Photography and Art

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Serengeti Balloon Ride!

We were originally going to skip the balloon ride on the Serengeti. It's expensive ($500 a head) and a bit scary (see, but fortunately we relented and signed up for the trip. It was one of the main highlights of our vacation.

It all starts well before dawn when the balloon company comes to pick you up at your camp in their Land Rover. It takes a good hour to get to the take off spot which changes from day to day depending on wind direction. Once the sunrise is imminent, they fill the three balloons by heating the air pocket inside and load everyone into the basket. These are large balloons - our basket held 16 people, divided into eight compartments. You lie down on the side of the compartment and wait for the balloon to rise. Slowly and majestically, the balloon rises above your head and the basket starts to right itself and suddenly you're flying!

Here we are getting organized to get into the basket. That's our pilot directing traffic.

Here's what it looks like from the basket before lift-off - one view sideways and another upwards

And suddenly you're flying!

The pilot of the balloon is well-trained and certified. You have to have their Private Pilot's License (B) to fly a balloon and then you have to get your CPL (B) (Commercial Pilot's License - Balloon) to be able to take passengers. The minimum number of qualifying hours is 75. Our pilot was a Canadian trained in the U.S. 

For the most part, the balloons fly at tree-top level so that the passengers can see the animal life. According to our pilot, it is possible to have a good amount of precision over the altitude of a balloon, but speed and direction depend totally on the winds. However, winds do vary with altitude, so it is possible to change direction and speed a certain amount by choosing the right altitude.

Here's the view from the balloon:

The sun rises shortly after take-off

Here's a shot of one of the other two balloons flying over the Serengeti plain. It's a large, empty place.

Here's a jackal from above

A herd of zebras

A pool of very smelly hippos

Hippo pod close-up

Rare shot of a hippo out on a walk-about

A herd of buffalo flees from the balloon. Note how low we are!

Here's a bat-eared fox out for a stroll.

Another shot of our fellow balloon riders

Proof that we made it through unscathed

After our flight, we were taken to a lovely site for a champagne breakfast. Here are the pilots preparing the champagne for their guests.

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