I hear the fist pounding on the door, a pause, and then a gentler knock.
Rolling over I look at the clock. 4:00 AM.
Wake up call! African style.
I have waited 20 years for this moment: A hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.
Without saying a word, we pull on our clothes and gulp down a quick cup of coffee in the Sopa Lodge. Climbing in a Land rover, we head for the launch site, a two hour bumpy ride. It is a chilly morning and I wish I were wearing fleece. My husband dozes while I keep my eyes on the road. Except for the headlights, this is real darkness. I am looking for eyes lit up.Anything. Our driver announces there are Warthogs ahead and I watch as a family of four disappears into the brush. Only a mother can love that animal. Off to the right a few zebra are grazing, tails twitching and then the familiar heads up, ears stiffening and then the stare. “Another crazy tourist, they’re thinking.”
No drama unfolds.
No lioness clinging to her fresh kill.
Utter blackness and stillness.
It begins to get lighter as we approach the site. Acacia trees are silhouetted against a new dawn and I hear the roar of powerful fans prepping two magnificent balloons lying on their sides. We are not alone. Other transports arrive bringing guests from other lodges. The rising sun commands our attention and immediately all photographers begin clicking.
And then it happens!
A Hollywood casting and production crew could not have orchestrated the balloon safari any better. A tall, handsome young man wearing a crisp white shirt with gold and black epaulets appears and welcomes us in a thick Australian accent.
“Good day mates. My name is Markham and I am your captain. What a beautiful morning. So glad you could join us. It is time for our briefing.”
His keen sense of humor immediately puts everyone at ease, especially those who are having heart palpitations about being up in a balloon. The two gondolas will hold 16 persons each we are told and all 32 are present. I notice my husband mentally calculating how much money has been made. Markham assigns us our compartments and two by two we climb in. Not an easy task since the gondola is on its side and we must hang on to hand grips until the balloon rights itself. Our pilot continues to be witty until we are laughing and temporarily accepting our awkward positions which seem to be taking an extraordinary amount of time.
Once upright, the tethers are released. Skillfully, Markham lifts us into the morning mist.
After a spontaneous applause, everyone becomes silent.
We are under the same spell.
The magic carpet ride begins and I am a part of it.
For more great Serengeti safari photos see Ron Mayhew Photography.