October 30, 2014 (3 lions + 1 leopard) Stayed at Lemala Mara North Serengeti Camp
Calisti brought coffee and cookies to us at 4:30 AM and our ride arrived. We stopped and picked up Captain Mike. He’s from Alaska and has flown hot air balloons for 30 years and has even flown a balloon from Boulder to Frederick in Colorado. He seems like he keeps up on American news and was inquiring about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. I don’t know if that’s a bad sign or not. I guess I don’t want to think that our pilot is interested in pot, but since it isn’t legal here and we have had no mention or smell of it since we got here, it’s probably not an issue. We arrived at the launch site at 6:05 AM, where we met the two other passengers, Dess and Taylor from Nashville, TN. They are on their honeymoon. The staff fills the balloon and since this is a 16 passenger balloon basket, Captain Mike has six men join us, for weight. We attach the Gopro camera and assume the take-off position which means no cameras on our necks or backpacks on shoulders. We sit on cushions and hold the rope in front of us and lean our heads back. Captain Mike starts blasting the propane fire into the balloon. We lifted off at 6:20 AM, but stay close to the ground, so that we can see animals…maybe 100 yards up. He told us we could stand and it is truly amazing. It is so gentle and peaceful. Every now and then, Mike gives a couple of blasts to raise the elevation of the balloon. We are at the mercy of the wind as to where we travel. At first, he thought we were going to have bad luck and drift away from the river, but then the wind current shifted and we headed across the Mara River. We saw many animals: marabou stork, impalas, waterbuck, giraffes, zebras, elephants, hyenas, topi, eland, Ruppell’s vultures, olive baboons, and hippos. After we made it across the river, Captain Mike saw a good landing sight and made the decision to land. Our flight had been about an hour and we landed gently and upright. The area we landed in had giraffes and cape buffalo close by. They drove us to a champagne breakfast that they had set up along the Mara River. It was very nice. Michael Mlolo showed up and took us back to camp, so that we could get the rest of our gear. We headed out on safari. We saw hippos and crocodiles on the Mara River. Next, we saw topi (mama and baby), another big crocodile, nursing zebras, a business of banded mongoose, a colony of cape rock hyrax (they remind me of our prairie dogs as they live in burrows and will stand up on their hind legs, keeping watch), a black-backed jackal, impalas, and zebras. Zebras often hang out with impalas and wildebeests. They must get along well as we frequently see them together. We saw a pair of klipspringers standing on the rocks. The word klipspringer means rock jumper and, to me, they look like dik diks, only larger. Klipspringers are 22” at the shoulder. Then we headed to the lion rocks. We saw a young female lion with a gash on her face under her eye. The mama lion and her brother were lying on a rock in the shade. We took a lot of photos of them. Michael would move positions to get better angles of them for us. As we drove around the rocks we saw another klipspringer. We drove around to another set of rocks and saw anot0her vehicle stopped there. We joined them and saw a leopard snoozing. We took some photos and realized that the leopard was going to continue sleeping. Michael got out and yelled and threw a small rock in the direction of the cat so that we could get better photos of him sitting up. This is not allowed, but we were appreciative. It was truly beautiful and we were very close. We went back to LeMala Mara for a late lunch about 2 PM and decided that since we had spent so much time out, we would relax at camp the rest of the day. It also gave us a chance to download videos and photos for safe-keeping. We set up our Gopro for the 360 degree video and enjoyed hanging out. We had another evening of bush TV using the large metal fire pit that dropped ashes through a grate in the bottom, and snacked on popcorn with Benson until it was time for another wonderful meal in the dining tent. There was a large gray bat that found its way into the tent. It didn’t bother us, but our server wasn’t happy about it. After dinner, we were escorted back to our tent. We fell asleep while listening to lions socializing in the distance. What sweet dreams we will have. Our hopes had been to see the wildebeest crossing the Mara River with crocodiles in pursuit, but it wasn’t meant to be. Since, we were planning our trip based on when we could get affordable permits to see the gorillas, we knew we would be there at the tail end of the migration of the wildebeest. We still had hope, as it’s difficult to predict when the last of the crossing will happen. Oh well, we did see the wildebeest crossing the road in the Serengeti!
Click on photo below for better viewing.