Written by: Patrick Tillard
As we rise from the ground, the inky-darkness of night begins to give way to the first hint of morning teasing the wide Kenyan sky, gently spraying a golden hue across the western escarpment of the Maasai Mara and Great Rift Valley.
Within seconds I appreciate that piloting a hot air balloon is both an art and a science in equal measure. Clearing the initial line of tall olive trees, the wicker basket just inches from the gnarled branches. We start low, skimming the contours of the land before a roar of the burner lifts us over the forest.
Working 20 seconds ahead to pre-empt every move, the pilot judges each ascent to perfection, with foliage so close that we could have reached out and plucked leaves from their stems. Buffalo herds graze the long red oat grass, a black rhino stampedes along the banks of the Mara river before disappearing into the bush, hyenas slink back towards their dens, and vultures pounce on leftovers from the night’s hunting successes.
Drifting into the vast plains of the Mara Triangle, the pilot fires up all four canisters and we tower skywards as if a helium balloon had been released from a child’s grip. From 600ft up, you gain some true perspective. It is easy to understand how world-renowned photographer and environmentalist, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, discovered his life’s calling while working as a balloon pilot in Kenya: to showcase the world’s beauty from above and to highlight the impact of mankind.
Up where martial eagle’s soar the sheer enormity of the Maasai Mara is clear to see – a cosmos so vast that even elephants, the domineering emblems of Africa, are meagre dots; tiny organisms within the immense landscape. Gazing out across this intoxicating Eden, as far as the curvature of Earth allows, I realise that I have barely scratched the surface.
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