We have a 4am wake-up call this morning – pretty harsh, but there is a good reason: we are going on a balloon safari and have to be at the take-off site at 6am.
It’s an hour’s drive through the nocturnal Serengeti plains. There are no street lights, only the stars to guide us. No morning joggers along the road either; only a couple of excited hyenas scampering along with us. And some hippos standing in the road looking perplexed at our early morning escapade. “Yes I know, I’m confused too, being up this early,” I think out loud.
We arrive at the take-off site, an open space in the savannah where the balloon is spread out in the middle of a field. Our pilot Abeid takes us through the do’s and don’ts of hot air ballooning and as dawn breaks, we climb into the basket.
Abeid turns up the gas burners that blow large flames into the balloon. “Hold on to the handles!” he shouts. The balloon is tugging at the basket. Abeid throws another flame into the balloon, but the basket is still resisting. Another flame, and there we go. “We have lift-off!”
Initially, Abeid keeps the balloon at a low altitude so that we can get a good view of the animals below: we see giraffes, a big herd of buffaloes and a group of surprised baboons who stare up at us as we brush over the tree they are sitting in. We glide slowly over the hippo pool and take the balloon higher, over the river. Now we are heading straight towards a large tree in the middle of the savannah. “Lion!” Abeid shouts. We look down over the plain, but see nothing. “In the tree!” A lioness is stretched out on one of the lower branches overlooking the whole savannah – the perfect place from where to spot breakfast walking by. Wow, a lion in a tree…
Never seen that before.
After an hour Abeid effortlessly brings the balloon back to the ground and invites us to a champagne breakfast under an acacia tree. We kindly decline, saying we never drink champagne before noon. Instead, we rush back to the car and ask our driver to take us to see if the lioness is willing to pose for us!