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Farewell flight

Posted on 13 Mar 2020 | 6 comments

On our final day of safari in East Africa we floated up into the sky in a hot air balloon. It was amazing. But that morning, when we woke up in the dark, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We had no idea we were going to see the Mara in a different, totally new way. We actually woke up feeling rather sad that morning. It was our last day and we knew we would miss going on safari, a lot….

we will miss these incredible vistas

But let’s go back a few days to the beginning of our final safari when we touched down in Nairobi from Sudan at 6am. Marcel, our friend, had organised somebody to pick us up from JKIA (the international airport) and drive us to Wilson (the domestic airport) where we met him. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and he had organised our last safari for us as that is what he does for a living now.

We were off to the Mara by plane and he would also join us, it was time for a mini-holiday for him too after a super busy season. But first we walked to the Aero Club to have breakfast (now a Java House café). Shortly after arriving back at the terminal our flight was called. About a dozen others also headed out, but as we were invited onto the apron, the three of us were directed to a different plane. Super posh we flew to the Mara in our own private plane.

Marcel had booked us into Little Governor’s Camp. That was surprise number one. It’s a fantastic camp located next to the Mara River, and views over a swamp. In fact it is located so closely to the Mara River that you actually have to cross it in a little boat before and after each game drive (whilst you keep a look out for crocs and hippo), just to get to your car.

our tent with the balcony overlooking the swamp where loads of wildlife can be watched at all hours of the day

Jude and Marcel in Little Governors overlooking the swamp in front of the lodge

Dominick, Marcel an Jon boarding the little boat the captain pulls across the Mara River – the cars are parked on the other side of the river to give easy access to the Masai Mara as the lodge is located in the Mara Triangle

the boys in the boat – Jon, Dominick and Marcel

Our second surprise appeared soon after we arrived in camp. Dominick was going to be our guide!!! We met Dominick years ago when we went on a trip to Meru NP and he had always been our best guide during all our safaris in East Africa. He knows everything, is enthusiastic, a superb spotter and on top of that he is also genuinely a nice guy. If only all guides could be like him… And when we say he knows everything, we mean everything. Birds, mammals, insects, snakes, reptiles, trees, flowers, you see it, he can tell you everything about it (more likely he will spot it first and point it out to you though).

Marcel had contacted him (he normally works at a different camp in the Mara) and asked if he was available those days. And he was! He had driven across with his car (not a short drive) and met us that morning. We were in for a treat!

Dominick teaching Jon some specific photography skills

And a treat it was… we learned a lot, spotted plenty of animals, had nice food out in the bush, shared stories and laughs, and even managed to add two new birds to the list. We have managed to see more than 650 different types of birds in Africa in our 5 years there, quite a list (we will be adding a photo of each type of bird we saw to our birds of the world page soon, birds spotted in Australia and in Europe have already been done).

Jude and Marcel in the Mara Triangle with the herd of elephants we just watched crossing the road

these two were having a domestic

whilst these two were enjoying a tender moment

the intense stare of a martial eagle – the largest eagle in Africa with a wingspan of up to 275cm who can fly faster than 230km per hour

Thompson gazelles (aka ‘tommies’) practising their skills to determine dominance

we followed this leopard a little while, marking territory

ellies against a striking Kenyan sky

a beautiful, small grey kestrel – one of the few birds of prey that eats vegetables (oil palm nuts)

these two just started their love affair, after mating it can sometimes get a little violent – look closely as her nail is actually pulling on the skin of his leg

On our last day we were heading out half an hour earlier to try to find nocturnal animals still out and about, or so we were told. Turns out you have to be careful around Marcel and Dominick, as they are good liars. In the morning we met up with Marcel, walked to the car (or so we thought), but then arrived at the balloon inflation site. Two huge balloons were laying flat on the ground, and Marcel had a big smile on his face when we walked over to the table to sign our lives away. He had organised a balloon flight as a farewell surprise for us!! Our smiles were possibly even bigger as we waited for the balloons to be inflated, we were getting super excited.

After climbing in and sitting on the low bench we were off quickly, rising above the trees that surround the clearing. We nearly scraped them, but made it safely across. And then we dropped down again! It turns out this balloon company flies only several meters above the savannah, giving you an amazing view of the wildlife as you fly over. High enough to look down on the animals, but not so high they become specs on the ground. Every time a tree came into our path we had to ascend a bit, and then dropped back down again. Amazing!

flying over the Masai Mara – magic

can you find the two youngsters who are not impressed with the areal intrusion?

We came eye to eye with large raptors, looked down onto the gentle giant elephants in their herds, spotted some bohor reedbucks hiding in the reeds, and saw a lioness walking. We were lucky there were still some large herds of wildebeest and zebra in the Mara Triangle and we managed to fly directly above them, sending them scattering about, tails in the air.

we fly over a small herd of wildebeest and zebra near the end of our flight, they are also not impressed with our presence up in the sky

The flight lasted well over an hour, but as with all good things, they come to an end way too quickly…. We touched down smoothly, but as the basket gently tipped over the last minute we crawled out awkwardly trying to avoid the poo next to our heads. We couldn’t stop smiling. We hopped into the cars that were waiting and were whisked off to our sit-down champagne breakfast. Set up in a stunning location with a full kitchen, a bathroom, as well as a crepe-making station on old balloon gas burners, we all sat down on little stools. It had been a magic morning.

Marcel, Jude and Jon after the balloon flight, the basket nearly stayed upright

Jon, Marcel and Jude – after our magical experience

one of the chefs at the crepes station made of old balloon burners

Jon and Marcel at the champagne breakfast table after the flight, together with our fellow adventurers

We found Dominick waiting back in camp, he had enjoyed a sleep-in. Jude and Dominick went off to hunt for Ross’ turaco as we spotted one the day before and Dominick had not seen it. As we were pottering amongst the trees, Jon came running towards us, “quickly come”, he said. A few turacos had landed in the tree where we had been sitting before we wandered off. We ran back and luckily they were still there.

It was slowly sinking in that we were really leaving today. Marcel and Dominick had made this the perfect safari, which made us even sadder to say our goodbyes…

farewell Masai Mara, Dominick and Marcel – we will meet again, that’s a promise!

We said goodbye to Dominick at the airstrip. He had to drive back to his camp as his next guests were arriving that night. We hopped on the plane that would take us back to Nairobi. After a quick stop at Marcel’s place we went on to Karura Forest where we met Helen for lunch. Marcel said goodbye after that and we went home with Helen to pick up James and head out for dinner with them both.

Helen, James and Jude enjoying an outdoor dinner at Tokyo in Nairobi, we’ll miss these two…

After dinner it was farewell again, too many in one day. Farewell Dominick, farewell Mara, farewell Marcel, farewell Helen & James, and a little later also farewell Nairobi and Kenya. We love you a lot and will be back one day, promise!

the powerful eyes of the male lion in the fading light

this sleepyhead was spotted on our walk back into camp

pre-dinner drinks around the campfire – Dominick, Jon and Marcel

another bird with piercing yellow eyes – the brown snake eagle – it’s the largest snake eagle and it successfully hunts all types of snakes, including large venomous snakes like the black mamba

Marcel and Jon enjoying lunch at Little Governors camp

this cheetah perked up as it had spotted something of interest in the distance

this mucky pup was on a mission to get back to an old kill

6 Comments

  1. Lovely story Jude. I like the backlit photo of the leopard with his elegant stretch. On the way back from Mexico, catch up in a few weeks.

    • thanks! looking forward to catching up again! Have you got the Bee back yet? All ok with the Bee after the journey? (apart from fridge and roof…) Love all your photos, but especially all the colourful birds 🙂 (thinking cock of the rock! hahahaha brilliant name!)

  2. You made me feel your pain Jude!

    • Africa is calling…!

  3. Mooie avonturen gehad in Afrika! Mooie herinneringen gemaakt!

    Veel plezier in Australië 🙂

    • 🙂 zekers! en bedankt!! Jx

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