At the invitation of the Kenya Tourism Board, destinations editor Eric Moya is visiting game reserves throughout the East African nation. His second dispatch follows.
It's the same joke, with a few variations: "Kenyan massage." "Africa massage." "Safari massage." The punch line being that the path to safari bliss is not a paved one, and the bumps and jolts along the way are part of the experience.
And, fair enough. A little jostling -- OK, occasionally a lot of jostling -- as one winds through Kenya's conservancies, reserves and national parks is the smallest of prices to pay for the chance to see big cats, elephants and more in their natural habitats. And all things considered, the four-wheel-drive, open-air Toyota Land Cruisers we've been using throughout this trip are actually pretty comfortable.
Still, it was a pleasant change of pace to take in Masai Mara from a different viewpoint: the sky.
There are a few hot-air balloon operators in Masai Mara, but the drill, I gather, is basically the same.
Guests arrive just before sunrise and watch as the balloon is inflated. We left our host property, the Angama Mara, at about 5 a.m. to arrive at Skyship around a quarter to 6.
The safety instructions were brief: Upon landing, take a seat, grab the hand grips and lean back against the basket's headrest, as you'll be landing with your back to the ground.
Upon takeoff, I was struck by the gentle pace. The occasional roar of the burner was a nice change from the constant hum of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the smooth glide a stark contrast to the Cessnas in which we'd be traveling from park to park.
The pilot offered commentary about Masai Mara and its inhabitants during the hour-long ride, but with views like this, I confess I was paying little attention.
Photo Credit: TW photo by Eric Moya
We'd been having decent luck spotting wildlife throughout our Kenya trip, and frankly, after a while, one pack of elephants doesn't look terribly different from another. But the hot-air balloon ride had a couple of surprises for us.
Most importantly, we got our first decent glimpse at a black rhino, thus concluding our quest for the Big Five. And while giraffes have been ubiquitous throughout our Kenya visit, this was our first bird's-eye view.
Upon landing, Skyship had Champagne and breakfast waiting a short drive away. I gazed off as another hot-air balloon took flight. While I was happy to return to our Land Cruiser for another day of wildlife watching, I couldn't help but envy the folks floating off on their skyward safari.