Sunday, March 28

Hot Air Ballon Ride Over Cairo

When I graduated from University in the 1990’s I was going to buy myself a ride in an Air Balloon as a graduation gift. It never happened. Life passed by quickly. I found myself in Egypt in 2010 touring the most well known sites along the Nile including Luxor, the city formerly known as Thebes. As our small tour was deciding what to do with a free morning, one of our guides suggested a Hot Air Balloon ride. Absolutely! The cost was reasonable and I quickly committed to completing a life time goal: floating in a wicker basket, attached to a large rounded piece of material, heal aloft by a flame as it spewed out hot air.  Other facts that tipped the scale of commitment were the locations we would be flying over: The Valley of the Kings (where 62 Pharaohs have been buried including King Tutankhamen), the Nile River, and the edges of the Sahara desert. Even though I had made the goal 15 years earlier, I then knew I had waited for the right time and the right place to fly in a large balloon.

We arrived at a small boat just before sunrise. We were treated to tea, coffee, water and biscuits as we chauffeured across the Nile River. A brief ride in a white mini-van took us to an open and grassless field where we saw 4 balloons already aloft with their passengers, another balloon filling with air, and our balloon being laid out in preparation for our flight.

One other person I had known on my tour came with me and we smiled at each other in excited anticipation. We were quickly motioned to walk towards, then around the balloon, climbed a three step ladder and hopped into our basket. It was a large wicker and steel structure that was divided into five areas: two on each end facing out the length of the basket, and the fifth section perpendicular to and in the middle of the basket holding the very important pilot and gas tanks.

As I whimped my legs over the edge of the basket the pilot grabbed a metal handle above his head which blew a flame up 4 feet high. The top of my head was hit with a rush of heat akin to standing too close to a bonfire. Three people jumped into our basket section which completed our rides occupancy: population 18.

A large ground crew had already been working furiously ensuring that the balloon was safely unwrapped, aloft, tethered, basket and tanks prepared, passenger safely onboard, and when all was ready they sang us a ‘safe journey’ song in Arabic accompanied by a drum.

The tethers were set loose, the men of the crew steadied the balloon, and the pilot began vigorously emptying the can of gas into the balloon with the clench of his fist. My body felt a moment of weightlessness, then a quick plunk back onto the ground. We had moved 3 feet but were not, as of yet, airborne. The pilot continued adding gas to the flame and we every so quietly and tenderly lifted off the ground. Our ascent was so gradual and sublime that it felt completely natural to be seeing the world drop away and become a more miniscule place.

The basket began rotating of its own accord as we glided through the air, which provided a magnificent 360 degree view of the sites below and beyond. We floated over the excavation sites, caves in the desert, and saw the khaki-brown dirt of the Sahara stretch out forever.

We could see the Nile twisting along the earth, feeding deep green crops, then our height in the sky revealing buildings, towers and a the edge of the city.

In the distance we could observe other balloons meandering in the sky that seemed so much smaller than the one in which we rode. All with a gentle breeze in our ears, the heat of a torch near our heads, and our eyes absorbing unobstructed views.

The serenity. The calm. The feeling that we were not intruding on nature with noise, tracks, engines or horns all provided a semi-godlike experience. Watching but not interfering. Observing yet not disturbing.

The time for descent had arrived. We had viewed the duality of the earth: deep green versus khaki-brown, nurture and starvation. A blue rope repelled from our basket allowing the ground crew to grasp and pull its load closer to the earth’s surface. I wanted to call out for more flight but it would have been to no avail, and it had been an astonishing ride.

A group squeeze of the balloon to release the its air.  Upon landing I knew I had made a wonderful choice and the cost had been well worth the ride.  In a moment’s notice, I would hop in a balloon again, enjoying the scenery of another glorious city.


  1. Spectacular! Your pictures and descriptions take me away...

  2. Very, very cool... I hope to be able to do the same some day!

  3. that one of the excavation was breathtaking! yes, put a mark in the "things i have to be jealous of tonia about" column! beautiful ...

  4. Wow it sounds so exciting!