Over 15 years ago I visited the Serengeti, where I had the opportunity to go hot air ballooning and for some reason I decided not to. Many moons later and I still regret that decision, so ever since, to magically float in the sky has been on my bucket list. Hence when I discovered the Maasai Mara was part of my trip, I just knew this time I had to go hot air ballooning.
The only problem was the thought of being so high up, just in a wicker basket, absolutely terrified me. Even though I really really wanted to do it, prior to the trip I um’ed and ah’ed for months. This time I didn’t want to go home with regrets, so I mentally prepared for it. Call me crazy, but beforehand I watched YouTube clips of people hot air ballooning and as I work in a high office block, a few times a day I would peer over the 23rd balcony.
In the Intrepid welcome meeting I was thrilled to discover two other girls were also up for it, so with moral support I eagerly signed up.
The night prior to the trip, I had a shocking sleep and it was not due to being nervous about the hot air ballooning. It was our first night camping and Patrick, my guide, managed to scare me shitless with his animal safety talk.
Keep your distance from buffalo as they are very dangerous; look lions in the eyes and walk backwards; all animals eyes reflect in torchlight but you won’t be able to tell what it is.
All very useful advice but, not what you want to hear when you are a person who gets up to go to the loo, in the early hours, every night. Needless to say, I spent most of the first night wide awake wanting a wee, but too scared to leave the safety of my tent.
It was absolutely pitch black when we were picked up at 4.30am. By the time we drove and had a quick pit stop, it was around 6.30am when we arrived on the Maasai Mara plains. On seeing my balloon being inflated, I felt very emotional and almost in tears. It was mix of excitement of finally doing something I have always wanted to do and sheer nervousness.
What if I didn’t like it?
Being trapped for an hour, being absolutely petrified, did not sound a welcoming prospect.
Soon we were being ushered to our balloon. I had never thought about how you get into a basket, I just assumed you would just hop over. But, nope. The basket is divided into 4 sections and it actually starts on its side. We had to climb up to the top quarter and lie on our backs. The basket is pretty deep, so lying there all I could see was inside and my feet; if I tilted my head back I could see the burner and the inside of the air balloon. Just lying there and hearing the whoosh of the burners, by heart was pounding.
This was it.
Has more hot air fills the balloon, the basket gently tilted upright and we started to take off, slowly leaving the ground behind. It was a very gentle take off. I was surprised to find it very calm and a peaceful sensation, floating across the plains was just magical.
I loved it when we glided close to the ground, but every now and again our pilot would fire up the burners and we soared pretty high; and I felt slightly nervous.
It was incredible to see all the animals from above. There were thousands of wildebeest below us, the last of migration. When we were close to the ground, the sound of the burner would scare them, and they would all start running. I thought it was amazing. There was also a tree full of vultures and Marabou storks; we must have been pretty close as we caused all the birds took flight.
The time just flew past and before I knew it was sadly time to land. The pilot told us to sit down and hold on tight to the rope. Feeling nervous I once more looked at just the inside the basket, bracing myself for touchdown. Bump, bump, and I thought ah that wasn’t too bad. The basket was back on its side and we were being dragged. Suddenly we were flung back up and down twice, I was holding on for dear life and a few expletives left my mouth, but eventually we came to a complete stand still.
It was pretty surreal standing on the plains, waiting for our support crew, with zebras only a few metres away. Soon they turned up to whisk us off to a champagne breakfast, overlooking the Maasai Mara.
What a perfect end to an absolutely amazing and magical experience; and I am so glad that once again fear had not held me back.