Up, up and away – Serengeti Balloon Ride

Jul 23

We woke up before the wake up “call” came to knock at our door. We were tired but anxious to get to the balloon ride. It didn’t take us long to repack. After two weeks of packing up your stuff every morning you get to be an expert at getting it done quickly. As we start for the lobby one of the porters shows up to carry our bags. We are the first two from our group in the lobby. There is another couple waiting for the balloon ride as well. There are coffee and cookies on a small table but I decide not to have any since there is no bathroom on the balloon. The rest of the group gradually drifts in to the lobby half awake. There isn’t a lot of talking.

One of the drivers from the balloon company comes and tells us we will be going in two groups. He will take two cars and then come get the others. Somehow we don’t end up in the first group so once again we are waiting. It seems like I have done an awful lot of getting up early to wait around while I have been here in Africa – its that patience thing again. I think it is at least 30 minutes before the cars come back to get us. We load in to the Land Cruiser and head out. There still isn’t much talking going on. I am in the front (again – car sick precaution) so I can see out the front into the pitch dark. As we drive down the road a civet (nocturnal cat) crosses the road in front of us. I see an owl and a hyena. I think everyone else is asleep. As we are getting closer to the balloon area there is a faint bit of light on the horizon. I am worrying that we will miss the sunrise from the balloon. It seems like it has taken us forever – by now it is almost 6 and we got up a 4. Just then we see 4 cheetahs to the side of the road. We are in a hurry though so we don’t stop to look very long. Finally we make it to the balloon launch site. There are 3 balloons filling up with hot air. Ours is the last one. There was one more car behind us but we don’t see it anywhere. We get out of the car and mill around. We are starting to get excited now. The other balloons are filling up quickly. We soon realize we aren’t going to get any instructions until the other car shows up But there is no sign of it and nobody telling us what is going on. Patience again!

Finally it is getting too late , they tell us our other car is having some sort of engine trouble but another car is going to pick them up. They rush us over to the balloon for some hasty instructions. Balloons are loaded with the basket lying on its side on the ground. We have to climb in from an awkward angle but we manage. John and I climbed in one of the bottom sections facing up at Sierra and Monique. They were both a little wide-eyed and uncomfortable with the situation.

The balloon was filling with air and starting to tip the basket up. The balloon staff on the ground were holding it down but their was some question as to whether or not they could hold it much longer. Still no car with the others. I was thinking how awful it would be to miss the balloon ride at the end due to car trouble. Lori was in the missing car and I was feeling terrible that she might not make it after all she went through to put the trip together. We were about to float off the ground when up pulls the car. Mayhem ensues! A few are rushing toward the balloon but some seem to be in no hurry. They don’t understand the urgency – the balloon only needs one gust of wind and it will take flight without them. They are being rushed over to the basket. One by one they are hoisted up over the tall sides the basket. On our end Mickey, Susie, Jeanne and April managed to tumble over the edge and in to their compartments. April was half asleep and not feeling too well but she managed. Down on the other end Lori and Neil made it as well. And we were off!

The other two balloons were out ahead of us dotting the sky. The sun had risen by this time and was casting some shadows from the balloons on to the ground below. It was a beautiful morning. We floated along in complete serenity. Amazing after the chaos of waiting for take off. Its just the most magnificent feeling being in a balloon looking over this wide open space – not a house, pavement, car, airplane – nothing in our way.

Almost immediately we spot the four cheetahs that we saw earlier from the Land Cruiser making their way through the grass. They are small from our vantage point but I can still see and feel the grace with which they move through the tall grasses. In no time at all we are past them and on to the first hippo pool. This is really something compared to the hippo pool in the Crater. I think there were maybe 4 hippos in the Crater but here there must be 20 or more! It looks like a dark bumpy island. There are even a few out of the water walking around. We drop down for a closer look quickly drifting by and floating toward some elephants.

The elephants get a little unsettled as we approach. Our balloon captain (from Indiana no less) tells us that the balloon emits a frequency we can’t hear that is similar to what elephants use to communicate so the balloon disturbs them because they don’t know where it is coming from. He lets some more hot air into the balloon so we rise up further from the elephants. I look around the balloon and everyone has a huge smile on their face. This is just so amazing. I have always wanted to go up a balloon but really THIS is the only way to do it! Spectacular.

We drift along for about an hour looking at wildlife and taking in our last breath of Africa. This will be the final day for most of our group. We are staying for one more day. He puts the balloon down alongside one of the “roads” not far from where they have our breakfast set up. We pile out of the group and then gather with the rest of our group from the other balloon while they pour us champagne and one of the captains tells us about the tradition of drinking champagne after a balloon ride. You can see the video I shot of him on YouTube if you search under Serengeti Balloon Ride.

After a multiple toasts, photos


we made out way to the Land Cruisers and up the road the breakfast. They had two beautiful tables set for us under and acacia tree. First we stopped at a table by the roadside with a glistening copper bowl and giant pitcher of water for us to wash our hands. Again – everything was first class – perfect! Well, except for the bees. There were bees all over the place trying to climb in our glasses and drink our champagne. Of course, they don’t bother me because I am a bee keeper. I know that they won’t bother you if you just ignore them. But Inez was deathly afraid of them. So much so that she had to go back and sit in one of the trucks while we ate. I felt terrible for her but I know how it is because my daughter Lindsay would be the same way.

With our champagne they served fresh fruits, then sausages and I think eggs. I forgot to write it all down. I do remember the champagne was flowing for most of the meal so that’s probably why I don’t remember all the food. It was wonderful though. I do remember that. There were also two portable toilets again with curtains around 3 sides and a sign on the back that said, “Loo with a View”. Think they cater to the Brits maybe?

Our time together was drawing to an end and I was starting to get sad. We got back in the trucks for the ride to the airport and switching luggage. All but four of us would be boarding the planes back to Arusha and on to home or other travels. What a journey. We said our goodbyes hastily in the parking lot. This was probably better than something prolonged. I was all choked up seeing it come to an end. What an amazing group of people. I know we’ll be connected for the rest of our lives but THIS moment in time was stamped with something special. Something that words can’t even describe. It just had feeling permeating through it every day. I have struggled much of my life to let myself go and really feel the emotions that are right there. For the first time on this trip I did that every single day and it felt good. I can’t even begin to thank Lori and my companions for showing me the light to living a life full of Joy! I have experienced that joyous feeling every day since we parted – sometimes remembering them but sometimes just in noticing the small things in life that give me joy. This I relearned on the trip. Sante my friends! Sante Sana (spelling may not be correct)

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