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.