Saturday, August 8, 2015

Balloon Ride Over Maasai Mara in Kenya

Balloon Safari over Maasai Mara

As if being in Africa for the wildebeest migration wasn't enough of a dream come true, we opted for an additional balloon ride.  Though it was a bit pricey at $400 per person, it was something I definitely will remember when I'm sitting on a rocker in my later years. How can one not enjoy sailing over herds of elephants at daybreak?

A man bearing a tray of coffee, hot chocolate and lemon biscuits arrived at our tent at 5 am.  It was a bit cool inside the tent, so we drank up the morning goodness and hurriedly dressed so we could be at our land rover by 5:30.  We used the flashlight to flag down one of the security guards as it was still dark out and the hippos were outside the tents. I looked up and saw millions of stars!  No light pollution here so the sky is amazing.  There wasn't a  lot of talking on the drive to the Lil Governors Camp where the Governors Balloon Safari launches. Though we booked this in advance of our trip, you could sign up last minute with the camp or lodge.  We arrived at a river crossing where we exited the land rover and took a boat to the other side. It was very dark, which was probably a good thing.  When we crossed later in the day, there was a big crocodile just a few feet away from the boat crossing!
We saw the boat later when it was light out.  

Look at the size of this crocodile!

As we waited for the balloons to fill with air, we could enjoy more biscuits and coffee or hot chocolate.  There was a safety briefing, some early photos, and then we were instructed how to get into the balloon. The baskets seemed enormous compared to others I'd seen.  Each could hold a pilot and 16 passengers. We'd be standing in pretty close quarters for the next hour. The first thing they teach you once you're  inside is the "crash position", but then the pilot assured us he hadn't used it lately.  We chuckled just a bit.
Getting the balloon ready for flight takes about 30 minutes
We found though it was cool, the ride was in fact very hot, especially on the head.  We had been told in advance to wear a hat, but I wasn't sure why until I felt my hair burning.  Remember the balloon uses gas and flame to stay in the air.  The balloon floated over grasslands, rivers, and herds of buffalo.  We saw hippos splashing in the river and birds in the wetlands.  Of course, all the photos you see here of balloons are actually the other balloon that went up with us.  At one point our pilot used a go pro camera and shot a group selfie that he placed on a flickr website though.

I wondered what kind of lens to bring, and the pilot told us the balloon ride was more about scenery so a general lens would be fine.  There was a guy next to me who brought at least three lenses and spent the entire time swapping them, so he missed all the fun, in my opinion.  If you want close ups of animals, it's easy to get them on the daily game drives, and we even did a game drive on the way back to the camp.  If you want scenery, the general lens will really be fine as you can see in my photos.


The water buffalo were not moved by the balloon flying over

The elephants, on the other hand, fled as soon as the balloon was in sight

We flew low enough to see the hippo playing
The landing was a bit eventful.  You never know where it's going to be and the basket falls over so you find yourself on your back.  It was easy enough to crawl out, though a bit tricky for the people who brought too much stuff. We were greeted by lovely laid tables and champagne or juice, followed by a breakfast of breads, eggs, pancakes, beans, a variety of meats, and some quiches all served on real china dishes.  It was so delicious, and in a setting that was truly lovely.  We had a tree nearby filled with colorful birds singing.  The chef made pancakes on one of the balloon burners.  The pilots toasted us.  What a fantastic experience.
I loved the spears at the heads of the table
Orange juice toast

Colorful birds sang for us

The chef making pancakes on the balloon burner

You don't see this every day

Just leftovers as we headed away
After the breakfast, we rode with our driver back to the camp where the balloon launched, and saw plenty of wildlife on the way.  Even a simple drive allows time for photos and sightseeing.  The start to another beautiful day.


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