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.
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.
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.