Partner of the
Month

Paul Klein

Micato Safari Kenya, by Mary Levine

MICATO SAFARI KENYA

 

A Micato Safari to Kenya, is a dream come true for me.  And, Micato Safaris did not disappoint!

My journey began with flights on Qatar Airways from Chicago O’Hare to Doha and then onto Nairobi.  Economy class on Qatar is similar to other international flights, wishing you were in business class! But, if it’s a choice between not going to distant foreign lands or staying home, suck it up and go! Just think about your final destination and all it has to offer and before you know it, you will be there. The connection in Doha was 1 hour, tight but doable. I did not have any time to explore except for a quick coffee. Wheelchairs are available and should be considered for anyone with mobility issues.

Upon arrival at midnight in Nairobi, I was met by a Micato representative and in no time I was through customs and immigration’s and en-route to The Norfolk Fairmont Hotel https://www.fairmont.com/norfolk-hotel-nairobi/. The hotel is a landmark in the center of Nairobi, about 35 minutes (at midnight) and longer during the day due to traffic.  The style is classic, colonial with an abundance of charm dating back to beginning of the 20th century. The public spaces and restaurants have been recently renovated. The guest rooms are comfortable and clean but, they could use a more updated, contemporary redo.

The next morning at breakfast was my first chance to meet the other attendees. We start out with introductions and by the end of the trip it’s all hugs and chatter about meeting again.

After breakfast, we sat down for briefing of what to expect for the next 10 days. We were greeted by Jane and Felix Pinto, the founders of Micato Safaris.  Mr. and Mrs. Pinto live in Nairobi and are the heart and soul of their Micato Family. I learned very early on that Jane and Felix as well as their children, Dennis and Anna, treat each and every employee as one of their own. And our clients become part of the family, as well.  It’s a beautiful thing to see and it’s real, too!

Our first stop, the Karen Blixen Museum. Ms. Blixen was the Danish author of Out of Africa.  She was a beloved resident of Nairobi for many, many years and before returning to Denmark, she donated her home to the people of Nairobi. She also gave of herself and her resources to building a hospital and a school and the suburb is called Karen.

Then we rushed to Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in time for the feeding of the baby elephants.  The orphanage rescues and rehabilitates many of the baby elephants from the wild who for various reasons find themselves orphaned.  It was fun to be so close to the little giants and watch them play and eat while learning fun facts, too.

Next stop, The Giraffe Center to view the Rothschild’s giraffe.  The Giraffe Center has focused on saving the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe and the population has more than doubled since the beginning. Fun fact: You can tell a Rothschild Giraffe from Masai Giraffe or the Reticulated (Somali) Giraffe by the white legs from the knees down!

Time for lunch! As with every Micato Safari guest(s) who come to Nairobi, we were treated to lunch at the home of Jane and Felix Pinto. The family home is filled with photos and treasures from a long life of living. We enjoyed live entertainment by members of a local boys’ choir – https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=RDtDaiTMA0TKo&v=tDaiTMA0TKo.

Something unexpected, before we boarded our vehicles back to the hotel, we were directed to an area in the family room that was like a mini convenience store.  On the shelves was an assortment of travel items for us to take in case we left something behind or forgot to pack any necessary items.  It was a display of toiletries, over the counter remedies for minor ailments,  reading material, candy, gum, snacks and more. Micato thinks of everything!

 

 

I want to mention an incident that reinforced an unexpected value of traveling with Micato Safaris. One of the travel adviser’s in our group suffered a TIA/stroke when we were at the Elephant Orphanage!  Marion, our Micato representative from the NY office, sprang into action.  Marion escorted the adviser to the nearest hospital by ambulance (which she paid for on the spot with her own cc) and stayed with her the entire day. Later, the patient was transferred again to the main hospital in Nairobi and Marion was with her, holding her hand. Marion returned later in the evening and joined us for dinner at the hotel. Sean who is in charge of the Micato Nairobi office recruited some of the office staff to go the hospital and stay with the agent that night, as well as every day thereafter until her son arrived to take over her care. Mrs. Jane saw to it that the adviser had the best Doctor and excellent care and she herself visited the adviser in the hospital, as well.  Micato staff was always at hand and continued to assist when the son arrived to take his mother back to the U.S. I think you would be hard pressed to find the same level of care and assistance with any other DMC/Tour company. Micato gives their staff the means and permission to make quick, last minute decisions without the need to get approval in advance.

 The next morning, we were divided into 3 groups and given our itineraries for the next week.  We all flew out of the regional airport in Nairobi, Wilson Airport on private bush flights along with our dedicated Safari Director.  The Safari Director is the person who travels with you the entire time you are part of a Micato Safari. My group was assigned George , or as I referred to him, George of the Jungle 😉 George is amazing! He is intelligent, warm, friendly and extremely patient! George made the trip! I will highly recommend him to any future clients I book with Micato.

My group started our safari at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club https://www.fairmont.com/mount-kenya-safari/. The hotel is literally less than 5 minutes from the airstrip. Originally, the club was a very elite, private venue and was bought by the late actor, William Holden in the 50’s.  Personally, I loved the resort. I think it was a gentle way of introducing first time safari guest to the bush. It’s very civilized and you can feel the history throughout the 100 acres with a manicured lawn, tennis/basketball court, outdoor pools and much, much more.  Interesting fact: the hotel is built on the equator!  You can have one foot in the southern hemisphere at the same time as the other foot is in the northern hemisphere at 7,000 ft. above sea level.

Our group was mostly accommodated in the 1-bedroom cottages but, a few stayed in the main building.  I understand a couple of the cottages have not been renovated, so be sure to note this on any forthcoming reservations. My cottage was charming with wooden floors, louvered windows, a large patio at the main entrance and a double-sided, wood burning fireplace.  The bathroom had a single vanity, a separate W.C. and a walk-in shower but, no bathtub. Each night the turn down service included lighting a fire (if you requested it) and a special little treat under the covers…a hot water bottle to add a touch more warmth. None of the accommodations have central AC or heating.  It’s not necessary when you are balanced on the equator at the base of Mount Kenya but, who doesn’t like a crackling fire to lull you to sleep?

A note about being on a Micato Safari – everything is included, with the exception of premium alcoholic beverages and any personal spa treatments or incidentals/purchases. Aside from Nairobi, most of the lodges, resorts, tented camps are nowhere near a town where one could go for a local meal in a restaurant so, dining on property is the main offering. Even gratuities are included at all the resorts, game drives, Safari Directors, Safari drivers, housekeeping staff, wait staff and all services are provided.  Including laundry and cleaning of your safari gear (boots and such) if needed.

Another welcomed surprise throughout your Micato Safari is the nightly treat and/or gift that is delivered to your room with a personalized, handwritten note. The gifts are all locally sourced which provides income to the surrounding communities or charities.  Micato ensures everyone leaves with souvenirs.

The next day we had our first bush experience at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, 90,000+ acres about 30 mins. From the Mount Kenya Safari Club.  The conservancy is home to the last two northern white rhinos in the world! Both of the white rhinos are females but, the conservancy harvested some of the last male rhinos’ sperm before he died, and they are going to try to re-establish the population. This is a very ambitious endeavor and hopefully, they will be successful.

Also located in the conservancy is the  Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary established by the Jane Goodall Institute. This particular sanctuary, as well as 18 others in 12 African countries, is a haven for more than 800 hundred rescued chimpanzees. The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) does amazing work.

In the morning we boarded our private charter bush flight, single prop Cessna 12-seater, to Laikipia Reserve, about a 20-minute flight northwest of Mt. Kenya. Our home for the next 2 nights, Elewana Loisaba Lodo Springs in the Loisaba Conservancy. The drive from the airstrip to Lodo Springs was our first game drive in this conservancy and just a taste of what to expect for the rest of our stay.

Lodo Springs is the newest and just opened this past October, with 8 individual tented suites.  The roof is canvas material but, the walls feature floor to ceiling doors and windows along with beautiful wood floors. The en-suite rooms have a huge bathroom as well as outdoor veranda with double sunbeds. The food at Lodo Springs was the best of the entire trip. The chef, Jimmy, is young and talented with presentation, variety, healthy and most important, taste!

Elewana has 3 properties located within the 57K acre Loisaba Conservancy, Loisaba Lodo Springs, Loisaba Tented Camp and Loisaba Star Beds.  Lodo Springs was my favorite of the other 3 Elewana options in the Loisaba Conservancy.  Although, the Tented Camp would be great, too.  The Star Beds is really just a one-night option in my opinion.  And a really nice feature is Elewana allows signing privileges between the 3 properties, too.

Back to my favorite part of Safari – being on a game drive.  Of course, we had George of the Jungle with us and he switched back and forth between the two vehicles but, the local field guides supplied by Elewana were excellent, as well. We enjoyed learning about their way of life and the animals specific to the Loisaba Conservancy. The local guides are proud of their heritage and give the guest a feel for life in Kenya.

After two nights in the Loisaba Conservancy, we were headed to our last safari destination, The Maasai Mara.  The bush flight was uneventful and about 90 mins. Flying time.  I love the ‘air strips’! You exit the plane and the Maasai warriors were there to greet us with singing and dancing.  They bring a sense of authenticity and excitement – smiles all around.

Our home for the next 3 nights, Fairmont Mara Safari Club, located in the Mara Conservancy on the Mara River.  The accommodations and location are great. We each had a Riverfront Tent with a four-poster bed, ensuite bathroom with shower (hot water, too), full power and a deck to view my new best friends, the Hippos!  The tents are high enough on the banks of the river for perfect viewing of the hippos and crocodiles. I suggest bringing ear plugs (Micato supplies them for the bush flights) if you want to drown (no pun intended) out the hippos at night.  They are a rowdy bunch when the sun goes down.

We had the opportunity for a hot air balloon safari on our first morning in the Mara.  The balloon pilot meets with the guest the night prior and explains the experience in detail. Our pilot was 4th generation and I had all the confidence in the world that he knew what he was doing.

We had to depart the resort at 5am and drive about an hour to where the balloon was waiting for us.  The whole process is very interesting.  By the time we took off the sun was just rising in the horizon and the air temperature was perfect. It is so peaceful floating along the African Savannah, except for when the burners were engaged.  We traveled for a little more than an hour before landing on the plains.  Our guide and drivers were waiting for us to meet the rest of our group for breakfast in the Mara.

The Mara is vast and expansive.  Apparently, late October/early November is prime time to see babies – including Elephants, wildebeest, Topi, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Cheetah, Wart Hog, Giraffe and Zebra, too. I’m probably forgetting a few but, you get the jest.

We also visited a Maasai chief and his village. It is interesting to see how they live and exist in the 21st century. I’m not a fan of the ‘shopping’ experience. I felt obligated to purchase items even though the chief said we were not required to do so.

My only negative comment for Fairmont Mara Safari Club – the food. We only had one meal, our 1st dinner, that was not a buffet. Personally, I don’t mind a breakfast buffet but, lunch and dinner should be from a menu. The buffet was looking tiresome by the 3rd night. (This is not true of the Fairmont Safari Club or the Norfolk in Nairobi)

 

I did have a suggestion for Micato, and the resorts could benefit, too.  I suggested they have a large screened TV (not for viewing cable shows) that would allow guests to download their pictures from the morning or evening game drives and view them on a large screen.  The Safari Director could elaborate on the animals and habitat OR if there was a professional photographer on hand, he/she could give photography tips to the guest.

It was not easy leaving the Mara. I can watch the wildlife and be completely entranced  by their existence forever. It’s nature at it’s purest.

The last day in Kenya was a full one – we flew back to Nairobi, met up with the rest of the group for a tour of the dynamic community center of Micato’ s non-profit arm – AmericaShare and Huru International. This is important for guest to see and experience. Micato Safaris brings together experts and the local community in a way to enrich the lives of countless individuals, families and organizations.

We had lunch at a local restaurant in Karen and the food was excellent. After lunch we went back to The Norfolk Fairmont for either a day room to refresh before the long flights home or an overnight for those in the group that were continuing on to Tanzania.

This is just another added feature that Micato includes with each tour. I was able to repack my luggage to include all of the wonderful gifts Micato gave us (they even gave us a duffel for any overflow) and shower before my 24-hour journey ahead of me.

I hope you enjoyed my report! I’m thrilled to have had the experience to be a guest with Micato Safaris. Here is a little clip for you to enjoy.     MARY MS Kenya Video

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.