Sunday, April 23rd:
Today was another early day… got up by 4:30am and we left the Serengeti Tortilis Camp by 5:15am. We were picked up by employees of the Serengeti Balloon Safaris company who then picked up the balloon pilots who gave us a lot of info on the way to the take off site. They were both really relaxed and funny which made me feel a little better since I was nervous about going up in the balloon. We ended up in the European balloon, with a group of English ladies and a group of Portuguese travellers. I was enamoured by the ladies in the Portuguese group of friends… they were so bold and just loving life. We befriended them and the one who rode in the section with Sher and me (we were split into groups in the basket of 3 or 4) was nervous as well so at least her and I could be scared together .
The hot air balloon ride was amazing… something I’ve always wanted to do. It was a much smoother ride than I was expecting, you feel like you’re gently floating along and it was fun watching the animals run around below us in miniature versions. Our pilot was hilarious and he also pointed out a lot of animals for us when they still just looked like dots to everyone else. He was explaining that a lot of the migrations we are seeing are animals that are confused right now since the grass is drier than it should be this time of year due to climate change (it is a real thing, despite what Trump says!). I was so caught up watching the animals and making videos that I ignored Sher bugging me to take photos together. So in the end, we only got one photo and then I turned right around to make more videos and watch the scenery. Of course I regretted it after but I don’t think Sher could’ve pulled me away longer than he did. We eventually landed in the same large field as some lions that we spotted from above. People here really aren’t too worried about the lions!
We did some real off-roading after the balloon ride. I thought that our safari driver and his angled, inclined, muddy and swampy driving was scary enough but the driver who took us from our balloon landing site to the breakfast spot was nuts! There were no roads for a long time since the landing site always changes but we drove in the Land Cruiser through a marshy swamp, then a forest, and then flew over a field dotted with half dead trees and large animals. We even went through a migration of hundreds of wildebeests and zebras everywhere and didn’t slow down much! I hit my head on the roof after a big bump in the road- surprisingly that was the first time on this trip! It was the most intense off-roading I’ve ever experienced. The guides out here really put these 4×4’s to good use.
Breakfast was a entirely separate Serengeti experience. The Balloon Safari staff had set up a fancy layout with long tables, table clothes, warm water and soft individual hand cloths, and servers dressed in traditional Arab African outfits. The pilots of the two balloons told us about the history of air balloons and how the French countryside people assumed the balloons were devils or demons and attacked the people disembarking from the first balloons. Eventually, the king provided the balloon navigators with his signature on a champagne bottle to show to the locals Upon landing to prove that they were civilized and were sent by the king and not some supernatural place.
After breakfast, Omari met us and took us for more safari animal spotting. We hung out near some stinky hippos for a while then headed out for lunch, stopping to take pictures of animals on the way. The funny thing about the hippo area where you can park and get out of the car (rare here) is that they have put up a small warning sign to not get close. It’s such a small sign but I feel like they need more intense wording or better fencing! If you cross the small barrier, the hippos will think you’re trying to invade their territory and they will chomp you up with their strong jaws. Omari said you wouldn’t escape, they would all group together to get rid of the invader and hippos are fast and huge. They don’t eat meat but they’ll tear humans to shreds if you get in their path.
After driving all day again and not seeing anything new, I had to laugh at how familiar we’ve become with the animals now. Like they are old buddies of ours. “Oh, there’s that impala family again. Poor guy is finally eating but one of the bachelors is gearing up to take him down… Oh, look there’s the zebras that separated from their main group and joined the impalas…” etc. It felt like we hadn’t found anything much after the hippos and I think we were feeling like expert spotters with our heads up in the open top of the vehicle, spotting animals far away and regurgitating all the information (relevant and random facts) that Omari taught us. He’s a pretty good teacher to make us feel so comfortable here after only a few days! I was looking at the landscape and it reminds me of home in the Alberta prairies in a way with the never ending blue sky and endless plains except there’s a huge difference in the tree types, volcanic rock, and of course the wildlife.
For dinner, we had a surprise waiting for us tonight. We’re the only ones here for the next few nights (low season and this place is pricey) so they were extra attentive to their only guests. They had a table set in a clearing in the wilderness set for us. I was scared in the beginning because we could hear the lion sounds not too far off but they had lights in the grass all around and the tree that we were under and a guard sitting close by us, watching for animals. Dinner was delicious again and the atmosphere was unreal…. clear skies above us and a gentle breeze (they provided blankets for us, too) but in the distance we saw the sky flashing violently from a thunderstorm but we couldn’t hear any thunder, there was just the lightning bouncing off the clouds in the purple-blue sky. The waiter was another favourite of mine… he kept calling me mama which is a term of endearment here, Edgar in Dar es Salaam told us that he calls his wife that. Omari was in the main tent and we were a little sad that he didn’t sit with us this time. But we soon found out why…. the surprise dessert that the waiter kept telling us about was actually a song! The entire staff from the lodge including Omari did a walking song towards us from the main tent holding a cake for us. The song was so much fun but the only words I recognized were Hakuna Matata. It was awesome… with yelping, clapping, jumping and shouts mixed into their song dance. They formed a circle around us and eventually put the cake down in front of me and then Sher went to grab a phone so we could take a picture with the cake. Then they sang a song for me to “cut-a zee CAKE”… it’s hilarious. I wish I could post the video here but instead I’ll just post this picture where I look very sleepy!
Animal sightings of the day- on the morning drive- African hares, hippos; from the balloon- impalas, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, elephants, lions (approx 5), one lone Cape buffalo, tortoise; on safari- More hippos, velvet monkey, baboons, zebras, wildebeests, plains giraffes, elephants, field mouse, topi.