Micato Musings


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

Jun

30

Welcome to South Africa, Mr. Bond

Posted by: Micato

Franschhoek

Franschhoek

The name’s Town. Cape Town. The South Africa capital and its environs figure prominently in the newest James Bond novel Carte Blanche and the city’s tourism bureau is evidently thrilled about the potential attention, according to the Independent Online.

We’re thrilled as well, given that Micato’s tour operations have long extended into some of the same South African locales that 007 reportedly passes through in the book.

For instance, just as Bond visits historic Robben Island — where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated – so do guests on our South African Sweeping Sojourn. Bond also spends time in Franschhoek, which he calls “the most beautiful spot on the Western Cape,” reports the Independent.

While we don’t condone many of the fictional spy’s methods, we do agree with him about Franschhoek. Micato’s Travel + Leisure World’s Best Safari takes our guests to this quaint colonial town and leaves them in the care of the Cape Winelands’ Le Quartier Francais, a retreat whose luxurious suites and top-shelf cuisine would certainly be up to 007’s standards.

Likewise, the Franschhoek Valley is a stopping point for our South African Grand Golf Safari and if Bond is going to do anything with his South Africa leisure time beyond the amorous, automotive, or culinary, we’re certain golf and fine wine would be a priority.

Micato’s in-house Bond fanatics haven’t read the novel yet, but they’re betting that if a luxury train ride is at all part of the plot, that train would have to be the Rovos Rail.

Running from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, the Rovos Rail is often billed as the most luxurious train in the world. We can imagine Sean Connery or Daniel Craig’s Bond eluding a lurking foe just long enough to tuck into a five-star meal in the train’s Victorian dining room, just as our guests do — minus having to elude a lurking foe, of course.

Jun

23

When Do You Let a Lioness Use Your Camera?

Posted by: Micato

Micato makes it possible for our guests to see Africa by helicopter, balloon or plane. Or by safari vehicle, mountain bike, elephant, camel, horse, or train. But what about from inside a lion’s mouth, you say? Well, that’s a luxury game drive we haven’t quite perfected yet.

But if you’re now curious about what a safari from the point of view of a lion’s mouth might be like, watch this three-minute video below, or here.

This bizarre but pleasurable video was brought to our attention by our friends at Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, where gifted photographer Roger de la Harpe was shooting photos for his book about African lions. We don’t want to completely spoil the video, but let’s just say a patrolling lioness chanced upon a video camera Roger set up to capture raw footage and found it rather savory.

On a more serious note, de la Harpe is doing more than assembling a jaw-dropping picture book. His Lion Project aims to raise awareness about the dwindling African lion population as well as raise funds to help with lion conservation. Likewise, Tswalu itself is largely a conservation area for the Kalahari’s species and savannahs.

Along those same lines, Micato partners with several organizations working to protect the creatures, habitats, and cultures of the places where we run luxury safaris, and we bring our guests to see these efforts whenever we can. To Roger de la Harpe, Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, as well as our partners committed to conservation, we would like to say a heartfelt “Asante Sana!”

As for the answer to that age-old riddle, when do you let a lioness use your camera? Whenever she wants, of course.

Jun

16

Whether holidays or houses, Micato helps build dreams

Posted by: Micato

“You will be at ease only in your own home” – African Proverb

As a safari company we have lots of practice helping people build their vacation dreams, and with our nonprofit arm AmericaShare we’ve learned how to help children build their futures. This past week, our New York office decamped to New Jersey for a day to build… a house?

That’s right, although our expert Safari Specialists know much more about luxury lodges and helicopter excursions then they do about hammers and shovels, they have nevertheless been trekking out to Paterson, New Jersey and working with Habitat for Humanity there for the last ten years.

Yet being an expert on Africa and volunteering to build a house aren’t as mutually exclusive as one might think. Of the hundreds of families that Paterson Habitat has helped, a significant portion of them have been Kenyan – in fact, 10% of all non-designated contributions go straight to their global partnership in Kenya. The direct cost of a Habitat house in Kenya is $1,000, so you can imagine how far even 10% of funds can go – HFH Kenya has helped to put a roof over the heads of 5,000 Kenyan families in the last 27 years alone!

In our experience in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi, where AmericaShare is based, we’ve grown used to the sight of ramshackle huts constructed of corrugated tin with rusted holes, each one-room building home to a multitude of family members. We’ve been inside some of them, stepping onto the clean-swept dirt floors, and marveled at the enduring smiles on the faces of the people who live here, making the best of what they have, as little as it may be.

Habitat has given our friends in Kenya, and people like them around the world, a reason to hope for something better. We were able to witness this firsthand in Paterson, as we dug holes and lifted cement blocks alongside local Habitat house recipients, who work for “sweat equity” on their new homes. One young woman spoke shyly about how excited she was for a real home to share with her mom, and the hope it gave her to someday realize her dream of working in the fashion industry.

Her words are echoed by the Kenyan’s who have received homes from HFH Kenya, with Paterson Habitat aid. A home can make a life, as Kisii, Kenya native Ruth Kwamboka Gisemba articulates perfectly:

“Like an old rugged cloth, my life was in a mess before I owned a HFH house.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them” -Henry David Thoreau

Jun

09

Micato’s Top Ten Africa-Inspired Beach Reads

Posted by: Micato

“Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.” – African Proverb

The hot sun on the pavement reminds us that long summer days of lounging on the beach are fast approaching. When it comes time to pack our Micato duffel bags for a weekend of surf, sun, and seafood, we always remember to include sunscreen, a hat, a towel, and of course, our favorite beach books.

A good beach read is evocative of exotic lands, all the better to get you into the vacation spirit. Our favorites, naturally, are Africa-centric – not only is it our beloved home, but Africa is also a land of nearly endless summer weather and boundless adventure, which recalls the excitement of the summer vacations of childhood.

Whether you are bound by luxury train for the ethereal beauty of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, flying in an elegantly appointed private jet to the golden and turquoise glory of Zanzibar, or simply taking the jitney up to the Hamptons, the following books will get you in the proper summer spirit – a time of year when anything can happen!

Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen

This best-selling classic is even better than the movie, although admittedly lacking the draw of Robert Redford. The tale of a naïve young woman who leaves Denmark to start a coffee plantation in East Africa, Out of Africa is a moving love story inspired by affection for Kenya and its people.

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West with the Night

Beryl Markham

Markham describes her childhood in Kenya and her experiences as a bush pilot in the 1930s with rich and vivid detail. West with the Night is a stylish and engrossing story of a unique life well lived.

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The Flame Trees of Thika

Elsbeth Huxley

Her parents were pioneers in Thika, Kenya, and Huxley was along for the ride. This tale of creating a home in the wild is lavishly and lovingly drawn.

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The Tree Where Man Was Born

Peter Matthieseen

Reading Matthieseen’s travels is almost as good as travelling yourself. As he journeys through the Africa of 1972, we join him in Maasailand, Ngorongoro Carter, and the Kenyan Highlands. Crouch in the bush with him and bear witness to the majestic animals living out age-old dramas mere feet away – just remember to look up from the book and check on the kids from time to time.

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The Collector of Treasure

Bessie Head

Head is widely hailed as one of Africa’s great writers, and this collection of stories is further proof of her power with the pen. Her eloquent vignettes of village life in Botswana revolve around themes of family, prejudice, and power.

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Africa, A Biography of the Continent

John Reader

This one is a must-read for the history buffs in the family, but Reader is so talented that anyone could enjoy this book. He masterfully weaves a lively tale of the continent, from the most ancient cultures right up to modern times.

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North of South, An African Journey

Shiva Naipaul

Nobel Prize winner Naipaul paints a sharp portrait of Africa as it was in 1979. As a brilliant and provocative observer, he meditates on the various peoples he encounters in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. This is hands-down the best, most insightful book we’ve read about race relations in Africa.

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The Green Hills of Africa

Ernest Hemingway

A wonderfully readable tale of hunting in the Lake Manyara area of Tanzania. An account of the classic safari experience from one of the original safari aficionados, The Green Hills of Africa also contains some of the best writing about the land itself.

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Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short Stories

Chinua Achebe & Lynn Innes

Short stories, with their requirement of a limited attention span, are perfect for a family vacation. This single-volume introduction to the vast literature of Africa is our favorite collection, containing stories spanning the last 37 years.

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The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Alexander McCall Smith

This one meets all the quintessential beach book requirements: funny, well-written, and evocative of both relaxation and adventure. This is the first of twelve books in Smith’s female detective series of the same name, so if his delightful descriptions of the culture of Botswana appeal to you, snap up the next book, Tears of the Giraffe.

Jun

02

An Impossibly Beautiful Safari, and Beautifully Impossible Golf

Posted by: Micato

South Africa is renowned for many things: the work of native sons like Nelson Mandela and JRR Tolkien, hosting the 2010 World Cup, producing world-renowned wine, the enthralling mix of cultures – Kalahari Bushmen sharing a nationality with the grandsons of Dutch traders -  and having some of the most stunning and haunting landscapes on the planet.

Amidst all these wonders, South Africa’s world-class golf courses were once a well-kept secret. That is, until April of this year, when Johannesburg native Charles Schwartzel became the first golfer in the history of the Masters to birdie the final four holes and win the title.

The 26-year-old, who grew up on a chicken farm outside of the metropolitan bustle of one of South Africa’s most famous cities, has officially linked “golf” and “South Africa” in the minds of serious golfers the world over. Fortunately, Micato Safaris was ready for the sudden demand, stepping forward with a brand new itinerary: the South African Grand Golf Safari.

The courses in southern Africa are like none other, due in large part to the wild and majestic landscape. Serious and amateur golfers alike will revel in the stunning mountain views and lush wetlands on the Steenburg Golf Club, one of the country’s three best courses. The Montagu and Outeniqua courses at five-star resort Fancourt rival with each other for which has the most spectacular geographical diversity, but they also share the only TaylorMade Performance Lab in the southern hemisphere, where players can receive unparalleled swing analysis and custom fitting.

The Pezula Championship Golf Course provides breathtaking views of the South Cape’s craggy coastline and the Indian Ocean, and then it’s on to Legend Golf & Safari Resort. Legend combines an unimpeachable African experience – complete with opportunities to view rhinos, hippos, lions and leopards – with a truly unforgettable course, each hole designed by one of the world’s top professionals.

And still, we take you higher. Quite literally, actually. The Extreme 19 golf course has the highest and longest Par 3 in the world, accessible only by helicopter at more than 1,400 feet in the air. A tee shot takes a full 20 seconds to land on the green below.

The journey closes with a refreshing game blessed by the mists of Victoria Falls, at the Livingstone Royal Golf and Country Club. Founded in 1908, this course is a slice of old Africa, with a history rich in tradition and carried on by the likes of Charles Schwartzel, continuing to make southern Africa proud. The smell of fresh-cut grass blends with the headier scents of African flora, and as you inhale, smile, and swing, you just might birdie too.

May

26

Happy 50th Birthday, Maasai Mara. You Look Great For Your Age.

Posted by: Micato

Looking fifty is great if you’re sixty, comedienne Joan Rivers once said, but we don’t think our beloved Maasai Mara has too much to worry about when it comes to looks.

This breathtaking wilderness of the Serengeti plains dates back centuries, but the fact that it was only established as a reserve in 1961 is little known. It’s a fact we’re happy to celebrate. The Mara may be the heart of most of Micato’s East Africa safaris, but it’s also our home.

Micato_Safaris_Maasai_Mara

The hauntingly stunning Mara is storied for its sweeping savannahs and the hundreds of thousands of creatures tramping along its ancient migratory routes. If within a single morning on safari you’re angling to see the entire “Big Five” – for the record, African buffalo, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and lions – you’ve come to the right place.

Every superlative used to describe the Mara’s beauty is accurate. But for Micato, its innermost beauty resides with its people, the Maasai, which is why we arrange for our safari guests in Kenya to meet at least two Maasai Elders.

Language barriers prevent most travellers from actually talking with Maasai Elders, but while in Nairobi, our guests will have the chance to chat with forward-thinking English-speaking elder Simon Lenini Ole Kassi. Later, when we take you to a Maasai village, you’ll meet a less worldly elder and his family. The contrast won’t be lost on you.

Step inside the village mud huts and you’ll notice that they’re simple and unadorned. The same can’t be said of the Maasai, bedecked with brightly coloured beads and robes as well as face paint, a nod to the fact that the Maasai are warriors and were once considered fierce ones. But their warmth and hospitality will move you like no other experience on safari.

Micato_Safaris_Maasai_Village

Visiting with the Maasai is just one way to harmonize with the beauty of the Mara. Your moment will come. It may happen when you’re spying crocodiles serenely basking in the sun or while you’re just as serenely floating over the Mara in a hot-air balloon. Or it’ll be after your game drive while you’re sipping a cocktail high upon the Mara Escarpment at sunset. Or, perhaps you’ll have one of those precious morning moments, devoid of human voices, when you step outside your tent and hear hippos bobbing and snorting in the river below.

Whenever and however many times it happens, we guarantee that you’ll fall in love with the Mara as we have, and as all Micato travellers have before you.

Happy Birthday, Maasai Mara. We wish you many happy returns.