DAY 193: HOT AIR BALLOONING OVER THE AFRICAN PLAINS


Soaring above the action

What a day! We survived an unseasonable December flood in the Maasai Mara, got up at 4:00am to go hot air ballooning over the African savannah, saw a whole bunch of dead cows and survived breakfast out in the African bush. Definitely a memorable one!  

 

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Hot air ballooning over Maasai Mara (6:30am this morning).

 

 

The rain last night turned into a deluge and the happy, bubbling brook that was at our doorstep turned into a raging torrent while we were at dinner! The water was just a metre or so from breaking the banks and flooding us out so we spent an anxious few hours watching the waters rise, with our bags packed and ready to go – just in case. Luckily the rain eased around 11:00pm and the Talek River calmed down enough for us to feel comfortable turning in for the night. Seems the storm yesterday dumped an unseasonal amount of rain in the highlands and all that water came rushing down the Rift Valley. The Mara has been very dry for months now so the locals are happy about the rain, just not happy with how much of it fell in one go! 

The tented camp just upstream from ours had a (fortunately unoccupied) tent get washed away and one of the bridges across the Talek River was washed away. The local Maasai cattle herders aren’t too happy about the flood either as it has claimed the lives of a number of cows and left many of the weaker ones (weakened by months of drought and lack of fodder) stuck in mud and unable to escape. On our drive out to the hot air balloon launch site early this morning we saw a number of very skinny cows stuck in mud, being stalked by hungry hyenas. We even saw a couple of bovine carcasses being fought over by vultures. It’s all part of the “circle of life” of course, but it’s still a bit daunting seeing vultures and hyenas pecking at the eyes and ripping out the guts of a still-living cow – especially before we’ve even had breakfast!

 

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Vultures enjoying a morning meal of beef, served very rare.

 

 

Once we made it out to the balloon launch site it was a matter of piling in to the basket with 10 other tourists and off we went! It was beautiful up there, drifting through the air in silence, watching the animals below us scurry around like giant ants. We were mesmerised by the scenery and the vast expanse of the African plains below us. The rain last night has left all the streams and rivulets in the park full to the brim and we got to see a whole lot of herbivores (e.g. wildebeest, Thomson gazelles, impala, topi, zebra, etc) feasting on the green grass. 

 

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Getting excited about the hot air balloon ride early this morning. Shane wasn’t as impressed about the 4:00am wake up cal.

 

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Filling the balloon with hot air – cool. But, errr, why is there a guy with a fire extinguisher there? What’s happened in the past that you needed a fire extinguisher handy?

 

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Taking off in the early morning light.

 

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After last night’s epic rains the Mara was very wet – rivulets and streams overflowing and roads turned into rivers.

 

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Stalking Thomson gazelles from upon high….

 

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…and taking aerial shots of wildebeest too.

 

 

 

After a great 2 hours sailing through the skies we landed out in the bush, right near a table set for a silver service breakfast – white linen tablecloth and all! We had a chef there to cook us fresh eggs, bacon, sausages, tomato and mushrooms; as well as a spread of fresh fruit, yoghurt, cereals, juices, coffee and tea to choose from. Breakfast out on the plains was by far the highlight of the day. The balloon ride was amazing, but it was breathtaking being able to sit and enjoy a cup of Kenya’s finest coffee and watch zebras, giraffe and gazelles wander past. 

The herbivores seemed rather nonplussed about our presence and with a couple of Maasai warriors on gaurd, watching to make sure we didn’t attract the attention of any carnivores, we got to relax and enjoy the bush in a way we’ve never been able to before. Even better, the other tourists left after about an hour (they had to get back to their camp on the other side of the park) and we were left with the balloon pilot and the breakfast crew. As the crew packed up, we chatted to the pilot and got to really soak up the atmosphere and the sweet, sweet serenity. 

 

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Our bush breakfast included freshly cooked eggs and bacon. Nice!

 

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Silver service breakfast on the African plains.

 

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They even provided us with a loo with a view!

 

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These guys walked right by us, once everyone else had left and we were out there with just the balloon pilot and the breakfast crew.

 

 

Maasai Mara was at its best for us this morning and between the hot air balloon ride and breakfast in the bush, today will go down in our memories as one of the best days of the trip so far. Tomorrow we leave the Mara and head up-country (i.e. North) to see a different side of Kenya. Kwaheri until then!

 

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One of our most memorable days ever!

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