Tuesday, September 19

Hot Air Balloon Ride

e were up at 4:00 AM for our departure from another resort for our hot air balloon ride. There were three balloons to carry all of us who wanted to go. I was assigned to the largest balloon, which held 16 passengers, very tightly. It was a huge balloon indeed. After signing away all our liability rights, we went out to watch the ground crew filling the balloons with air with huge fans.

Our balloon still lying on the ground.

The ground crew turned on the huge propane burners to heat up the air, and as it warmed it began to lift the air bag from its horizontal position on the ground, to its flying vertical position.

The small passenger box beneath the bag was woven of wicker, with openings here and there for footholds. The first one was higher than I could reach so the ground crew helped me in. Of course, we each carried our camera gear.

We were all directed to hold on tightly, because we might bounce; and then the ground crew let us loose! We bounced once, dragged a very short distance, and then rose quickly because of the great temperature difference between the hot air in the bag, and cold air of the early morning.(This is why balloons fly very early in the morning.)I looked back to see the ground crew already folding up the ropes and bags and other equipment that had helped us to launch at the proper time.

The sun rose just as we did, and so we had a lovely view of sunrise over the river – I think it was the Talek River, which ran past our campsite.

Sunrise Over Africa, As Seen From A Hot Air Balloon

I remember having bounced across this stream several times.

As we flew along, we were able to watch the other two balloons also. We were seldom at the same height – one or another would dip, while a different one would fly up very high. We had views of wide expanses of scenery, and very close-up looks at other things.

The early morning sun, low on the horizon caused objects like this tree to cast long shadows.

These topis were finding the best grazing early in the day.

Meanwhile, another topi was grazing near some zebras.

Ahead of us, the other two balloons were beautiful in the morning sky.

Ahead of appeared a huge, dark wedge-shaped object on the ground.

As we came closer we realized that it was many, many wildebeests, coming together.

The balloons ahead of us dipped low to check out the wildebeests.

Our balloon pilot pulled on the overhead valve to the propane tank to raise our balloon.

The early morning light produced long shadows from ordinary objects. Notice how much longer the animal’s shadow is compared to the animal itself.

Even the short scrubby trees cast dramatic long shadows in the first light of early morning.

This lioness was not at all disturbed by our huge balloon flying overhead.

This lioness, at least raised her head. I was grateful we did not land in a pride of hungry lions.

There were literally thousands of wildebeests, as far as one could see.

Perhaps this was why we saw no animals in the Serengeti on the previous day – they were all here in the Maasai Mara Reserve.

This is what you go to Africa to see – not just animals you can see in a zoo – but thousands of animals everywhere you look. This is how the world used to look. This is how our own country used to look with 3 million buffalo spread all over our plains. In just 100 years they were all gone. This is why you should go to Africa too, to see this spectacle for yourself, while you still can. You will not regret it.

When we dipped down, we had a closer look at the wildebeests.

The wildebeests were grazing quietly.

Our enormous balloon floating toward them, caused panic among the herd.

The wildebeests were forming themselves into long lines. Notice that more animals were coming from the right to join them.

This is the African Plains of the picture books and movies. They are not exaggerating.

The animals are forming themselves into long strings across the plains. Why would animals do such a thing?

It was fun to look DOWN on the zebra and her two foals.

Our balloon pilot was a lovely young Australian woman, who did a very good job of flying the balloon.

It seemed all too soon, but we were descending for good. Our flight had lasted approximately an hour, as promised, and we were instructed to assume landing positions. We bounced a few times; then our ground crew arrived, grabbed our guide ropes and secured the balloon.

Our trip completed, the balloon air bag was deflated and rolled up and packed away for another trip.

While the crew packed away the balloon we congratulated each other, and marveled at the sights we had seen.

We boarded a Land Rover for a ride to our bush champagne breakfast under some trees on a hilltop. There was a nice view from there, and the breakfast was good. I thought the balloon ride a thrilling experience, and the others seemed to enjoy it as well. We each received a certificate with our name on it for having completed a hot air balloon flight over Africa – a nice souvenir.

African Big Cats

ur first afternoon animal was a cheetah setting out to hunt, but not yet stalking, as it had not yet selected its target.

Two adolescent lions preferred to simply lie where they were.

We were beginning to be able to identify some of the less common animals by now; for example: the spotted hyena.

We returned to our Intrepids camp in the Maasai Mara in time for lunch.

This time our driver/guide let us out on the opposite side of the Talek River from our camp so we walked across the river on the hanging bridge. Note the sign limiting the capacity of the bridge to 3 people. And yes, it did swing with every step.

Lunch was always followed by lunch/rest/nap time, and the afternoon game drive did not leave until 4:00 PM. We stayed out until the sunset at 6:15 PM and then returned for dinner.

Once again, we noticed the wildebeests gathering together for grazing, rather than being spread apart, as in pictures in the books.

The Little Bee Eaters were becoming a little bit more cooperative, it seemed, or perhaps we were learning how to better predict their movements.

A Lilac-breasted Roller showed beautiful colors on just an ordinary dirt pile.

A resting lion cub.

A cheetah must always be alert for food, danger, or a challenge.

We even found an alert lion cub.

But then rain drove us back home.

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