June 25, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Luxury, the African Way:

Sunset

“Hakuna Matata.†As we know from The Lion King, what a wonderful phrase. In this case, it means “no worries†on a luxury African tour, and I recently experienced an unforgettable one through a family-owned company, Micato Safaris. Micato offers several activity-packed adventures, including the 12-day “Livingstone Wing,†which covers the sights of Kenya – from the vibrant, bustling capital of Nairobi to the serenity of misty Mt. Kenya, from a traditional and colorful Maasai village to the vast expanse of the African plains, replete with wildlife.

Kenya is a beautiful, safe country, and its people are incredibly friendly. Following the post-election conflicts in December and January, which were isolated to certain villages, Kenyans have settled their differences and the country is now open for business.

It is difficult to convey the excitement of seeing the “Big Five†—buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, lion and the elusive leopard—while riding in comfort across the savannah. And afterwards, to toast your sightings with a surprise sundowner cocktail on the hilltop, complete with roaring fire.

Nairobi natives Jane and Felix Pinto started Micato Safaris 42 years ago. Today, guests still experience the personal service of a family business. The Pintos note that some guests have continued to return for 15 years in a row, and they pride themselves on making guests feel like out-of-town relatives. And indeed, after being welcomed into their home, they generously offered flowers and a fruit basket the first night, and small gifts over the following days. They are extremely well-connected in Africa, and can provide access to “insider†activities such as the opportunity to meet with Maasai elders, or with historians and archeologists who provide in-depth commentary about guests’ destinations.

At the start of the tour, my companions and I were given a comprehensive checklist of the birds and mammals of East Africa, and each game drive was an opportunity not only to check another off the list, but also to learn about each animal’s lifestyle, feeding and mating habits, and predators.

Safari Giraffes

But on our first day, rather than wildlife, we enjoyed a whirlwind tour of bustling Nairobi. We visited the Karen Blixen Museum (of Out of Africa fame); the Giraffe Centre, where endangered Rothschild’s giraffes are cared for; a colonial-era tea farm; and the Nairobi National Museum, which has recently re-opened following years of renovations.

Our safari began with a flight to Amboseli National Park. The flight itself offered a great preview, as we circled over herds of zebra and wildebeest before touching down. Upon landing, our game driver was waiting for us with hot coffee and a clear view of the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Morning and afternoon game drives saw us surrounded by herds of elephants and prides of lions. And the variety of birds at the watering hole was dizzying. Our driver took us wherever we pointed and offered us cold drinks as we watched elephants plunge into the marsh.

For a change of scenery, we traveled in comfort to the Aberdares mountains and signed up for a guided forest walk at Serena Mountain Lodge. This was a rare opportunity to experience the forest wildlife up close and to learn about the medicinal uses of plants by the locals. On the way, a huge roadside curio shop proved to be a great place to haggle over authentic handicrafts. A cooperative between several families, the shop presented an unequalled opportunity to practice our negotiating skills: Locals are more than willing to bargain.

At the lodge, guests sip cocktails behind a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooks a natural water hole. The water hole is popular with wildlife at all hours, and guests can request a late-hour wake-up call should the night watchman happen to spot a rare species.

On an afternoon game drive in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, we visited a rhinoceros sanctuary, home of the tame Morani, who is happy to be petted. Our guide then helped us locate a cheetah stalking its prey, and a journey of giraffe awkwardly splaying their limbs to drink from the watering hole. We were later treated to another in a long series of sundowner cocktails – this time near a riverbank filled with hippos emitting their trumpet-like calls. In addition to the cocktails, Micato stages extremely elegant “bush dinners,†complete with china and crystal,
hanging lanterns, oriental rugs and fine cuisine.

Mt. Kenya Safari Club has historically been a retreat for Hollywood stars and political leaders, including Clark Gable, John Wayne and Winston Churchill; as a guest here, you can expect “star treatment†that includes a complimentary welcome massage.

A variety of activities are available: Golf, tennis, horseback riding and swimming. At the animal orphanage guests play with young buffalo, wildebeest and eland, and view other rare animals difficult to see in the wild, including the caracal, suni and the endangered bongo. The world famous wildebeest migration occurs between July and October; the best time to witness it is mid-August to mid-September.

At the Maasai Mara National Reserve, we sat for an hour watching five female lions and four cubs feasting on an elephant carcass. While there, we visited a Maasai village, and were welcomed with singing by beautifully beaded men and women. We were encouraged to ask questions, had a tour of the chief’s home, and perused the market of beaded and carved handicrafts for sale.

The tour with Micato was the experience of a lifetime–incredible game viewing, unique cultural exchanges, and a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, all in completely personalized luxury. No detail is overlooked. Groups are kept small, the vehicles are handsomely outfitted and full-time concierge service is provided. All needs are catered to by attentive, knowledgeable guides.

It should also be noted that Micato Safaris operates a non-profit organization, AmericaShare (www.americashare.org), to support people affected by HIV/AIDS in Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s most notorious slums. Projects include a school sponsorship program and a self-sustaining women’s cooperative. Actors Blair Underwood and Teri Hatcher have both participated in the “Lend a Helping Hand on Safari†program, in which guests spend a day visiting AmericaShare projects in Mukuru.

Micato Safaris was voted “World’s Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter†by Travel+Leisure magazine each year since 2003, and with good reason: Visitors are made to feel completely welcomed into the lives of the Pintos and the traditions of Africa.

To book a luxury safari of your own, contact Micato Safaris at 1-800-Micato-1 or visit www.micato.com

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