Thursday 02 November 2006
We were up very early this morning – the alarm went off at 4.15! At 5.00 we left the lodge and headed off to the balloon launch site. Today, we were having a balloon safari over the Serengeti (which in maasai means endless plains).
On the way to the launch site it was still dark and we saw hyena in the headlights, and also jackals. We arrived at the launch site just as the sun was rising (6.00) and had to wait for the wind to drop before we could launch. Our pilot was called Paul and was from Zimbabwe and has been flying for 16 years – this is his second year flying in Serengeti. Including all the ground crew there are 32 in the team and they fly two balloons (only two balloons are allowed to fly in the whole of Tanzania!). The balloons are the third largest in the world.
IMG: At the launch site waiting for the wind to drop
The basket is divided into sections which each seat two people (it’s a tight squeeze!). Paul showed us how to get into the basket and what to do for take off and landing. While we were waiting for the wind to drop large fans filled the balloon with cold air. The wind calmed and Paul gave the signal for us all to climb into the basket. We were on the top row (the basket was on its side). Hot air was blasted into the balloon and eventually the balloon lifted off the ground and the basket moved into the upright position.
Our end of the basket kept lifting off the ground then bouncing back down. Eventually we were in the air, though because the basket was still tied to the vehicle we were bouncing around in the wind. Then all of the sudden it was calm – the rope was untied and we were travelling along with the wind (instead of fighting it). It was fantastic! So quiet and so calm!
From the air, we watched the second balloon launch in the early morning mist and they followed us across the plains. We saw a lot of zebra, a giraffe, both Thomson’s and grants gazelle, hyena, male and female ostrich – all were running from the sudden noise made by the burner in the balloon.
IMG: We watched the second hot air balloon launch
Sometimes we came down quite low and we passed very low over a tree – only just over the top, it was quite amazing to look down into the branches (I checked for leopard but there was none!) From above the ground we could see the tracks made by the wildebeest during the migration – after the rains when the grass is green the tracks are covered over but when the wildebeest return they make the exact same tracks! We also saw lots of holes in the ground in one area – they were originally air vents from a termite mound but had been made larger as warthogs, jackals, aardvarks and aardwolfs made them their home.
After an hour’s flight it came time for us to land. Paul had told us he would give us enough warning to be able to put cameras and binoculars back into our bags etc. and to sit in the brace position. In reality, the time passed too quickly and we barely had enough time to sit down. I was already seated and opening up my camera bag when Paul said we would land soon and called for the brace position – Heiko was still stood up and for both of us to sit it was such a squeeze. We were only just in position in time for landing but we hadn’t the time to put away all our gear. We held onto it all tightly instead! We bumped a lot as we landed – there was a termite mound in the way as we dragged so we bounced over it – ouch! Air was let out of the balloon first and then we all climbed out of the basket. The ground crew had followed us by vehicle and were there to pack away the balloons. We also had champagne to celebrate our flight.
IMG: After landing we celebrated with champagne while the ground crew packed away the hot air balloons
After our champagne celebrations we were driven to the breakfast site where a table was laid out under an acacia tree. We had an English breakfast – bacon, sausage, beans, egg, tomatoes and mushrooms, plus more champagne! The French lady opposite us at the table was celebrating her birthday today so the breakfast staff made musical instruments out of cutlery, plates and cardboard boxes and sang a Swahili song (jambo jambo) and happy birthday to her and brought a cake (though they went to the wrong person first – oops!).
IMG: Champagne breakfast in the bush, Central Serengeti
After our champagne breakfast we were driven to a lodge where we were collected by our guides. We saw rock hyraxes there and were explaining to some French and American guests how they were related to the elephant!
Protty arrived to collect us at 10.30 and we set off for the Serengeti & Ngorongoro gate. We got there 20 mins after our Serengeti permit ran out (permits are valid for 24 hour periods so were aiming to reach the gate by 11.00).
Our next stop was the maasai village. We were greeted by the leader and gave a donation of 60,000 Shillings (~$50) for his people – there are about 60 in the village. We were welcomed with a traditional dance – the warriors dance for successful hunting, the women dance/sing separately and pray for the warriors. We watched the warriors jumping high during their dance – I’d been wondering if they would do that since it was something I wanted to see.
IMG: The Maasai
We were taken into one of their houses (bomas) – they are very small and are woven like a wicker basket and covered with a mix of mud and elephant dung to make them waterproof. Inside there are two beds one at each end with the mattresses made from cow skin (soft & waterproof). In the middle is a small fire which is used for warmth and cooking. It is very very small – you can’t stretch out on the bed and when sitting on it my head was not far from the roof! One of the beds is for the mother and children; and on the other bed sleeps the warrior. Goats and cattle are brought into the centre of the village during the night for protection against wild animals.
Male children are given a spear to learn how to use when they are very young. When they are 15 they are given a much heavier spear and they have to show their courage and bravery by killing a lion and bringing home it’s tail. There are many celebrations then. To kill a lion the maasai must run towards it and kill it from only one metre away. It is the same distance for most animals including buffalo and leopard. For an elephant they kill it from two metres away and if it dies standing they must push it over. Maasai warriors are only allowed to kill up to nine lions in their lifetime, otherwise if they kill more, one day they will be killed by a lion.
We were shown the jewellery, celebration clubs and leather shields that they have made. Heiko bought a bamboo bracelet though had been looking at a necklace which had a lion tooth on it – we weren’t sure if we are allowed to take that back to Holland so he just got the bracelet.
We were taken to the kindergarten where the teacher (a maasai woman) was teaching 20 young children who were roughly eight years old. They were counting in English. One boy was at the blackboard and read out loud each number whilst the rest of the children repeated him after each number. When they had counted up to 60 they sang for us. We said thank you in their maasai language when we left – asanaling – and they all waved to us. They were so sweet!
We wandered back past the jewellery and gave in to the lion tooth and Heiko bought the necklace for me. Really hope it is ok to take it back home. We were taken back to the vehicle where Protty was waiting for us and said goodbye – in maasai: serena.
IMG: Heiko – with his hair turning blonde from so much sun!
Our next stop was the Oldavai Gorge which got its name from the oldavai (aloe) that grows there. We were given a history lecture just after our packed lunch. Then we visited the museum there and saw all the discoveries made by Louis and Mary Leakey. We also saw skulls and bones from many extinct animals and a mould of the Laetoli Footprints. The Laetoli Footprints were made by our ancestors over 3.75 million years ago. It was quite amazing to read how they had been preserved.
We continued on to the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge and were greeted by face towels and fruit juice. Our room here is very nice and overlooks the crater. We were just sorting out items for laundry when I heard a “jambo” from outside. A maasai asked how we were, and if I’d like to take a photo. I thought it a bit odd that he wanted me to take his photo – but in return (I found out afterwards) he wanted money = 10,000! We gave him 5.000 and I won’t take a photo if asked again, found it quite cheeky – just outside our window too, I thought no one would be out there!
IMG: A view of the crater from our room at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
We headed for the bar before dinner and there was a band playing and singing Swahili songs. They later performed lots of impressive acrobatics. After dinner we were so tired we went straight to sleep.