Saturday, 30 April 2011

The “Endless Plains”

Back in real life when I went to an office every day and had a regular source of income, I decided to treat myself to Balloon Safari in the Serengeti.  This turned out to be an excellent decision despite the 4.45am start.  Team Canada (Marie, Maria & Pooja) and I were picked up in the early hours to be driven to the balloon launch site, collecting the pilots from their lodge on the way.  I had never been in a balloon before and so it seemed very extravagant to be doing so for the first time in the Serengeti.

There were sixteen people in our balloon and we had to all climb into our two person pods while the basket was on its side.  This seemed a little bizarre (imagine lying on the floor with your legs up on the sofa) but in reality provided an amazing view of the balloon being inflated.  Once the inflation was complete, the basket gently rolled over into an upright position.  And we were off.  We stayed very low at the beginning but gradually climbed higher depending on the wind conditions.  Our ride was just over an hour and whilst we didn’t see any cats, we had an amazing aerial view of a large herd of buffalo moving across the plains as well as two separate families of elephants running.

After a very smooth landing, we enjoyed some bubbles before being driven to a nice spot where a five star bush breakfast awaited us with proper coffee, more bubbles and mango juice.  We enjoyed lots of fresh fruit followed by an English fry up!  We were particularly delighted with the luxurious hand washing set up with clean towels for drying rather than the usual shake.  As we were feeling cheeky and it was Hugh’s 25th birthday the following day, I negotiated to take an extra bottle of bubbles away with us, hamming up the camping angle of our trip.

We had many great sightings during our two days in the Serengeti:  beautiful brightly coloured birds, elephants drinking, an old elephant with tusks down to the floor, necking giraffes, elephants play fighting, hippos yawning and lions sleeping and basking in the sun.  I particularly enjoyed hanging out of the top of the jeep as we drove along.  As Jésus had given me a quick lesson in how to use my camera more effectively (use manual AV/TV and play with the ISO setting), my pictures from these game drives should be much sharper.  I can really tell the difference when looking at my shots of our leopard.

We had spent a lot of time looking for a leopard and our best hope was to see one sleeping in a tree.  Having had a distant view of one, we had technically completed the big five but were still hoping for a closer view.  All of a sudden we were given a tip off. We sped off and soon came to some other jeeps.  As our jeep driver Simon skilfully manoeuvred us into the middle of the other jeeps to improve our view, the leopard decided to come and walk around the jeeps (windows closed, hands inside!).  Suddenly she was sat underneath our jeep and we had to keep very still and quiet.  This is a once in a lifetime experience (our guide could hardly believe it).  She stayed underneath the jeep for a few minutes and then continued her stroll around the other jeeps before retiring to mark her territory under a tree and climb it.

My favourites are still the zebras (beautiful), the giraffes (so graceful and so funny when they chew) and the lions but in terms of performance for the crowd, the leopard really stole the show.

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