Compass Blog

The Gentlemen's Expedition - A Bird's Perspective of Masai Mara

Locations: Kenya, Masai Mara, Tanzania

Mikael Strandberg’s A Gentlemen’s Expedition Through East Africa shares his return to Kenya and Tanzania with Kensington Founder Jeff Willner in a soulful 5 part series. His insights on the rhythm, people and life in East Africa invite readers to go far beyond the surface of this popular safari destination. Strandberg is the creator of the internationally renowned documentary The Masai People – 1,000 Kilometers By Foot (2002), in which he spent 8 months living and traveling with the tribes of the Masai Mara.  

A professional explorer, filmmaker  for the past quarter century, Strandberg is considered one of the 50 most important explorers in the world by the Royal Geographic Society and the Explorers Club has called him “the best contemporary explorer in the world.”  

PART II - A Birds Perspective of Masai Mara
by Mikael Strandberg

Look,2 rhinos!” Kevin Pilgrim, the balloon pilot pointed out in the horizon and than added; “No, I only say this to keep your attention. It is probably 2 buffaloes.”

It turns out it was 2 rhinos. Amazingly enough positioned more or less next to the same stretch of bush where I saw them 12 years ago. That time from a Landrover together with 2 female scientists doing a survey on the black rhino of Masai Mara. That time they worried a lot over loosing the rhino to the poachers which where roaming the park. This time, the poaching was under control and this time I managed to see them better and get a better photo. Much due to the piloting done by the Canadian Woody Harrelson look alike, Kevin Pilgrim.

“I have done this for more than 20 years” he told us, whilst he brought us very close to the rhino, just missing the tree tops and he brought us up high, so we got a good overall view of this magnificent park; “I should know what i am doing.”

This was my third balloon safari in the Masai Mara and believe me,it is a major difference if you have a good pilot who can take you close to the ground, just above the tree tops, because no matter how good one´s human eyes are, it isn´t easy to spot anything smaller than an impala whilst at altitude. Kevin´s piloting gave as a unique view of a cerval cat, the black rhino and this time,just after the major migration had taken place, I saw the multitude of tracks left by the grass eaters. It was a surreal sight and there´s no doubt that getting a birds perspective is a must when doing a safari. It gives a totally different perspective of not only the wildlife but the workings of the whole eco-system, which makes Masai Mara so unique.

There were 8 of us in the gondola below the balloon. It is a very comfortable and half the time, a really silent and laid back way to see the park. The rest of the time is as comfortable, but lots of noise from the pilot adjusting speed and height. It is 2 heavenly hours. The only draw back is getting up at 4 in the morning, but once you have landed you get champagne and a full English breakfast with bacon, sausages and eggs. A good pilot also knows his game and is a good spotter. And, by experience, all balloon pilots I have come across are major personalities. Kevin is no exception. He is such a character so he decided after an easy flight to give us some landing drama which caused me a minor concussion. I don´t regret it!

There´s something of a great relief and a sense of real freedom in experiencing life from a birds perspective. There´s less rules, less knowledge, less restraints and one just feel damn free. However, the game still seemed slightly hesitant seeing this great shadow hoovering over them and most of them ran away in panic. But some just got so surprised that didn´t move at all. And the only thing which was better last time compared to this,was that it was during the great migration where more than a million grass eaters headed for the Mara crossing. That is probably one of the most extra ordinary sights I have ever seen, this great mass of wildebeest and zebra. But even without this world class experience, flying over Masai Mara in a balloon will change the way you look upon all living creatures.

Click here for the Photo Gallery from The Gentlemen´s Expedition in East Africa 2012.

Mikael Strandberg has travelled to 117 countries and has slept more than 2500 nights in his tent.  The Explorers Club in London considers Mikael "the best contemporary explorer in the world" at present. He is currently working as an explorer, a lecturer and a writer and has produced three internationally renowned documentaries for television: PATAGONIA – 3,000 kilometers by horse and THE MASAAI PEOPLE – 1,000 kilometers by foot and his much awarded, -58 degrees – exploring Siberia on skiis. Considered one of the world’s 50 most important and famous explorers, Kensington Tours is proud to have Mikael as one of our Explorers-In-Residence.

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