Day 321: Up Up And Away…

Sun. 30th June 2013

Preparing to flyIn my beautiful balloon. At last, the day of our balloon safari has arrived with yet another pre-dawn start, but we don’t mind we’ve been wanting to do this for around 30 years. We head off in the dark to the balloon launch site and tuck into coffee whilst the balloon is being inflated. There are two balloons taking off and we are in the larger sixteen man one, but luckily there are only twelve of us as any more would have been a squeeze. The basket is divided into four equal compartments and we are shown into our home for the next hour or so.

Fantastic setting for a balloon tripThis is Dave’s first balloon flight whereas I flew over Henley twenty odd years ago and the scenery there was not the same! The burners make quite a noise and the basket is held down by about half a dozen locals until the pilot is ready to take off. We head where the wind takes us and it is so peacefully quiet once the burners are switched off. The animals just carry on grazing taking no notice of us, but when the burners are used the zebra and antelopes all scamper off.

Follow my leader wildebeest styleWe see four hyenas just sauntering along and a Serval cat (looking like a small cheetah) which are new sightings for us here. The Serval was strutting through the long grass and is apparently quite a rare spot. We also saw three lions just lying low in the long grass as well as the usual suspects of giraffes, elephants, zebra, Thompson gazelles and wildebeest. The animals look quite different from this angle. Othmar, the pilot raises the balloon over the expanses of grass, but lets it descend low over the trees and rivers so we can look for more wildlife.

Safe but odd landingAll too soon we are told to brace for landing by sitting on the seats provided and holding onto the rope handles in front of us. After a few bumps of hitting the ground we stopped and the basket tipped over leaving us all lying on our backs with our feet on the air. After yet more photos we were driven to our breakfast spot where there was a table set for us under an acacia tree. A beautiful setting which we admired whilst drinking the obligatory champagne. The whole experience was as good as the expectations. Even the toilet behind one of the vehicles amused is as we took pictures of the canvas enclosure with a portaloo, to add to our collection.

Me and my babyPaul, our driver, had followed the balloon and met us at the breakfast spot ready to take us to the Mara River for the morning. We were still buzzing clutching our certificates commemorating our flight as we set off in the truck. On the way we saw lions in the bushes and their kill. They had fed and were doing what they do best, for about twenty hours a day – sleeping.

I am not coming outWe crossed the Mara River to what is called the Mara Triangle and walked with an armed park ranger to see hippos and saw a large croc too. We also saw the track into the river and out the other side where the wildebeests have begun their annual migration from Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya but there was a lull and none were crossing.

Many wildebeests migratingBack in the plains there must be tens or even hundreds of thousands of wildebeest here already and the numbers will swell to about 1.5 million. Every where we looked there were wildebeest. Dave started counting but soon got bored! It is difficult to imagine what the area will be like with that many animals. We pass by a smaller river, more of a stream really and watch as a line of wildebeest cross at a gallop one after another, the noise of their feet as they run is pretty loud. As we head north back to our camp we drive through empty areas of long grass ready for the full migration.

So lazy!Majestic male lionOur afternoon game drive focuses on leopard hunting but no joy. We do see a hyena close up for the first time here and also an Eland, Africa’s biggest antelope. As we head for home we swing past where the lions had been sleeping this morning and they have hardly moved. The only change is the number of safari vehicles waiting around in case they wake. We hear there is an old male lion close by and so we head off to see, as we have not yet seen a male lion with its impressive mane, only the females and cubs. At first all we see is a golden brown shape in the grass but as we join the row of stationery vehicles the male lion lifts his head and looks around. After a minute or two it is all too much effort and his head flops back to the ground to rest some more.

Jumping danceIt is time for us to head back to camp for supper and an early night before we too get some sleep ready for our long drive to Amboseli tomorrow. Before we can go to our tent we are invited to sit around the fire and watch more traditional Maari dances, including their jumping one. Yet another great day to remember and also I managed to take more photos than Dave this morning, which is a first!

 

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