Fig Tree Camp has an arrangement with Adventures Aloft to provide tourists the thrill of hot air balloon rides -- for a price. Well, I'm going to be here only once, so why not? Could this possibly equal my balloon ride over Cappadocia back in 2005? Well, honestly, it didn't, but maybe that's just because I've done this before. Still, this was an unforgettably fun experience.
We're up dark and early.
So dark, until the flash I couldn't really see what I was taking a picture of.
Something's growing on the ground over there.
That’s our French pilot, Herve. When we were boarding, he told us his name was Michele, but when we looked at the official papers certifying we had successfully survived the flight, there it was: Hervé. So I asked him why he lied, and he explained that English speakers never understand his name when he tells them it’s Hervé. Stupid English speakers.
OK, now we're about to inflate the balloon that will take the Road Scholars aloft.
Everybody take a deep breath and blow really hard!
Or just use a big fan.
This is getting good.
Starting to puff up now.
Almost ready for some actual hot air.
That one over there is almost ready to go.
In fact...there it goes now.
Ah...a big blast should have airborne soon.
Excellent! It's pointed the right way now.
We've climbed aboard.
Hervé is pouring on the heat.
Whoosh. This thing is loud.
Ready for takeoff.
And here we go....
Houston, we have liftoff.
When the heat's on they glow like Christmas lights.
Sunrise over Maasai Mara.
Skimming the trees.
Look! That's my tent down there! One of 'em...
I see Fig Tree Camp.
The parking lot too.
But the gentle morning breeze is taking us away from home.
The Christmas lights keep blinking.
And the sun keeps rising.
I wonder what those zebras think of this? I bet they like the striped ones best.
As God is my witness I'll never be hungry again.
That sun just keeps rising.
Kinda impressive, isn't it?
If you look straight up from the basket, that's what you see.
And that's what you see if you look down.
And it's quiet up here, at least when Hervé isn't blasting flames.
A string of Christmas lights.
Sunrise with balloon over Maasai Mara.
Lotsa balloons out this morning.
And these guys could not care less.
Hey! Look up here!
I guess the wildebeest have been through all this before.
They certainly don't seem perturbed by the weirdness in the sky.
We're about to cruise over a ravine.
Well look at that...a curious zebra.
For a moment, anyway.
We're being ignored by lots of them.
Not even slightly interested.
Hervé knows what he's doing.
We're in good hands.
I think we're coming down now. Soon, anyway.
Everybody's getting lower.
We've been promised a Champagne breakfast. Guess it's over there somewhere.
A classic Serengeti shot.
Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon. And try not to hit a tree.
There's that ravine.
I wonder what critters live down there? That break in the bank almost looks like one of those hippopotamus slides.
Everybody's coming down.
But surely not in the ravine!
Nah...we're drifting by.
That guy's taking a picture of me when I'm taking a picture of him.
Hey, wait a minute...this ravine just won't go away.
Solid ground is getting pretty close now.
Almost down. I think. We are almost down now, aren't we, Hervé?
Yeah, I guess the zebras and the wildebeest wouldn't like us dropping in unannounced.
C'mon, Hervé, set'r down.
And there's our crew, come to help us out of the gondola.
Marsha is the last to disembark.
And our trusty balloon collapses on the plain.
The happy Road Scholars plus Hervé.
Remember how the Wizard of Oz floated away at the end of the movie, suspended beneath a balloon and yelling, "I can't come back; I don't know how it works?" Well, he had just given the Cowardly Lion a diploma, hadn't he? Very appropriate, and here's mine.
So we're all down out of the sky safe and sound and we hop in a Land Rover vehicle to take us to breakfast and ... would you just look over there? I wonder if he's been here all along?
Looks like he, at least, has already had breakfast, so we're OK.
Mr. elephant has been wading this morning.
And he seems curious.
Hi buddy. We'd hang around and chat, but we're hungry.
And there seem to be some tables spread out over there.
Know what you call a group of tourists? A gathering. I just made that up.
But they do seem to be gathering.
And there is Champagne.
So let's gather.
And pull up a chair.
And stand in line for an omelet.
Lots of tourists breakfasting out here this morning.
Lots of wildebeest too. Let's hit the road...lots to see today, and tomorrow we're leaving the Serengeti / Maasai Mara behind.
We won't be encountering any more Cape buffalo.
Friendly looking fellow, right?
You'd be friendly too if you'd just found a big gooey mud puddle.
He just loves mud.
Let's go find some more animals.
We were hoping to get some dramatic shots of the wildebeest migration -- you know, animals splashing across streams and climbing muddy banks. But the wildebeest around here seemed not really to be going much of anywhere today.
They'd go up the bank and turn around and go back to the water. Couldn't make up there minds.
See what I mean?
So let's look for something else.
And maybe show the wildebeest how fording streams is done.
Giraffes do seem to like posing dramatically on the horizon.
That, I do believe, is a topi.
OK, we've learned enough to know by now that where there's water there are animals.
Yep. Big ones too.
That's an Egyptian goose.
And those are crocodiles.
And those are tourists, all safely in their vehicles, spying on the wild animals.
We've come back to Fig Tree Camp for lunch and a rest before our final safari of the trip later this afternoon. Apparently I took only this one picture during our rest stop. But it's a good picture anyway, don't you think?
Now it's later in the day and Kip has told us he thinks he knows where we can find some cheetahs. And there they are, under that tree.
The guides call them the "Five Brothers" because they're all male and they hunt together.
We may be interested in them, but they're not interested in us.
All five, right where Kip expected to find them.
Well hello there.
Tired, are we?
Resting after a big afternoon hunt?
Under a shade tree?
Was the hunt successful?
Well, I'm guessing that rosy red tint under your chin isn't some fancy makeup.
I'd call it a telltale sign of a successful lunch.
Yes, I'm talking about you.
Don't stare at me like that. I'm not your supper.
You wouldn't find me tasty, anyway.
You really do need to wash up after you dine.
All of you.
Well fed and happy.
Know what you call a group of cheetahs? A coalition.
Time to get up and stretch.
The Five Brothers enjoying the good life.
Posing for the camera.
Scowling at the tourists.
And socializing with friends.
It's good to be a cheetah in the Maasai Mara.
Good to be a lion, too.
We've moved along to another of Kip's favorite spots to view wildlife.
And the wildlife is just so glad to see us!
Lots of pride here.
See my teeth?
How's this, then?
I am the King of Beasts! Hear me yawn!
I do not roar for the tourists.
I just pose fiercely for them.
They love it when I yawn.
So here you go.
Snap away, tourists.
Now go away and don't come back.
C'mon, Mildred. Let's give the tourists a thrill.
Pose regally for them.
You'd think they'd get tired of staring at us, wouldn't you?
But no, they come by the carload.
And jockey for the best camera positions.
Hey Simba, c'mon over here.
Pretty soon the sun will go down and maybe we can jump a tourist or two when they're not watching.
That'll give 'em something to remember.
It's been great, but it's time for you to go.
Go. I said, go.
Please, sun, let it get dark so they'll leave us in peace.
Nope, still here.
Look away. Maybe they'll take a hint.
Did that guy just take a picture of my feet? Why? They're just cat's paws, buddy.
I think we'd leave, but there's a traffic jam.
Kip is ready to go.
But we keep snapping pictures.
Because honestly, you just don't see this every day in Memphis.
Wonder if there's been rain over that way?
And when it rains around here, there's mud.
Back to the tent and all the hippos outside my front door.
It's been a big day and now it's time for a big dinner.
Nothing like a nice Maasai dinner serenade to end the evening.
Watch out, Jim!
We've had another great day, but tomorrow the safari ends and we head back to Nairobi. Not that there won't be lots to see along the way.