06.24.2013 - 06.24.2013
Our Monday began very, very early. We were awakened at 4:30a to get ready for our hot air balloon flight. Just after waking, we heard lions roaring near our tent. I looked out the back window of the tent but couldn't see anything clearly. I thought I saw a shadow pass by but am not certain. Sounds of impala snorting (alarm calls) were coming from the front of our tent. It is incredible to be able to hear these sounds in the darkness. About that time, one of the camp staff came to our tent to walk us to our ride. The balloon company driver had arrived to pick us up. We had a few more stops to make at other camps/lodges to pick up others and then were on our way to the launch site. A few miles before the site, a pride of lions crossed the dark road right in front of us. We wouldn't have seen them at all if not for our headlights on the road.
We arrived at the launch site where they were busy readying the balloons for flight. There were three flying today. Each balloon basket was divided into five compartments--one in the middle for the pilot and four surrounding compartments that held three passengers each. We were instructed to put on harnesses that we would hook into the balloon basket.
Brenda had been ballooning several times before but this was my first time and I was a little nervous. She said I was breathing heavily! The basket was turned on its side and we each had to climb in and hook up our harness. Brenda and I shared our compartment with a pilot-in-training from England. Our other balloon passengers were a couple of gay French guys, some guy traveling by himself, and a family from Canada. We took off around 6:45a, just as the sun was coming up.
We passed over the top of a tree where some olive baboons were hanging out.
Once we were in the air, I relaxed and was no longer nervous.
Most of the animals we saw were scared of the balloon, unfortunately, and would take off running when they heard it or saw it.
At one point, we got fairly low over a burned area of the Serengeti. We saw a gazelle frantically running for its life, making a horrendous snorting noise. We thought it was just scared to death of the balloon but then realized it was being chased by both a hyena and a jackal. Our balloon interrupted the hunt and the gazelle got away.
After that, we went a little higher.
The shadow of our balloon.
A herd of cape buffalo.
A small herd of zebra.
We landed a little over an hour later - HARD! It was not an easy set down. We landed on our side, just as we had started, except there were some unseen rocks at the landing site and it was a rough, bouncy landing. Luckily, Brenda and I were on the top side and not the side that was dragging across the ground. I don't know how those people didn't get injured.
After we landed, we had a champagne toast to a safe balloon trip. Our pilot related the story of champagne toasts after a successful balloon flight.
The toasts date back to 18th century France. Balloonists carried champagne to share with the farmers whose fields they would land in to convince them they were actually human and not some kind of alien or demon falling from the sky.
The snooty French gay guys (who were wearing matching scarves) refused to partake in the champagne because it was not good enough quality for them. They also spent most of the day making fun of everyone and everything in French and stinking up the place with their cologne. We felt sorry for their safari guide.
Our balloon pilot had been a pilot for 17 years and he was the first Tanzanian-born balloon pilot. He received his training in Northern California and came to work for this balloon company on the condition that they hire and train a certain percentage of Tanzanian balloon pilots. His tie had little cheetahs all over it!
After our toast, we were driven to another location in the Serengeti for a full English breakfast (and more champagne). We sat next to the family from Canada. They were a widowed father with his two grown children (older teens or younger twenties) and his deceased wife's sister. The father and mother had previously been to Tanzania and done the balloon flight. This was her favorite place in the Serengeti (although I'm sure the breakfast site changes from time to time). The father and mother had planned to travel back to Tanzania to renew their wedding vows but before that could happen she died of cancer. The family was taking this trip to honor her memory and show her children her favorite place. But the kids were acting like spoiled brats. There were a few bees buzzing around because of the orange juice, champagne, etc. They were freaking out and causing a major scene about it. One went so far as to skip breakfast and sit in the truck.
Despite all of that, the breakfast set up was lovely. The full English breakfast consisted of eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, and mushrooms.
The three small buildings in the background are what is called "loo with a view." When you walk around the backside, there is a toilet and there is no door. As you sit on the toilet, you have an unimpeded view of the Serengeti. Since I'm from the country, I've done my share of going to the bathroom outside but the loo with a view was a new one for even me.
Hand washing station.
After breakfast, around 10:30a, we were driven to the Serengeti Welcome Center to meet up with Maningo and begin our day of safari.