East Africa Day 13 – Serengeti

The phone rang at 04:10 to tell us to wake up for our balloon ride. It was then a bit of a rush to be ready and we called for security to escort us to the reception as we’d been told to. The reason for this is that the lodge has no electric fence so animals can wander straight through the lodge. Some of the guards are even armed with AK-47s, though they’re not allowed to shoot the wildlife. The security guard hadn’t arrived after 5 minutes so we headed across by ourselves to avoid being late.

Early morning drive

After a cup of tea and biscuits we then set out into the dark to get to the balloon launch site. We arrived there at 06:15 to see four balloons in the process of being prepared. At first I had a mad search around in the dark for the lens cap that fell of my camera as I got out the Land Cruiser. By some miracle I did actually find it. We were then briefed on the safety procedures for flying in a balloon and was passed a belt with a clip to put on. We then had to tuck in hoods and cameras and was advised to wear a hat to keep the heat of the burners off our heads.

The sunrises over the Serengeti

The baskets started on their side and you have to climb in and sit laying down like an astronaut. Bags have to be placed between your legs and as the balloon is filled with hot air there are vehicles that pull the basket upright. Within minutes the basket gently lifted off the ground and our balloon ride begun as the sun was rising over the Serengeti.

Balloon ride

Inside the hot air balloon

For the balloon ride our pilot was Captain Nick, a former resident of England. To start with we moved quite close to the ground, but when we needed to head to the left of our position the balloon rose to 2,000 feet to catch wind in a different direction. From the balloon we saw giraffe, antelopes, a hyena, and some birds. It wasn’t long after we crossed the airfield that we landed as a number of Land Cruisers raced across the Savannah to greet us. The landing was quite smooth and only bounced once; it didn’t get dragged onto it’s side as we were told it likely would – so generally a good landing.

Me, Captain Nick, and the hot air balloon

The Land Cruiser then took us to a place where we were given champagne to drink. Once we all had a glass we were told a story of why it’s traditional to drink champagne after a balloon ride. Once the story was over we drove on to where breakfast was served in the bush.

Champagne breakfast

As we exited the Land Cruisers we were led across the savannah and welcomed by staff as they shown us to tables under a large tree divided by Captain. They then proceeded to serve a full English breakfast accompanied by fruit.

Lioness and cub

Once breakfast was over we were then driven to a tourism centre where we met up with our driver and the rest of the group. For the next two hours we had a game drive (from 10:00 until sometime just after midday), where we saw three lionesses travelling with four cubs, and we also saw a leopard cub in a tree followed by its mother about 800 metres away in another tree.

Sleeping African Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Lunch was another packed lunch provided by the Serena hotel, but wasn’t as good as the last packed lunch – partially because they hadn’t been kept in a cool box like last time. Whilst stopped here we watched some tree hyraxes scurrying around and walked around a quick nature trail.

Tree Hyrax

After this we continued on a game drive sighting a number of animals, but nothing spectacular. There was one point where one in the group started making clicking noises at a herd of elephants. The driver asked her if she wanted to die as the elephants wouldn’t recognise the sound and might attack; they didn’t though. The driver then pulled away and a baby elephant ran in front of us and instead of stopping our driver carried on behind it. There was then a loud trumpeting noise from it’s mother as she raised her front feet in warning. We carried on and the baby elephant moved out of the way without the herd charging at us.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

The afternoon game drive was over by 14:15, but it was probably for the best as after about an hour there was rain. It got heavier and heavier and the Land Cruiser was filled with what looked like either horseflies or tsetse flies. The closer we got to the Serena lodge the heavier the rain got. It got to the point where our driver couldn’t really see where he was going, but could see the tail light of a vehicle in front and so he followed that. The lightning bolts became more frequent and eventually the lightning bolts and rumbles of thunder were in sync as we reached the lodge.

We had to make a run from the Land Cruiser to the lodge reception and got drenched in the 20 metres between them. For a while I stayed in the reception to use their internet and to watch the storm. It was pretty incredible – I’ve never seen a storm so intense with so many bolts of lightning.

Despite borrowing umbrellas from reception we still got even wetter as we braved the storm to get back to the “hut” our room was in. A few hours later the storm had moved on and the thunder had become a faint noise in the distance.

We went for dinner at 19:30; this time the dinner was far better than the previous night and they were stir frying meat on demand as well. This time dinner was more sociable as the rest of the group joined us.

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