Photo credit: Royal Balloon Rwanda
From the sky, I saw wild animals wandering in the sprawling Savannah. I was lucky because spotting animals roaming around is not guaranteed. My attempt to catch a glimpse of the neighboring Lake Ihema was not as successful. Unfortunately, fog prevented me from seeing Rwanda’s second-biggest lake.
My first-ever hot air balloon experience took place at the Akagera National Park. Covering 1,122 km², the home of the big five encompasses a cluster of lakes and marshlands. About 500 species of birds inhabit the greater wetland area.
Apart from Ihema, other lakes found within the protected area include Kivumba, Hago, Gishanju, Mihindi and Rwanyakizinga. Kagera River meanders on the eastern edge of the park, forming the boundary line between Rwanda and Tanzania.
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 hot air balloon cockpit has enough space for the pilot and liquid propane cylinders.
I flew with three other tourists. The second balloon, carrying a whole family, was flown close to ours. While airborne, we waved at its passengers. They waved back, beaming with excitement. Pilots of the two balloons used their walkie talkies to communicate throughout the duration of the flights.
The first hot air balloon flight in history took place in 1783. The event marked the first time man was propelled to the sky by a machine. When co-pilots Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes landed safely, they popped champagne and celebrated their historic feat. We did the same upon landing. Details of our wild celebrations and bush breakfast, followed by a certificate-awarding ceremony, will be shared sometime next week.
The author is an adventurer on a tour of all 30 districts of Rwanda. Follow his awe-inspiring expeditions on Twitter @GeoExposure