Alchemist in Tanzania, Day #3

5 03 2013

Tanzania day 3
445a departure sounds early, but when you wake up at 2a, it’s not too bad.  This morning it seemed that a number of folks were starting to break down. Mostly manageable things, but it was the first time people’s health started to waiver.
Hot Air Balloons over the Serengetii

Hot Air Balloons over the Serengeti

The crew headed to the wide open plains of the Serengeti for a hot air balloon ride.  The van ride over was quiet, partly because it was 5am, but also because there was some nervous tension in the air. Most of us were newbies to the hot air balloon experience, and the unknown can often be anxiety provoking.  Our pilot, Mohammed, was the first and only native Tanzanian hot air balloon pilot.

Hot air Balloon basket on it's side

Hot air Balloon basket on it’s side

As we received our instructions from the him, a cold wind blew.  Last year, the balloon ride was cancelled due to wind. This year, the wind had blown through most of the morning, but was starting to settle down, and things looked to be a go.  This particular balloon is the third largest in the world.  It can carry 16 passengers.  The basket starts out on its side, so you have to enter and then lie down, astronaut style, facing toward the sky.  As the balloon heats up, the balloon rises and pulls the basket right side up.

The gang ready for take off

The gang ready for take off

Lift off was soft and gentle.  We skimmed a few feet above the ground, silent and smooth.  Even as we gained altitude, the ride was so stable and peaceful, there really was no hint of danger.  Watching balloons from afar, you don’t realize that they are constantly gaining and losing altitude. We slowly bobbed up and down through the air, Mohammed hitting the gas when we would drop, and easing off as we rose higher.  He managed speed and steered the balloon by finding different elevations to ride the various wind currents.  He was very skilled, deftly finding a current to take us leftward, and then dropping us down right next to a pair of female lions and her cubs. We finished off the ride with a champagne breakfast in hippo country.

Loo with a View

Loo with a View

12 passenger Cessna for the ride back to Arusha.

12 passenger Cessna for the ride back to Arusha.  Not my favorite part of the trip.

Afterward, we hopped on a 12 passenger Cessna, and flew back to Arusha.  I’m used to being the calmest person in the room, at least outwardly.  Being able to control my emotions and get work done in a room full of chaos is what I do.  And I know the tossing and turning in a little plane is perfectly normal. But I have to admit that that ride back was . . . tense.  The irrational anxiety of flying in a little plane irks me to no end.  Nevertheless, we touched down safely, and I didn’t throw a complete hissy fit before we did, though I was a bit lathered and wobbly kneed.

Back in Arusha , we ate lunch in town and shopped at a local craft shop called Shanga.  There are approximately 40 employees, most of whom are blind, deaf, or disabled in some way. They take old glass bottles, melt them down, and create beautiful glassware from it.  They also manufacture beads and jewelry by hand.  Good place to pick up gifts for the fam.
We had a relaxing afternoon by the hotel pool before gathering to prep for the Kili climb.  The local outfitter had thankfully assembled our bikes, which was a great relief considering that last year Stuart and Jenn were putting them together in the wee hours with a little multi-tool and a hand pump.  We made sure all the riders were fit properly to their bikes, and that everything was in working order.  I’m on the trip as staff, medical as well as mechanical, so there is a lot to keep on top of.
Took an Ambien for the first time ever last night.  I’ve averaged about 3 hours of sleep each of the  last 4 days. Got about 6 hours before waking up at 5a, ready to roll.
Today we climb. More to come.



One response

5 03 2013

Champagne breakfast in hippo country? This trip sounds rough. You’re doing it for charity, you say? Next time you should sign me up. I am ready to serve.

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