Exploring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania by road and hot-air balloon – by Heather Thistleton
This morning I woke at 3:00am as we were picked up at 4:00 to go to the launch site of the hot-air balloon. It was pitch dark – escort required!! – and a lovely chill was in the air. When I saw the basket on its side and listened to the instructions on how to get in my heart sank. Being semi-disabled there was no way I could hold onto the ropes and swing myself in, feet first. I just don’t have the strength.
I explained my problem and showed my hands to the pilot. “Hakuna Matata” (no worries) was the reply. Once all the other 15 passengers were in I was lifted by these two big men and loaded feet first like a torpedo, as gentle as ever. Once they were happy I was comfortable the balloon was ready to go.
What an experience. It is far noisier than I imagined as the regular “firing up” of the gas is very loud and even when they are on “pilot light” it is not silent. However, the feeling of drifting and seeing the vista around us was magic.
There is something about the African bush with its sounds and smells and the splendour of the acacia trees that cannot be equalled anywhere on earth.
Our balloon landed on its bottom so we all had to scramble out over the rim of the basket. Okay for some! No worries, I hitched my bum onto the rim of the basket and on the count of 3 fell backwards into the arms of the same men who had loaded me into the basket. I realised that nothing is impossible. This was my only outstanding dream and not even a disability got in the way of fulfilling it, thanks to the kindness of those wonderful people.
After the balloon ride we were treated to a full champagne breakfast in the bush. The ground crew never know where we will land (depends on the wind) so they “chase” us on the ground and set up the table (and makeshift porta-potties!) closest to where they think we will land. We saw them doing hurried 3-point turns when our balloon veered off course. How they produce such 5-star cuisine in the middle of the bush and in so short a time I do not know, but boy it is great. All my Colonial genes came pouring out of me as I wallowed in the splendour of it all. My Nana would have been very proud of me!!
We spent the rest of the day on a game drive throughout the Serengeti returning at sunset to our lodge.
Oh – the sunsets. I was sad as I knew this was the end of my last day on safari. I had been to heaven and really did not want to leave.
However, life must go on I guess. After breakfast the next morning we went on another game drive on our way to the airstrip to catch our tiny aircraft back to Arusha. Even the baboons were still asleep in the trees and it was great to see the sunrise with the silhouettes of the acacias for the last time (for now). I will go back one day.
We flew close to the active volcano – what a sight and how high the smoke and debris goes. The Maasai have been asked to move as they expect an eruption at any time but they say they will watch the animals as they will tell them when it is time to leave! We were met on arrival at Arusha and had lunch in the Cultural Centre Village
The flight home was via Dar es Salaam. Looking out of the aircraft window as we came into land and seeing the densely populated town made me realise how privileged I was to have just experienced the vast, unspoilt and wild Africa that is so unique.
Even though I got home 2 weeks ago I have still not come back to earth. In some ways I hope I never do!! There is an expression in Tanzania – “polé polé” pronounced like the “olé” in the bull ring but with a “p” in front – which means “slowly, slowly”.
If you go “polé polé” you will see all the animals – the only one we did not see was the elusive leopard. It is hard in the real world, but I intend to live my life “polé polé”.