Monday, February 27, 2012

Valentines flight in Kenya

We were asked to travel to the Masai Mara for a balloon flight for February 14th, a short flight from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi, followed by another flight just as short from Wilson airport in Nairobi to Olkiombo Airstrip, Masai Mara, Kenya.  I awoke for 5:00am on the 13th knowing the day would be long but that didn’t bother me the slightest.  I was going to experience another new country and spend more than an hour in the sky, a favorite pass time of mine.  I enjoyed the morning’s balloon flight over Tarangire with the group of young Danish and American teachers, volunteering and living here in Tanzania. After finishing our lovely breakfast in the bush we headed directly to Arusha to stop to exchange some cash and then onwards to Kilimanjaro airport.

Arusha, with a population of 1.28 million is a multicultural city which is surrounded by some of Africa’s most famous national parks and landscapes. Arusha lies below Mount Meru on the eastern edge of the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley.  The drive from Tarangire to Arusha is breathtaking. Passing by the many Maasai villages I am amazed at their simplicity of living off of the land. You will see the Maasai men of all ages walking for miles with their cattle and goats or sitting under as tree for shade as they watch their herds grazing. A Maasai mans wealth is determined by the number of cattle and children. Dressed in a shuka (colorful piece of cloth), cow hide sandals and carrying an o-rinka (wooden club) they are quite at ease with themselves and the world.
We boarded our Air Kenya flight, a small aircraft seated for nine.  I enjoyed the bumpy ride as we flew over the Great Rift Valley and the many Maasai Villages scattered throughout the mountains.   We were greeted at the Wilson airport in Nairobi on the tarmac by customs and assisted with our visas and our quick transfer to board for our second flight.  I am wondering what does Nairobi look like from street view? I remind myself I will learn this on the way home when we spend Valentines evening in downtown Nairobi. 

The flight time in to the Maasai Mara from Wilson varies depending on how many stops are being made. During busy time up to three or four stops can be made per direction. We were the forth stop which did not bother me. I enjoy the landing and taking off part of the most,I was happy, the others who were picked up at the first stop, not so much! Our second take off was delayed as we waited for the Topi to move off the strip. As we landed at our stop I gazed out and admired the new landscape and new animals that I had yet to see.  For the first time up close I was seeing the beautiful Punda Milia (striped donkey), also known in English as Zebra.  We head out from Olkiombo landing strip to Fig Tree Camp, our future home for April and May. We dropped our bags at our cabin and headed to Sundowner hill for a welcome party.

Morning came early as we woke for the 6:00am sunrise flight with the large group, the reason we flew down to help out and fly the forth balloon. I sensed some of the guests were quite nervous as I lay inside the bottom of the basket during setup and they waited outside wondering “what am I about to do!” My intentions to help them with their fears were a success as they watched the balloon inflate and walked closer and climbed in as I re-assured them that their experience would be as though floating on a cloud. Forty minutes later the woman who was the most afraid was telling me about her “next balloon flight!" It put a smile on my face to see how quickly one can conquer their fears if they just let go and be in the moment! This is something I enjoy helping others learn to do through my skills as a Way of the Heart Practioner.

We gently touch down an hour and ten minutes after takeoff, directly next to the road where safari trucks are waiting to take us to our breakfast in the bush. Sitting enjoying champagne and a beautiful buffet breakfast I am grateful for my opportunities of enjoying the beauty of nature at its finest. I look forward to the time I will spend here when I return March 21st.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is it on your “Bucket List”?

Hot Air Ballooning definitely was on my “Bucket List” and I am excited to have crossed it off.  I am even more excited that I have the pleasure of making many flights and meeting people from all around the world.  Being there to witness their excitement as they are crossing it off of their bucket list is exciting for me.  Most people who take a balloon ride are doing it for the first time. To fly over the beautiful landscape and animals of Africa is often their dream. To watch the animals moving about the Cradle of Life is an unforgettable experience.

As we drive to the launch site, about 5 kms from Balloon Camp I watch from the Safari truck window to see if there are any animals meeting us there for the launch.

We arrive to the open area, surrounded by Baobabs. The crew has the basket on its side, attached with a heavy rope to the truck and the balloon is spread across the field.  As the pilot arrives he uses the two large fans and beings blowing air into the balloon, this causes it to fill out so the hot air can then be blown in. The air fills the balloon enough so the hot air can be released, to cause the balloon to rise.  Once the hot air is blown in the balloon quickly rises, causing the basket to lift from its side and be flat on the ground, ready for the passenger to climb in. 

I am so excited for the adventure I do not realize that we have already taken lift.  I gaze out to the sun that is rising, the orange glow across the beautiful land. It makes me ask myself “how or why anyone could ever be scared to visit Africa?”  We continue to float higher and higher as Captain Msuya watches for the winds to guide him with our route.  We soar along the Tarangire River watching the many animals below.  We drop down for a closer look; the elephant’ being to walk a bit faster, the sound of the hot air thrusting into the balloon makes them sing us a song with their beautiful trunks.   We sore higher again, but not before “tickling our toes”, our captain lets us know this is what it means as he carefully sweeps the basket along the top of the trees. 

As we weave through the air with grace, our captain is watching for the perfect place to land.  Flying in a Hot Air Balloon is much smoother then I had ever imagined. I was excepting to feel some sort of turbulence at some point, but it as though we are floating on a cloud, the most peaceful experience in my life to date.  We slowly make our way down from the sky with the crew is waiting below; we are instructed on how to sit for landing.  We glide lower as the basket grazes the grass and we lightly drag for a few seconds and touch down like being lowered down with help from above.  Climbing out of the basket I’m wishing we had another hour to be blessed with Mother Nature’s gentle winds. Upon landing I ask our pilot   " What do you enjoy most about your job", his reply;
"There are two things I enjoy most about my job.  The flying in Africa, in my eyes is the best in the world so that would be the first.  The freedom and feeling of drifting through the sky at the mercy of Mother Nature’s wind is like no other.  Being able to share this experience with others would have to be my second enjoyment.  I thoroughly enjoy the expressions and happiness that penetrates daily from the passengers.  It is an unreal experience to drift in a balloon over the African landscape/ecosystems and variety of animals, especially for those that have never been in a balloon before.  My favourite saying is, where else in the world can you float over Jurassic Park a few hundred feet above the Big 5 and so many more unique animals of the world! " -Captain Msuya

We make our way to the Safari trucks and enjoy our game drive to the riverside where we were greeted by the staff from Balloon Camp with Champagne, Mimosas and a wonderful “Breakfast in the Bush”. I sit enjoying my breakfast and am thinking about my first group of Canadians that will join me on this adventure and cross African Ballooning Safaris off their "bucket list!" As we drive back home I am overfilled with joy, knowing that in a few days I will get to do this all over again. I am excited that there will always be a new direction to take; no flight path is ever the same with Mother Nature allowing for a new opportunity each day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

I have learned in the last few days that the Tarangire Ecosystem has four seasons.  The rainy season has two periods.  The short rains fall from early November till the end of December. Often falling overnight and early morning the light rains makes the climate humid.  The wildlife is all around the Tarangire River and the Wildebeest and Zebra are carrying their young. In January the calves are born and the majority of the wildlife starts to slowly migrate.  The long rains fall from mid-March until early June, during this time it is warm and humid with heavy rains and often cloudy. Lots of Tzetze flies have disappeared.  By April lots of water and fresh grasses are available. At the beginning of May the first bulk of the migration has reached Amboseli.  In Tarangire National Park the vegetation is very green. You will see the many trees in bloom, the thick hills and valleys scattered with Baobabs,  Sausage Trees and various Acacia trees just to name a few.

The dry season also has two periods.  The main dry season runs from early June until the end of October.  This is the best period to spot wildlife as the migration has returned to the park and wander towards the Tarangire River and swamps.  June is when the Elands start to return to Tarangire, followed by the elephants at the end of the month. The Zebra and Wildebeests are also quickly making their way back by mid-July.  In July and August the early mornings can be a bit cold if it is raining, you definitely want to bring your sweater. The short dry season begins early January and ends mid-March, the period when the migration slowly starts their journey north.  The land is barren and very dry, even  all of the leaves are off of the thousands of Baobabs. The animals make their way to find the watering holes, most of which are underground water springs which help to keep Silale Swap and the Tarangire River water sources for the hundreds of species who call this park home.

Tarangire National Park is known worldwide for its variety of bird species during the dry seasons. It is known for the Fish Eagle which prays along the Tarangire River and Swamps.  You will also find other common species such as the Helmeted Guineafowl, Crown Crane, a variety of Hornbills, Kori Bustard and the many doves and storks.  The most common bird in East Africa is the Red-billed Oxpecker who attaches himself to the backs of buffalo and giraffe to remove the ticks and other blood sucking bugs. I enjoy sitting and watching them help out their friends, there are normally at least 4 or 5 on each animal. The male Weaver birds build their nests in an unique way, hanging upside down, typically in Acacia trees they attract their mates by building the best nest.

Keep following my blog and my journey at becoming an East African Specialist. With so many different attractions such as Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Mount Kilmanjaro, Lake Minyara and Tarangire National Park, Tanzania has something for everyone. It is never too early to start planning your safari to this beautiful country. The peaceful energy here will re-charge your batteries and leave you wishing you had just one more day! I am so excited for my first balloon ride over this wonderful eco-system tomorrow morning!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Balloon Camp, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Pure beauty is what first comes to mind when you cross the front gate to Tarangire National Park.  As I step out of the safari truck to register at the front desk of the park, I wonder which animal I am going to see first.  I take two steps and Moses stops me dead in my tracks, “look, through the trees”, my first Elephant!! Standing there smiling, I ask how many more are behind all of these beautiful trees and bush. 

The Baobabs are the second thing I notice, indigenous to Africa they are known as the upside down tree, as in dry season when they are bare they look as though the roots are at the top of the tree.  There are so many Baobabs, they are the largest trees I have ever seen.  I walk along the stone path to find the washrooms before the drive through the park to our house at Balloon Camp and out pops a Black-Faced Vervet Monkey.   Already my passion and love for becoming an Africa specialist is heighten times ten.  

Balloon Camp, Mada Hotels newest boutique property is set next to Boundary Hill about 45kms into the park. With six luxury safari tents raised on stilts, king size four poster beds, spacious open style tiled bathrooms and enjoyably large verandas where you will enjoy the sunset overlooking Tarangire. 
The view from the bar and restaurant is spectacular while you enjoy five star meals in an unforgettable atmosphere. The stay is not complete without your Balloon ride over the beautiful landscape.  Enjoy your “breakfast in the bush” after landing from your flight then continue your afternoon spotting the many animals grazing the wonderful Eco-system that Tarangire has to offer.  Whether you choose to visit in the rainy or dry season your experience at Balloon Camp will capture your African safari dreams.