Having sold Panama hats for the past 18 years, I thought that it was high time I really put one through its paces on an action-filled safari holiday in Kenya.
Having read on ehow , the website which tells you 'how to do just about anything' that a Panama Hat was the ideal hat to take on Safari, I decided to take a Pachacuti fedora llano weave grade 8 on a 4x4 and horseriding safari in Kenya (although evidently I didn’t wear a panama when riding!) We clearly couldn’t have a Panama hat style called the African Queen without taking it to Africa, so this style was delegated to my 13 year old daughter Sienna to wear.
Our safari holiday was with Tharua Safaris, a family run business based in the Kenyan highlands, sandwiched between the Solio and Ol Pejeta game reserves, both home to the rare black rhino. Ol Pejeta is situated between the foot hills of the Aberdares and snowcapped Mount Kenya and before leaving for the safari I had seen it listed as the top destination for Eco Safaris.
We arrived at a time of endless rains at the end of a two year drought – great for Kenyan farmers but not so good for riding horses in the exceedingly slippery red mud. Still, we persevered with a steady ride on the first day and discovered that the weather was deceptive. As there was almost complete cloud cover, we set off on a three hour ride with a low factor suncream on.
Obviously I should have realised from two decades of travelling in the Andes that I should use a high factor suncream at altitude the thin air allows more UV to reach the skin. However, I wasn't aware that the foothills around Mount Kenya were that high but it materialised on my return that we were, in fact, at 2000 metres altitude and, of course, we got burnt. Fortunately we had riding hats on, but they still don’t shield your face very effectively.
Due to the rains, a decision was made by Martin and Tiddy to travel north to the Mpala reserve where there was apparently no rain, although we would have to travel by 4x4 instead of on horseback. I didn't realise at the time what an incredible privilege this was. The Mpala Wildlife Foundation operates a biodiversity conservation research center, a 48,000 acre wildlife conservancy and a variety of community health and outreach programs in Laikipia. At present the reserve is only open to researchers but, as our guides were friends of the reserve manager, we were able to visit the reserve as invited guests. More to follow in my next blog post about the safari, game drives and animals spotted, included hippos in the river below our tent and an elephant in the campsite!
I hadn't expected the Panama hats to be so well used. After all, I had intended to be wearing a riding hat a lot of the time! Standing up in the jeep with our heads out of the roof for several hours a day, the Panamas were invaluable. We had an early morning game drive, returned for breakfast, drove out again for about three hours for a picnic lunch, then back for a cup of tea and out again for an evening drive. Even heading out in the late afternoon, the sun was fierce.
I was surprised at how well my Panama hat stayed on, considering it was fairly breezy and we were travelling at quite a speed sometimes on very rough and bumpy dirt tracks. Although I did put a hand up to ensure my hat stayed on a couple of times in the wind, most of the time I felt very confident that my hat would stay firmly on my head without flying off into the path of a passing giraffe.
I was even more surprised at my daughter's pronouncement of how great her African Queen Panama was in the sun. She really dislikes the heat and the extra wide brim of the African Queen provided excellent sun coverage but was still stylish enough for a fashion-conscious teenager to wear - even if there was no-one around for miles to see her!
Anita Roddick built an empire on skincare but still reminded people that "The most effective anti-ageing product is a sun hat." So, next time you go on holiday, please remember what Anita Roddick said and take a hat with you, preferably a Fair Trade Pachacuti Panama hat.