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After a sunrise we took a balloon ride piloted by a colorful American who Michael met on a previous Mara trip.

As silent as a whisper, in between the firing of the hot air into the giant balloon, we glide low over the sand colored grass. Hippos are returning along their established paths to their pools. Giraffe nibble the tree tops in large groups. Herds of elephant stand motionless in the surreal morning light casting shadows seeming created by a cinematographer. Our shadow hangs against the wall of the escarpment, picking up speed as an early wind begins to gather. I can’t believe this is real.

After bracing ourselves for a bumpy landing over termite mounds on our side, we climb over each other while exiting the basket and settle down to a champagne breakfast sheltered under the shade of an acacia located in the middle of a great island of soft golden grass.

As we toast, someone notices that a lioness is tucked behind a hillock a few meters away and periodically pokes her head above the grass to watch us. It seems that she has eaten and it is with curiosity that she views our antics.

After breakfast, as we leave for camp, we notice that she is part of a pride. The male lion has been challenged by a youngster who hungers for his girls. The older lion has pushed him back to the road, lionesses surrounding his victory over the vanquished upstart. He crosses before our truck but can’t proceed without fording a stream, something that he wants to avoid. So he sits within a few feet of our open vehicle, so close that we could touch his head.

His mouth drips saliva as he peers across the road at the male who defeated him. He pants. And then he looks at us, each one of us eye to eye. He is a heartbeat from a leap into the truck. But of course he doesn’t leap. We are nothing more than abstraction compared to his defeat. But it is an unforgettable moment indelible in our minds.

Further down the road a pair of Martial eagles are perched atop a leafless acacia, watching for prey. A Martial can drop from a high altitude toward a gazelle, slamming into its defenseless prey breaking its neck in an instant, feet so powerful that it can carry the fallen prey into the air and away from those competing for the kill. The long shadows of the morning shorten as the sun rises, and we head out to view the plains.

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