We entered the fenced Akagera National Park at six in the morning. Upon arrival, we grabbed some coffee and watched the Royal Balloon Rwanda crew inflating the balloons. The inflating exercise is quite intriguing. This was an opportunity to learn something about the science behind the first manned flying mechanism in history.
Flying in a gondola is one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Also known as a wicker basket, the weaved carrier is partitioned to create a tiny cockpit. As small as it is, the cockpit has enough space for the pilot and liquid propane cylinders.
I shared a balloon with three American tourists, including the daughter of the legendary hot air balloon pilot, Matt Wiederkehr. As we ascended higher and higher, we waved at the passengers of the second balloon. They waved back, beaming with excitement.
While airborne, I marveled at the sprawling Savannah and saw wild animals roaming around. The ground crew drove toward the direction of the balloons. When this was happening, game-driving tourists slowed down to capture the aerial show we were staging.
A hot air balloon follows the direction of the wind. An average flight lasts about an hour. Unfortunately, the wind pushed us to the end of the flying zone in less than an hour. It was at this point when I wished I had supernatural powers to reverse the direction of the wind. Little did I know that our pilots had a better idea — offering an additional tethered ride.
Our flights were followed by a champagne-toasting landing ceremony, in accordance with a long-standing ballooning tradition. Finally, we had breakfast in the bush. This treat was an icing on the cake.
Our breakfast attracted monkeys and other primates. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to share food with our cousins from the animal kingdom. It is prohibited to feed animals in the park. I felt bad when one baboon gave me that look that says, "don’t be greedy."