One of my best days ever. I got picked up at 5am for a hot air balloon flight over the Serengeti. And on the way there I saw rabbits, one of my favorite animal kinds…
I had booked the hot air balloon months ago to avoid chickening out of this option due to its high cost once I’m here and although the flight may have been even better had we seen millions of animals migrating I don’t regret it at all. It was my first flight in a hot air balloon and where better to do this than in one of the most amazing places on earth! The balloon was inflated with cold air for a long time and at sunset we sat in the basket in our allocated compartments (2 people each, basket had 8 compartments) with our backs flat on the ground, knees facing up, and the now warm air then turned the basket upside and off we were. A few seconds later the Canadian pilot who looked like a hybrid between Jon Favreau and Danny DeVito told us to stand up, at that point we were already high up in the air and surprised that we hadn’t noticed out take-off at all.
We flew both high up and very low to the ground. The speed remains the same but appears much faster when you’re lower. From the balloon the Serengeti seemed even bigger than ever. You could barely make out the animals without binoculars if you didn’t happen to be closeby. As it was early the animal activity was fairly low. We followed a running hippo outside of the water and were amazed at its speed. We made a bunch of elephants nervous when we went down too low and we chased buffalos and wildebeest at our descent. We saw lions with cubs, cheetahs in the distance and many giraffes. The hour long flight was just enough to get a taste but I could have been in the air all day. It was so peaceful up there, totally quiet. Coming down was not bumpy at all though the way of landing requires three gentle bumps on the ground before the balloon stops completely. We were on our backs in the seated position again. I have had much worse landings on planes.
After the flight we were treated with champagne, and not even the cheap kind. The flight voucher had made a mention of a champagne breakfast but I did not expect the decadence that followed. The pilot made a speech, told us about the history of ballooning and how champagne is relevant to it (first hot air balloons were invented in France, French farmers got champagne from the king to let the balloonists fly over their land without being shot down), took pictures with us and the crew and refilled our glasses the entire time. By the time we moved on to the breakfast feast most of the passengers were pretty blitzed. Keep in ind that it was before 8 am and nobody had eaten anything yet.
Pilot and happy Kraut
Breakfast was served under a tree. There were two long tables set already, anything from real porcelain to cotton napkins. Tons of costumed waiters were standing by to tend to our every need. They almost washed our hands for us, someone poured hot water into a bowl, another handed the soap, a third a fresh towel… We had a three course hot breakfast with an unlimited supply of more champagne, juice and hot drinks. I felt like I was in a movie, it was completely over the top but truly decadent and enjoyable.
At the end of it (no rush here either) we received a certificate and we even got to keep the remaining bottles of open champagne. Afterward I was driven back to an information center where I waited for my group to pick me up again for more game rides.
Later at the same information center I spent an hour sitting among dassies (aka hyraxes). They look like large rabbits without ears or guinea pigs, and their genetic material is very close to elephants although obviously not in outer appearance. The dassies were eating the grass and they seemed quite happy with me there, one of them almost tripped over me. I wanted to pet it but the sight of its sharp teeth stopped me.
My friend, the dassie
Back in my original group we were shown the very good and sometimes hilarious documentary “the Serengeti shall never die” by the late and very famous German documentary maker Bernhard Grzimek. The film was made in the late 50s and showed him and his son trying to document the animal behavior in the Serengeti from a small plane that they had painted in zebra stripes, and it was an early and correct estimation of the future of the land and its population given the industrial revolution and increase in human population. This documentary is highly recommendable as it showed exactly what we saw, gave great information that wasn’t dated at all despite its age, and above all had a good entertainment factor because of its cheesy music and some attempted ‘storylines’ and re-enactments. Watch it!
Grzimek is widely popular here, he and his son who died during the making of the documentary both have a memorial in the park, it seems that their research was way ahead of its time.
I also learned useful stuff like how to catch a zebra: tire it out by chasing it for three minutes and then simply pull its tail (ideally wearing gloves as the tail hair can cut into your hands). Good to know!
By the late afternoon I had already decided that this was the best day ever but it got even better. We passed a tree that had 11 lion cubs in it and a bunch of others along with three lionesses on the ground near it. Eleven!!! They even did us favors by clumsily climbing all over each other, yawning or stretching and posing right in front of our jeep on the road.
Afterward two young elephants charged at us, what a thrill. I saw our driver get nervous, when we sped off the elephants kept chasing, and they were fast.
Then we had a leopard walk at the side of the road along the jeep for 10 minutes until he got tired of us and climbed up a tree. Yet another leopard was sitting in another tree next to him. We were treated to jackals chasing warthogs, vervet monkeys looking cute, giraffes running along the jeep and baboons picking their noses. Dik diks, gazelles, zebras and wildebeest were hanging out everywhere. Hippos were grunting and various birds showed their wings. All of this in one hour. It was too good to be true, it certainly topped Kruger National Park for beauty.