It was an even earlier start this morning. We were heading across the Mara river to the Mara Triangle for a sunrise hot air balloon safari. The nearest bridge was a long drive; the shorter option was to drive for an hour or so to a boat crossing. Take a look at the picture below (courtesy of Trip Advisor) and try to imagine doing this in the complete darkness with the river raging from the recent rains. It was surreal.
Governors are one of the bigger operators in the Mara – they operate several camps as well as the best hot air balloon safaris.
After checking in and going through security they directed us to the bathrooms which were outside of the secure area and, no, we did not have to back through security! It was quite amusing.
We gathered for our safety briefing and then it was time to start filling the balloons. Here is a little slow motion video (from my phone)
This was my first hot air balloon ride and the first time seeing them up close. These things are huge!
We loaded in to the basket and before long we were up, up and away; heading south along the Mara River just as the sun peeked above the horizon.
It wasn’t just a hot air balloon ride, it was a balloon safari. The pilot was fun (and maybe just a little bit crazy) but he was also very good at spotting the birds and wildlife from the air.
We flew high and we also flew quite low – literally skimming over the grass. Here’s a little video from the flight…
Before landing we were warned that it might be bumpy so we had to sit and brace ourselves. The problem here is that, although they try to find a flat spot to land, the basket does drag before settling and there are termite mounds everywhere. Those mounds can (and do) send the basket back into the air.
Fortunately our landing was pretty smooth, although it is a little disconcerting knowing that you’re about to land but not being able to see it!
After landing we were treated to a delicious champagne breakfast, surrounded by herds of wildebeest. The 2 red “huts” in the photo below are the bathrooms (for ladies only). Very civilized!
And no outdoor dining room would be complete without the smoking area!
We were spending the rest of the day in the Mara Triangle, hoping to see another crossing, this time with the wildebeest coming towards us. First we had to be taken to the rendezvous point where we would meet up with our guides (who had taken the long way around after dropping us off hours before).
At the rendezvous point there was a dazzle (the collective for a group) of zebra in the water.
One of them wasn’t so lucky…
The wildebeest were gathering at a point just to the southeast of us, so off we went. We arrived there just before 10 am and waited. They’d start to cross, then change their minds. We waited. More vehicles arrived on both sides of the river. We waited.
And finally, about 11:30 they took the leap while the hippos got out of the way and watched the show.
Utter chaos ensued – in the water with the splashing and bellowing of the wildebeest and on land with the vehicles jockeying for position and the camera shutters sounding like machine gun fire.
At the beginning the wildebeest were crossing a little upriver from where we were. As it progressed, they worked their way towards us and we were, thanks to our guide Arnold, in the perfect position.
Wildebeest have these crazy eyes that always make them look like they’re terrified. In this case, they most likely are – the river is full of hungry crocodiles and getting across literally is a matter of life and death.
It’s such a frenzy that escaping the river doesn’t guarantee survival – it’s not uncommon for them to make it to the other side but break a leg in the process, leaving them vulnerable.
And then the zebras got in on the act, big ears flying…
The whole thing only lasted 15 minutes but I couldn’t even begin to guess how many crossed; our photo guides said it was one of the biggest crossings they’d ever seen. It was such an amazing spectacle and we were so lucky to have seen it – it’s not unheard of for people to sit at a crossing point all day and nothing happens.
With a major crossing under our belts, the pressure was off and we were free to look for other animals and photo opportunities and to try different techniques. We headed south west towards the Kenya – Tanzania border.
A couple of high-key images…
It was so nice to see so many babies of all types. This baby zebra wasn’t very old at all…
It had been a very busy morning and it was time for lunch. Where do you go? Well, to the picnic trees of course!
After crossing the river, the wildebeest spread out and get down to business eating the green grass that they risked their lives for.
A few shots as we got closer to the Kenya – Tanzania border…
After crossing back over the Mara river we were in the south western part of the Park and working our way towards home, stopping frequently to photograph a variety of things.
There are a group of 5 cheetah (thought to be 2 sets of brothers) in the Mara known as the “fabulous 5” or “fast 5”. They have formed a very effective coalition; there truly is strength in numbers. On this day, we were lucky to come across 3 of them on a fresh kill (a topi). If you’re squeamish, you may want to scroll past the next few pictures.
They’d been eating for a while, they were so full that they were having trouble staying awake to eat more.
After the cheetah we needed something cute and these guys fit the bill. We had seen a lot of Thomson’s gazelles, but this was the first Tommie baby that we’d seen.
Our first full day was so amazing that it really raised expectations for our 2nd day and the Mara did not disappoint. As another very full day came to a stunning close everyone was all smiles and wondering how the next day could possibly be as good.
- cheetah kill
- Hot Air Balloon Safari
- Mara Triangle
- Masai Mara
- The Great Migration