Lane Nichols gets a high and mighty view of the Masai Mara.
We rise before dawn. Meeting in the Kenyan resort's bar we guzzle rich black coffee and pastries before moving silently through the darkness to a nearby field.
The giant shape of a semi-inflated hot air balloon is just visible in the half morning African light. A team of men are preparing the aircraft for a dawn flight over the Masai Mara plains.
The flame roars and the bulging balloon takes shape, rising above us like a dark cloud.
We take our places in the wicker basket and the pilot fires up the gas. Flames blast above, intense heat bearing down upon our heads. The giant balloon, painted in the colours of the Kenyan flag, gently rises from the field and drifts silently over the Fig Tree Camp and nearby river, lifting above the plains as the first rays of golden sunlight flicker over the eastern horizon.
Animals appear in the game park below. Sleek topi and Thomson's gazelle with their razor-sharp horns forage for a morning feed. We spot elephants and their calves plodding across the plains in search of water, their bodies wobbling with each cumbersome step, tails swatting flies from their mud-caked backs. A pride of lions make their way to some unknown destination. These fearsome carnivores are the most dangerous killers in the Masai, weighing up to 250kg and able to bring down zebra and wildebeest twice their size.
As the sun rises the balloon drifts across the park. A large hippo appears beneath us pacing across a field towards its river haven. These massive animals can walk up to 15km a night in search of food before returning to the sanctuary of the water. Our guide tells us they are also the number one killer of humans in Africa, known to charge anyone who gets between them and the river.
We see buffalo, giraffe, warthog and hyena below. Baboons scamper across tracks and zebras converge to graze in the morning sun
After about an hour our pilot brings the balloon expertly down on the plains. The sun is higher and it is warming up. Jeeps arrive to collect the passengers and we are driven 30 minutes across the Masai to a champagne breakfast among the grasslands. A barman mixes spiced bloody Marys as we feast on freshly made omelettes, bacon, pastries and fruit. A freshly dug long drop toilet offers spectacular views across the park.
It is a truly remarkable setting. I briefly ponder our proximity to the roving pride of lions and wish every day could begin like this.
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DETAIL S: An eight-day Kenya Safari Experience small-group, National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures ' tour is priced from $5059pp, including accommodation, most meals (allow US$100-130 for meals not included), a chief experience officer (CEO) throughout, transportation and most activities. Prices do not include flights.