Tanzania balloon “Shani”

Published on World Wide Ultramagic Team

Tanzania balloon "shani".

We at Ultramagic organized a “Shani” in Tanzania in celebration of the 25th anniversary of our trip to Africa in which we followed in the footsteps of Jules Vernes “5 weeks in a Balloon”.
“Shani” is a Swahili word that means adventure, special event, etc. and this is exactly what occurred during the 11 days we held our meeting there.
Pilots and teams from many different parts of the world: Japan, U.S.A., U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain gathered together with lots of friends for this special event to experience a number of different flights.

      Arriving in Dar es Salaam on 18th March, we went directly to Zanzibar on a special fast boat arranged for the occasion which was to be used afterwards for support and chase for a very special flight.

We had some time for resting and visiting the wonderful island, but on the afternoon of the 18th the balloons arrived and were then prepared that evening so to have everything ready for next morning flight.

On the morning of the 20th at 6 a.m. all 15 balloons take off. This was very exciting because it had been a long time in the planning. This flight was just to get familiarized with the butane and the area as well as adjusting to the heat as it was much hotter than we are used to flying in. With just a flight time of 30 minutes, it was time enough to over fly the Stone Town, have nice views of the coast and also have some problems on the retrieve as the balloons were going to the sea and had to land right on the coast! Everybody was busy and helped the retrieve of the balloons. Some of them having to be carried by hand for around 1 Km as there were not many roads around.    
Next day’s flight was planned for great crossing of the Channel between Zanzibar and the African mainland. This time 8 balloons were made ready for take-off with full cylinders using also those of the smaller envelopes that were not to cross. Unfortunately the weather was not enough good to take an extra risk. With thunderstorms in the coast of the continent and the wind lower than expected and southeasterly direction (going to NW), we decided give the chance to only 3 balloons. This we felt could be rescued without problem if they had to land in the water with the 2 boats prepared ready for that.
So on the 21st March a T-150 balloon piloted by Carles Llado and Angel Aguirre and the cameraman David Fernandez, an M-105 piloted by David Bareford and Uwe Schneider and an S-90, piloted by Juan Cobos and Domenec Sayós all took off at 14:00. A local music group, with a special song made for the occasion, accompanied the balloons and everybody else who was there. It was a successful crossing in approximate 4 hours flight over the Ocean. However this was all with some nerves for those in the boats following, as we did not see so clear at that time that the crossing was going to be as successful as it later was. The landscape was superb, as it can be seen in some of the pictures and everybody was happy to know that they had landed safely on the other side.    
The retrieve took 24 hours driving starting that evening in Bagamoyo and we had all teams back with their equipment after one day. All teams were tired but happy to achieve the crossing just as Jaume, Joan and Josep M did 25 years before.The rest of the people had time to rest and do some sailing with the Dhows styled boats while others preferred to visit the old town of Bagamoyo.
Next day, after refueling in Dar es Salaam, we departed to the Selous Game Reserve. In the previous trip 25 years before, this was also a very special place because we stayed there for more than 1 month waiting for the winds to change from NW to SW. Consequently we knew the area quite well and it has not changed very much since then.

For the occasion, a special train was hired with the engine, a passenger wagon and 2 cargo wagons for the balloons, gas and luggage, to guarantee arrival at the Selous more or less on time. The trip was especially interesting as it crosses right from the start a part of the Reserve and we could see already some animals from the train. Also we had a stop in a village to wait for another train coming in the other direction to pass. The villagers were as especially surprised to see us as we were to see them!

Accommodation in Selous was not easy as they are not prepared to handle so large a group, but they did as much as it was possible. Also during the time going to the lodge/bandas/tents we had time to see that the flights would not be easy. Also noting that the rainy season was starting and that some of the tracks could become impassable.
In the same railway station we prepared the balloons and the next morning we had a wonderful flight over the savannah that was especially enjoyed by all of the pilots and crews as it was in one of the remotest areas in the world and for this reason had all the closeness and power of nature.

Retrieves were not easy, but we managed to have all of the balloons ready for the next morning flight. That was to be near the lakes and river. The landscape was very special and here we had the occasion to fly together – Joan, Jaume and Josep Mª in remembrance of the flights made here a long time ago but still well remembered.

It was a short flight, because if we had crossed the lakes, the retrieve would have been several days long, but it was long enough to admire the immense African landscape. After the flight, we did some game viewing with a picnic lunch under a great baobab.
Again we prepared the balloons in another area and we were ready for take off the next day. In fact, the plan was to do a night flight because it was full moon. Unfortunately a severe thunderstorm in the night made us change our plans, though we had the occasion to look at the lighting thunderstorm instead as it was a special show just for us.

Anyway at 6 o’clock we were getting up to see if at least there was an opportunity to do another flight. As the sky was covered in cloud, we were lucky enough to do another flight, with some doubts at the beginning, but it was very good wind directions to make the flight for an easy retrieve.

The hundreds of animals seen in the balloon flights including elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, hippos, wildebeest, etc. made it a special occasion to enjoy our stay and to be conscious of the flights we were lucky to have made.

Next day we came back to Dar es Salaam by train. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon with not usual punctuality, we saw approaching the scheduled train who was fully charged again to be in Dar at the evening.

Next day was a resting day in Dar, so everybody had time to do some souvenirs shopping or do some snorkeling in an island near the hotel. After a farewell dinner at the beach, next morning we went back home.

Organization was not easy, but we did manage to do 5 flights in 11 days, all of those planned, so we believe it was successful event.
The country is not exempt of difficulties but we had lots of help from the people and authorities of the Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism, Tanzania National Parks and the Selous Game Reserve.
Above all, Jimmy Mkwawa was our main support in Tanzania and it would have been extremely difficult to organize this event without his help.
All teams and friends were excellent companions as to not complicate what was already not easy to manage.

A professional film is being prepared together with thousands of pictures to remember this event forever.

A nice event that made us remember that Ultramagic probably would not exist today if we had not done this trip 25 years ago.