Aug 19 2012

“Shitting pretty” on the Serengeti

The following is an account of our hot air balloon safari, which delivered on its promise to be a “highlight” of the trip for all the wrong reasons. It is posted here with the requisite TMI WARNING.

We set our alarm for 4:30 a.m. to insure that we were ready when the balloon crew came to pick us up a 5:15.  We both slept pretty well, especially considering that there was a lion just outside the camp during the night. We were on target to have a cup of coffee and some biscuits in the camp mess at 5 a.m when Dr. Darling felt a rumble in her lower belly that she knew was NOT a good sign. Suffice it to say that she decided to skip the coffee and spend that time on the can, poor thing.

But she thought she had it out of her system by the time the balloon crew showed up, so she climbed into the jeep for the bumpy and unnecessarily long (due to another pick-up along the way) ride to the balloon launch site. Once there we both needed to use the facilities, only to discover that there were none, which really surprised me based on the size of the operation.

Hot air balloons preparing for launch

The fleet of hot air balloons preparing for launch

This company flies four balloons with 16 passengers each, 7 days a week, which means there are 64 paying customers assembled on the same site every morning at dawn, to say nothing of their own staff, which by my count was a minimum of 6 people per balloon, plus all the jeep drivers … so there’s NO possible way that no-one ever has to take a leak. 

But alas, we were relegated to the grass a hundred or so meters behind the launch area. (At least it was still dark.) I felt terrible for the Swede, who I knew needed to do more than just tinkle, if you know what I mean. We tried to put some distance between ourselves, but we couldn’t spread out too far and still be behind the jeep and out of the sight-line of the folks gathered around the balloons.

Passengers preparing for their hot air balloon adventure over the Serengeti

The baskets are loaded and unloaded while tipped on their sides.

Now I am an experienced outdoor squatter due to our many cycling trips, but I really need to concentrate to avoid peeing in my own shoes. So suffice it to say I was not paying very close attention to Dr. Darling at that particular moment, but I must have been having empathy pains because I hadn’t been crouched more than a few seconds when I realized that my own bowels were about to let loose. Thank gawd I had a nearly-full travel-size pack of Kleenex in my backpack, because we needed even damn two-ply tissue we could get our hands on.

Fortunately my “incident” was over and done with pretty quickly, but poor Dr. Darling had the runs so bad that she couldn’t finish the job with one squat and had to crouch walk several steps between blasts to get clear of the backwash. As I had not planned to do anything more than pee myself, I had taken a single tissue and given the rest of the package to her, so I had to wait for her to finish before she could bring me a couple of sheets. Whether she stood up too quickly, or was overwhelmed by the smell she’d left behind (which was likely now combined with the smell I’d just created myself), or was just nauseous in general at this point, she was barfing before I even had my pants back up. 

Dawn launch

A shot of one the balloons that launched after ours.

It was now perfectly clear that the balloon ride was probably not the best idea at that particular time, and when we checked in with a member of the ground crew I asked if there was a possibility to fly the following day or even the day after, as we would still be in the area. He and the pilot were both very sympathetic, but all four balloons were fully booked for the next two days so it was fly today or don’t fly at all. And as we had not cancelled 24 hours before take-off, we would have forfeited the $$ we paid for it. We were both a bit surprised that this policy applied even in case of illness, because given the close quarters in the basket, having someone barfing and/or shitting on other passengers surely wasn’t good for business.

Despite her rebelling digestive tract, the spendthrift Swede was not about to eat the pricey balloon ride fee, so she gamely strapped herself into the basket … the pilot having purposely given her a corner seat so that in case she needed to heave over the side she’d have plenty of space to do it. This would not have made much of a difference had anything come out of the other end, however.

From inside the basket

Our balloon pilot in action.

Thankfully the launch was smooth and the ride was very, very gentle, and she made it without expelling bodily fluids of any kind. (Video of one of the other balloons in the fleet coming in for a landing cand be seen here.) Unfortunately, the sky was overcast so the sunrise was nothing spectacular. But even more disappointing was how little game we actually saw, and how low we had to fly because of the wind speed. I neglected to look at my watch when we launched, but both Dr. Darling and I are certain that the flight was well under an hour. 

Floating above the Serengeti

Fellow balloonists floating above the Serengeti

Once all four balloons were down, we all assembled for the traditional glass of champagne, and then were shuttled to the breakfast site, which was set up in grand “Out of Africa” style under a large Acacia tree with white table linen and real table service. We were served a full English breakfast plus fresh fruit, coffee, tea, juice and more champagne. And yes, at this site there were actually bush toilets (kind of an open-air porta-potty called a “loo with a view”).

"Loo with a View"

Cleverly named bush toilet

Unfortunately, while she survived and even enjoyed the flight, the smell of food made the Swede want to barf all over again, so she spent breakfast stretched out in the back of one of the transport jeeps. I was adopted by an American physician traveling with her two college-aged kids and managed to enjoy it anyway.

Toward the end of it a large truck of tourists drove past the site and most of the people on board took pictures … so while we don’t have any photos of Dr. Darling or myself at the event, at least I made a few strangers’ vacation pics!

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  1. P'

    emergency lomotil not packed?

    1. Shazzer

      We had Imodium with us and she had taken some before we left for the launch site, be she barfed it up shortly after we got there.

Feed my ego!

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