Masai Mara

Woke up with the sound of the alarm at 4.15am as we were being picked up and taken to our balloon take-off sight. Our driver took us through the national park whilst it was still dark on a very bumpy road. We expected to see at least some nocturnal creatures but sadly saw nothing at all. When we reached the balloon we had to complete a few more forms (in the cold) before being briefed by our pilot Captain Mike on how the balloon ride was going to work. After that all sixteen passengers boarded the basket while it was on its side (yikes!) and the captain prepared for lift off. The balloon soon swelled and started to drag us along the ground prior to a much needed lift and then we were airborne. It was both our first time on a balloon and it felt pretty atmospheric and serene. All we could hear was the burners. Finally, we were off floating gently over the plains of the Masai Mara. Captain Mike felt the need to crack a few jokes as he piloted the balloon so it was all in good humour. I (Pheebs) enjoyed the quiet though the most, it was all quite magical. We nearly had a close shave and came just a meter from the ground due to turbulence, and we all had to get into the landing position pretty swiftly but Capt Mike saved the day. Up in the air we spotted the migrating wildebeest and zebra, a hyena, lions, a jackal and hawks. It was amazing watching the African sun rising over the plains. It just rose gently and floating in the air. In what felt like a flash, the experience was over. We made a safe and decent landing and then wandered over to the Masai River looking for hippos and croc, which we saw. This was one of the crossing points for the migration so it was basically a river of potential death for all things hooved. Quite incredible from memory of watching it on TV, you wouldn’t want to get in the way. From there our safari vehicles drove us safely to the open plains for our champagne breakfast (all you could drink at 7.30am!). We then got our certificates for surviving the balloon ride from Capt Mike who sat with our group and told us lots of stories from his adventurous life. It was a wonderful little breakfast with mini quiches, sausages, boiled eggs, fruit, yoghurts, croissants and jams. Plus of course the champagne. Finally, it was time to go and we headed back by vehicle to meet Rob and Chris by a random airstrip in the national park. On the way back we spotted our first warthogs and a whole flock of scavenging vultures tearing apart a fresh kill – that was pretty amazing to see so close. They were evil looking chaps, that’s for sure. Once we re-grouped we continued our safari game drive. This time we saw a large herd of giraffe real close up (we loved their hairy lips and long eyelashes), languishing lions, herds of majestic elephants, zebra, wildebeest and a family of cheetah. It was all very cool. We stopped for lunch by a hippo river and had a picnic. We were then led by a man with a rifle along the river bank to see the hippos, there were hundreds dotted about everywhere, along with the odd croc. On our way back to camp we had a guided tour of the local Masai village led by village leader Robert. It was certainly interesting being shown around and quite a humbling experience. It truly made us realize how ridiculous we are about objects and how materialistic we are. It was a very dirty experience. Because they herd cows, sheep and goats the whole village was covered in poo. Bearing in mind all the kids run around without shoes and half the adults if gives some perspective. We were taken to the baby animal enclosure where they keep their kids and calves safe from lions etc. I (Pheebs) held a baby goat of about 3 days old, very cute. We were then taken to meet the young men who danced for us – followed of course by a number of our group including myself (Andy) trying to match their jumping skills. It was pretty humorous and we had a lot of laughs. However, we were then split into couples (or solo in Kathy’s case) and taken into people’s mud huts (which were pitch black by the way). The huts are built by the women and can take 3 months but they last about 9 years before the termites hit and the village has to move on. We went into Robert’s house which included a room for their infant goats, sheep and cows (as it’s warmer at night), a bedroom for the children and a family room with a fire pit for a kitchen. The walls and the ceiling were made from cow pats. The sad thing is that as soon as we sat down they basically gave us a hard sales pitch for ‘handmade jewellery’, which we were convinced it was not, and made to feel very guilty if we didn’t buy anything from them. So we parted with 2300 shillings (£21) for two bracelets that we didn’t even want. This kinda ruined the whole experience as it made it feel like a scam. Hey ho. Finally, we met up with the others in the group (who felt the same) and were escorted back to our campsite. We both jumped in the shower before meeting up with the crew for dinner. We crashed out very early as we were exhausted. What a wonderful but long day.