By 3:40 a.m., John and I were up and ready to go on a hot air balloon ride. Hot air balloons filled the Masai Mara skies, as Dennis said that this time of year is the high season for riding. The hour long ride to Governor’s Place, which is the location of take-off, included crossing a river with hippos, deep ditches, and thick sludge. The Jeep was built for the terrain. When we arrived at our destination, there was another river crossing. The strong currents brought 3.5 ton hippos along with it, and since it was still dark out, employees used flashlights to watch out for hippos as we crossed in a boat tied to a string. One of the guides tugged along the string, pulling people with it to the other side. We were on a mission to get to the balloon.
Safely, we arrived at the balloon take-off point where we met our pilot, Sean. There were eleven of us, and we all managed to fit into the picnic basket seat of the the balloon. The basket can actually hold sixteen people, with eight on each side, and four to a seat, not including the pilot who stands in the middle. Imagine 4 giant blowtorches stacked next to each other – that is what Sean controlled in order to keep the balloon afloat. Throughout the route, the blazing torches would go off every few minutes, blasting a wave of heat on the side of our faces. As the balloon started to take off, the eleven of us hopped into the tall picnic basket. Eight-hundred feet from the ground later, John and I peeked out to see the winding Mara river below. An elephant that weighs over 5,000 lbs looked small enough to grab with my hand.
Once we landed on our backsides in the long, grassy plains of the Mara (which is a normal landing), we crawled out from the basket and into a Jeep, where we were taken to an outdoor breakfast. Three long tables were set up for the guests and pilots, and to cook the food, chefs used converted hot-air balloon burners. How creative is that?! Our pilot told us the times that lions came up to the table to eat the food right after he walked away. He also said that this was a common spot for destination weddings. I wondered how the wedding guests would feel about lions possibly hiding in the long grass behind them. Oh well, we did not stay long enough to find out.