For your Serengeti hot-air balloon trip in northern Tanzania, you will be collected around 0500 hours. An hour predawn drive through the bush to your launch site is a delight in itself. You may see nocturnal animals in the headlights that you could not have encountered any other way. Near a river like Seronera or Grumeti, you may meet grazing hippo. On the plains, a lioness may return from her kill, a hyena slinking in her wake. In the cool early morning, a light-weight long-sleeved jacket and long trousers are a wise idea, with sturdy shoes. Remember to take your binoculars and DSLR camera to make the most of this highlight of your Serengeti excursion. The huge balloon inflates swaying impatiently as it lifts. The intermittent roaring of the burner reminds you to put on your hat as it can get quite warm overhead. Assistants hold the basket steady, ensuring it remains level during take-off. Then comes the heart-stopping moment when you lose touch with the earth and become part of the dawn. As you ascend, the sky lightens from purple to pink. The sun clears the horizon, flooding the Serengeti plains with golden light. Your stomach clenches as you look out over your unobstructed basket side to the receding earth. Losing contact with the ground or the feeling of being totally at the mercy of the wind can cause an atavistic shudder. For an hour, you will have no control over where you go or what you see. However skillful your pilot, he can only go where the wind takes him, so you need to accept your helplessness, let yourself experience the enriching sights, sounds and sensations of your flight as well as the emotions it arouses.
It is an unprecedented opportunity to learn so much about this unique method of travel in Eastern Africa and so much more about yourself. Serengeti animals on the endless lawn below are miniaturized from your new perspective. As your shadow looms behind them, they bound ahead, rear ends roundly prominent. The warthog raises his thin, pennant tail like a radio aerial. The zebra flaunts its beautiful striped rumps. The elephant lumbers like an old man in baggy trousers. Herds of thousands of seasonal migrating herbivores stream out for miles behind and ahead as far as the eye can see. You may fly low over a flat-topped Acacia thorn tree to startle flapping vultures then creep over its precipitous edge to see grassland far below. Perhaps you will encounter the startled head of a giraffe atop its long, swaying neck as you over-fly the branches where it stretches to feed. Below, you may see hippo in the Mara River, or disturb flocks of egrets into flight. Lion proudly stands their home ground or families of elephant in line, nose to tail, trek towards the horizon. Back on the ground, you will receive your commemorative certificate and a champagne toast, then drive to join the rest of the morning’s balloonists for a hearty English hot breakfast, cooked on burners. You will discover a new appetite for life, for appreciative conversations with your fellow adventurers, high on adrenalin, and unlimited helpings of good, hearty food and bubbly, served in superlative style in unforgettable surroundings.