Get on a scream-my-lungs-out roller coaster, go on a European cruise and ride a hot air balloon were the first three items that I put on my bucket list many moons ago. The roller coaster because of the thrill and adrenaline rush; a cruise because I want to see multiple destinations on a floating hotel and a hot air balloon ride because of breathtaking aerial views.
I got to tick off the hot air balloon ride a few years back. Being one of those people who feel safest on terra firma (which is a complete contrast to my 3 bucket list wishes!), this is one of those experiences where I was exhilarated and scared witless in equal measure as the day drew nigh.
The wake up call came early – at 5am! Not that I slept a wink – scared of the ride, afraid I’ll miss the alarm etc. After a hurried cup of coffee, we jumped into a land-cruiser that would ferry us to the launching site. On the way we met a pride of lions on the hunt or going home after the hunt!
We got to the launch site at about 6am as the crew were inflating the balloon. But first things first, we had to sign indemnity forms which is a requirement before getting on the balloon. And for those of us who were nervous, we rushed to the bathroom one last time!
When all was set, our pilot Andrew introduced himself and had a quick chat with us about the flight – how long it would be, how low and high we would fly and the landing. Then it was time to board the basket.
So the basket was lying on its side like shown at the photo above. We got on, sat with our backs on the side of the basket and held on to handles provided. Once everyone was in, and at the pilot’s instructions, the Hot Air Safaris’ ground crew pulled the basket upright. After a bit more tinkering of the controls by Captain Andrew, we slowly lifted off the Mara plains. I must say it happened so subtly that I didn’t notice we were floating until we were about 50 meters off the ground! The ride was smooth. That and the 360 degree views of the Mara made me totally forget about my jitters!
There was so much to see! The first rays of the morning sun as it peeked from the horizon, the views of other balloons also in flight, the wildlife as they woke up to another day and the rivers, plains and forest that make up the awesome Mara landscape as it spread out for miles and miles below us.
Can you see the lions??
Base Camp on the banks of River Talek
As he adjusted the controls on the burners that were keeping us afloat, Captain Andrew gave us interesting facts about ballooning and answered questions on the same.
And then this couple shared a kiss that left us feeling some typa way! Gentlemen, there are few things as romantic as a dawn hot air balloon ride with your girl!
After an hour floating above the Mara, the ride came to an end. We sat and waited for the basket to touch down. Landings can be tricky – once deflated, the balloon can end up dragging the basket for a bit before it comes to a complete halt. Lucky for us the landing was smooth and we were assisted to alight from the basket.
Me getting off
After a balloon ride it is customary for the participants to be served a hearty breakfast in the bush. I enjoyed this breakfast thoroughly and it went down smoothly with an accompanying glass of bubbly. We were also awarded certificates to remember the experience by.
If you are interested in going on a balloon safari in the Mara, there are several companies offering the service. Transworld Safaris, Governors Balloon Safaris, Skyship Company and Hot Air Safaris are the most popular ones. The property you will be staying in will advice on which company to contact.