, have been called the “aristocrats of the nomadic tribes” (and in the New York Times, no less). Levis, Dockers and button-ups have yet to infiltrate their lives—they continue to dress as they always have, draped in lavish, brilliantly coloured fabric, the women wearing strings of beads and the men in feather plume headdresses. Their lives are carefully structured in a hierarchy that favors elders and values honor and respect above all else. Life transitions are celebrated with care and great pomp: from circumcision to weddings, births to funerals.

Age and the size of a man’s herd are the primary status and wealth indicators. Both are focal points in Samburu mythology, which traces the Samburu’s origin to the god Nkai, who lives on Venus (a planet clearly visible in Samburuland skies). Legend has it that Nkai sent the Samburu to Earth via a long rope, later using the same interstellar rope to send them a gift of cattle. The Samburu flourished, but over time the respect of the warrior class (young men) towards the elders began to wane, and their contempt did not go unnoticed. Nkai, in a rage, sent forth a massive thunderstorm that severed the rope between Venus and Earth forever.

This story reinforces the dominant roles of the elders in Samburu society,and underscores the belief that an elder has the ability to curse disrespectful warriors. Because this belief is so widespread, elders are careful about who they curse and why, and reckless young men are quick to make amends if they do something to warrant a curse – especially if the elder cursing them happens to have an eligible young lady in the family.

A group of Samburu women prepare for a traditional dance

Cattle are the literal lifeblood of the tribe, and Nkai’s “housewarming present” to the original Earth-bound Samburu. Traditionally the tribe has relied solely on herds for food, living off a diet of meat, blood and milk. This diet is still largely followed, although the popular additions of maize meal porridge and tea with milk and sugar have become staples as well.

This tribal way of life—centered on cattle and warfare, with major transitions marked by age-old rites of passage—is strong in Samburuland, and the people have yet to be lured by the purported benefits of modern life.

The Samburu’s lack of interest in an urban, westernized lifestyle has been an inspiration for Hollywood since the ‘50s, when tribal members took to the screen to act in the background of Mogambo while Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly fought over the attentions of Clark Gable. The 90’s Kevin Bacon movie The Air up There has a Samburu man (Charles Gitonga Maina)  in the starring role, and the Samburu way of life in this movie is eerily reminiscent of the ideal world of the Na’vi people in James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster, Avatar.

The Air Up There was filmed in Kenya and South Africa

In the information age the Samburu’s authentic way of living, so close to the land and tied to their immediate community, is a refreshing rarity. Travellers seeking insight into genuine African culture need look no further.

 

Aug

04

Not All Safari Vehicles Have Wheels

Posted by: Micato

If the only place you’ve been on safari is in your dreams, during your dreaming you’ve no doubt imagined yourself on a game drive in a safari vehicle. And what would your dream safari vehicle be like? Ours, we hope.

Close your eyes and conjure the image. An ultra-soft seat with a headrest. Roomy interior. Above-average suspension. All combining for a very comfortable ride across the African plains.

Now imagine something else. Not all safari vehicles have wheels, at least not in Micato’s Africa.

A favourite vehicle among our guests is a hot air balloon, particularly when it’s floating over the sweeping savannahs of the Maasai Mara. We’re happy to offer the balloon ride as an extension or as an inclusion in our Micato Grand Safari.

Two of our sweetest safari rides have hooves. Every chance we get we create opportunities for our guests to safari by horseback, such as the guided rides through the Grootbos Nature Reserve on our South African Sweeping Sojourn. And our bespoke safari guests heading for the far reaches of Kenya naturally want a more customized ride, and that often involves a camel who with coaxing will convey you across the acacia-dotted Nandanguru Plains.

All of our safari vehicles get proper care and feeding of one kind or another, but the ones we fuss over the most are our dear guests, especially those who prefer to safari on foot. Yes, we’re stretching our definition here, but if you’re hiking, that makes you the vehicle, doesn’t it? And when it comes to hiking, nothing quite matches the simple yet spectacular thrill of tracking gorillas in Rwanda.


We hope visions of these traditional and “alternative” vehicles fortify your dreams and that upon waking you’ll think of us, as we’re fairly certain we can make your dreams of safari come true.