I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

📸 by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” 👌

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❤️