In search of the balloon office: Tarangire Office Space

As I alluded to in a post last week, I’m planning on travelling back to Tanzania in June for a project with World Vets. As you all know, or I think you mostly know, that was pretty much the most amazing experience of my life. And this is going to be different- it’s a working trip, not an anniversary trip I planned for two decades straight. I get that, and in a lot of ways it’s a relief- the pressure is off. I saw the chimps. I saw the Big Five. This time I get to just relax, do some good work alongside good people, and let Africa sink into my pores.

A friend once said to me, Africa is a place you either love or hate. You either get home and shrug with a confused “what was that?” look on your face, or you start planning your next trip. Well, making it back to a country in less than twelve months is a new record for me, so you tell me where you think I fall on that spectrum. I’ve had Africa on the mind since my feet touched ground back in October. 

I really do dislike the rat race here at home, consumed by karate practice and standardized test scores and toxic matchboxes. No one cares about that in Tanzania. They’re too busy watching out for mambas. It’s a good place to get one’s priorities in order. No one there cares what you drive or who designed your shirt; if you say “Jambo” and treat your fellow man with respect, you’re good to go..

And the people are really what makes the country. I met the most amazing people there, from our intrepid Kiwi hosts Steve and Kiri in Mahale to our amazing safari guide Clemence, who seemed to know every single ranger in the national park service, to Grover the Disenchanted Disgruntled Imprisoned Scottish Balloon Pilot, who was my favorite character in all of Tanzania, and perhaps of any place I’ve been. You’ll meet him in part two.

On our safari, our last stop on the itinerary was Tarangire National Park. My husband and I each had our agenda items: mine was the chimps, of course; his was some giraffes, perhaps, and then he said he really wanted to do a balloon ride over the bush. Just as I had nursed dreams of crawling through the jungle along the shores of a crystalline lake in search of primates, my husband had been imagining himself hanging out of the basket of a low-flying hot air balloon, lazily drifting over the plains as he captured aerial shots of some migration or another. Most people do this on the Serengeti, but as luck would have it, there was a smaller balloon company that offered a similar flight in Tarangire. Sure, I said to my husband. You deserve it.

“Oh good,” said Clemence, who had gamely offered to help us set up our adventure. “We just need to stop by the office on the way to your camp and we’ll get it set up.”

We trundled along into Tarangire National Park, where we had our first up-close glimpse of elephants and my very first peek of the trip of the elegant giraffes.

The road wound along the upper banks of the Tarangire River, quite dry and clay-like during this dry season. Because of this, large herds of elephants tended to congregate in the small regions of water that remained, slapping the clay on themselves as desert sunscreen and trumpeting angrily if a predator was spotted in the distance.

We bumped along on the road like this for a good hour, retreating further and further from the main path as we journeyed deeper into the park. Soon it was just us, vultures, and baobab trees poking forlornly into the sky.

“We’re almost at the office,” said Clemence, as we sped along a dusty road with nothing but brush as far as the eye could see. “We are?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, rounding a corner. And there, on the top of a plateau, a small building and what looked to be a barn. “The balloon office!” Clemence announced cheerfully. I jumped out, figuring someone would have told me if there was a lion hanging around, and followed him into the office.

“Hmmm,” Clemence said after speaking to the building’s sole occupant in Swahili. “I guess the main guy isn’t here.” He spoke to the man again, pointing to us and I can only assume getting us on the schedule. “You’re set,” he said. “Bring your credit card tomorrow. Someone will by by to pick you up at 4:30.” I looked up at the man, who smiled encouragingly, and back at Brian, who looked skeptical.

“Don’t you need to write anything down?”

Clemence scoffed. “Don’t worry, Bri-an,” he said in his crisp accent. “It is all good. All good.”

And because my computer is playing along, I found the buried videos I took in Tarangire and put this entire post in video form as well, so you can see in motion just how beautiful this place is. AND you can see the Lion King Rock, which is a hidden gem out in the middle of nowhere that’s just breathtaking.

Filed: Adventures, Blog, On Safari, Photography, Videos Tagged: , , , ,
  • Sue W.

    “I really do dislike the rat race here at home, consumed by karate practice and standardized test scores and toxic matchboxes”

    Ah, life beyond the day-to-day minutiae. I’m happy for you that you found it and can chase it! What an amazing experience.

    “No one there cares what you drive or who designed your shirt” – be that as it may, I love the scarf you are wearing on your head in the video!

  • Anonymous

    Just wow! No wonder you are itching to go back!

  • Tamara

    Just beautiful, stunning! Everywhere I’ve lived, I try to imagine the land without buildings, cities, highways and cars. I think I would love Africa too, for the landscape alone. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and for the beautiful photos and video.

  • Leigh

    How funny, I have heard that about Africa, too. There is something about it that if you love it, you are always yearning to go back. It gets in your blood. Even Oprah has said it!

    My friend is a chimp rescue/rehab/tracker in Africa. She goes for up to 9 months, and then comes back to see her family, or plan for the next trip, etc… One day soon after she had returned, she called me in tears… she was in Target, and she had an anxiety attack because she was looking around and thought, “None of this matters! Why do we care about necklaces and bags and DVDs?” She was hyperventilating because she felt like she didn’t fit into “this” world anymore. She says every time now that it is a really hard transition to be back in America, our culture is so superfluous and shallow.

  • Susi

    I LOVE giraffes and now understand why: I drink beverages TOTALLY the same way. Gorgeous country and I’m looking forward to your reports following your next trip back.

  • Lisa W

    I hope to make it there someday. Elephants and lions are my favorite wild animals. I’m now volunteering at a big cat rescue that is only a few minutes from my house — so cool!