Micato Musings


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…

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.

Jul

28

Micato’s Africa, Through the Eyes of Three Journalists

Posted by: Micato

In the flurry of activity that surrounded our eighth Travel+Leisure “World’s Best” win, we were remiss in sharing some truly great recent articles on the Micato Safaris experience. Here are a select few that highlighted for us some of the rare and precious glories of safari:

  • Great, great, great, great migrations. The pure pleasures of an African safari are legion, but Sarah Gold focused in on one in particular in her article on the World’s Great Animal Migrations for Travel+Leisure – the magnificent wildlife. The Wildebeest and Zebra Migration that she highlights is one of the most spectacular sights on the planet:, whether you’re witnessing thundering herds galloping across the plains or hundreds of creatures pausing for a morning snack on the savannah. Being there for this timeless journey from August through September makes visiting Kenya and Tanzania an automatic line on anyone’s bucket list.

 

  • Love on an exotic holiday. Luxury and the romance it yields is the focus of Rick Shively’s piece on Africa as a honeymoon destination for Recommend. The timeless romance of Africa has been well documented, from “The African Queen” to “Out of Africa,” but even without cinematic proof few would argue the point after waking beneath an ethereal canopy to coffee delivered on fine china and a view of the sun rising over Ngorongoro Crater, or from behind Mt. Kilimanjaro.

 

  • Friends in a foreign land. When Becca Hensley went on a Micato bespoke safari for San Antonio Magazine she found what she expected – wildlife in abundance and unbridled luxury. But she was surprised and thrilled to discover that it was the people of Africa that made her trip glow, especially her ever-present guides, who became friends. More than just unparalleled game spotters, her guides were also founts of information on topics ranging from photography to poaching, stars to social systems, and their conversation was as refreshing as the cocktails they mixed. In Hensley’s own words:

“They are everyman’s gateway to transformative African adventure. In short, they give us the gift of the bush. And that’s something worth squealing about.”

 

And there you have a trifecta of safari delight, brought to you by three lovely writers. Thank you Gold, Shively and Hensley for bringing the joys of safari to life with your words – we look forward to seeing your readers out in the bush for the real thing!

Jul

21

Meander to Mombasa When Next in Kenya

Posted by: Micato

Offshore in Mombasa, Kenya. Flickr/Mckaysavage

One of the better-kept secrets in our beloved Kenya is the coastal city of Mombasa, roughly 300 miles southeast of Nairobi. Make the journey and you’ll be rewarded with white sand beaches as only the Indian Ocean can deliver them. And if you’re an architecture fan, we’re certain you won’t tire of taking in the Arabic and Portuguese influences that pervade the buildings here.

One of Mombasa’s most beautiful buildings is Fort Jesus,which was recently declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The military fort was built in the 1590s to protect the city, and its design reflects “the Renaissance ideal that perfect proportions and geometric harmony are to be found in the human body,” according to UNESCO. If you visit you’ll also note that the moat is still intact, which is not something you see every day.

Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Flickr/snowflakegirl

Beyond the picturesque beaches and honoured buildings, Mombasa is a friendly, fun city that sometimes flies under the radar of our travellers, who tend to add a Zanzibar side trip to their safaris when they’re in need of an Indian Ocean getaway. We love Zanzibar, too, of course, and perhaps if Mombasa had had a Billy Joel song named after it, it would be just as popular. That said, if you want to head off the beaten path to a coastal gem, we would be delighted to add Mombasa as an extension to your safari.

Jul

14

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

Posted by: Micato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy these photos of the Pinto family through the years:

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

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

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

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

 

Jul

07

Eat Well: South Africa’s Farm to Table Movement

Posted by: Micato

“I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.” – Michael Pollan

Green tomato and garden peas; red pepper and rocket. You walk down the rows and inhale their fresh, spicy scent. Turn a corner and you’re in the herbs, nearly bowled over by the heady scent of basil. The sun is high, setting the craggy range of the Helshoogte Pass into sharp relief, and your stomach rumbles in response: lunchtime. You amble back to the Delaire-Graff Estate dining room – you’re about to eat vegetables picked from the garden you just strolled through, meats from the farms in the valley below, and seafood from the Cape, only a few miles away. It’s like living on a farm, without the early morning chores, dirty Wellingtons, and uncooperative tractors.

Lunch at Le Quartier Francais

This sums up the great appeal and joy of the farm-to-table movement, introduced to the U.S. by foodie celebrities like Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and Michelle Obama. South African farms and wineries are on a parallel track, as Douglas Rogers reports in this mouth-watering piece for Travel+Leisure. He highlights Delaire-Graff Estate, among others, to show how far this movement has come in South Africa, and how grounded it is in the land and the people who work it.

Afrikaaner culture is very focused on the land, Rogers notes, and people in the Cape have been farming and enjoying the fruits of their labour for many years – especially world-famous South African wine. Vineyards, fortunately, happen to not only produce one of mankind’s favorite beverages, they are also quite lovely to look at, and this has been a boon to the quietly burgeoning South African farm-to-table movement. Vast swathes of land in the Cape Winelands have become luxurious getaways, with spas, pools, and screening rooms complemented by lush kitchen gardens, rolling vineyards and the unspeakably good food and wine the two produce.

South Africa's Cape Winelands

The setting is an ideal one for high-end travellers, eager to soak in the culture of the land but also requiring relaxation and comfort. At places like Le Quartier Francais and La Residence – both in Franschhoek and available for booking on a Micato bespoke safari – luxury reaches its zenith, but old Afrikaans traditions like smooth floors made of peach-pips and Cape Dutch-style architecture live on. Traditions here are not compromised by outside visitors; rather they are enriched by the pride of the local farmers, chefs and vintners. Farm-to-table brings local traditions straight to your plate. There is no better way to see South Africa.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard