Balloon ride over the Masai Mara
We're lucky enough to have good friends who live in Kenya, and we have spent three magical holidays in this spectacular country which now holds a very special place in all our hearts. We were there most recently in February this year (2018) when we had the chance to do something that has been on my bucket list for the longest time. A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the magnificent Masai Mara.
Sometimes something you have anticipated - and dreamed of - for a long time doesn't live up to your expectations. And sometimes it exceeds them. This wasn't just the latter, it was the latter times 10. It was easily the most magical experience I have ever had. And the fact that I shared it with my girls and their wonderful men made it even more special. (So you know, that's me in the above shot, sticking out higher at the back right of the balloon (I was standing on the seat!) and the girls are directly in front of and beside me).
The day of the ride started early. Very early. 0430 am early. But we had to drive through the park to the launch site, and be up in the air by the time the sun rose, so it was necessary. And more than worth it. I wasn't sure what the basket itself would be like, but it was much sturdier and un-flimsy (pretty sure there's no such word as that) than I thought it would be. It was divided into four sections, each holding four people in a row, with a bench seat behind them, and a centre section for the pilot. Hilariously we had to load ourselves into the basket with it lying on its side. Imagine stacking yourself onto a shelf, lying on your back and you'll get the picture! Then as the canopy slowly filled with air, the basket gently righted itself, slid away from the ground and we were off.
The main thing I hadn't computed about a hot air balloon, is that other than when the air is being blasted into the canopy, it's completely silent. So we were floating noiselessly over the beautiful game park and the dozens of amazing animals we were lucky enough to see, including elephants, hippos, hyenas, zebra, impala and an unexpectedly relaxed lion lying in the grass looking at us with clearly rather less excitement than we were experiencing watching him. It was sensational. And when the sun rose (it's light well before that happens) it was like a golden fireball being poured over the vast grassy plain.
For most of the flight we stayed quite low so we had the clearest view of the animals, but towards the end the pilot - who was as knowledgable about the wildlife as he was about flying - asked if we'd like to go higher to get a different perspective of the Masai Mara. And what a perspective it was. The park is so huge that even though we didn't go scarily high, we could see the curvature of the earth (the curvature in the pic is courtesy of the GoPro camera which was suspended on a trapeze dangling from the balloon). It was ridiculously thrilling.
As if that wasn't all enough, our ride also included a champagne breakfast.....served in the shade of a tree in the Mara, and complete with a huge buffet, including freshly cooked eggs (yes, you did read that right), the best loo I've ever used (see pic) and elephants looking on with benign bemusement.
This certainly isn't cheap to do (it cost £335 per person) but I don't think it'll surprise you to know that I wouldn't hesitate to say it's worth every penny. Our drive back to our lodge took almost three hours because we saw so much more game along the way, so altogether the experience lasted eight hours. The company we used were Hot Air Safaris and I'd certainly recommend them highly.
If you've ever thought about doing a hot air balloon ride, do it! If you ever have the chance to do one over the Masai Mara, you too could have the experience of a lifetime.
What experience(s) are on your bucket list? Which, if any, have you done? And what were they like?