Tuesday, September 1, 2015

EGYPT: A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE OVER LUXOR AND VALLEY OF THE KINGS

When we were in Kenya last year, we had an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara for $500/person.  That was much too steep for our bank account, and we declined. When we heard a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings was an option for this trip, and that it cost a much more reasonable $135/person, we were among the first in line to sign up. When we got the 4:00 AM wake-up call, however, I was questioning the wisdom of that decision.

We left our cruise boat at 4:30 and headed for the barque that would transport us across the River Styx Nile to our heavenly transport:
 We look perky, don't you think?
It's a good thing they provided us with a nutritious breakfast:
When we arrived, the crew had just begun to inflate the five or six enormous balloons that would carry our group and some others aloft:

A burst of flame shot into the void:
. . . and one by one the balloons rose up like oddly colored specters into the pre-dawn grayness:

We were formed into groups and waited patiently for our turn:

  
 Watching the other groups load up . . .
. . .  and embark ahead of us . . . 

. . . reminded me of these great moments in cinematic history:
The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (picture from here)

Around the World in 80 Days, 1956
(picture from here)

Up, 2009  (picture from here)
Finally, it was OUR turn. Eighteen of us climbed into a basket under the patchwork bubble sporadically lit by bursts of flame and prepared to float a thousand feet above the ground by practicing squatting down and putting our arms over our heads in crash position. Nothin' scary about that, right?
I took my cues from my friend Julia. During our flight, she kept clapping her hands and saying, "Can we go higher? Higher, please!" She is The Woman.
Note the gloved hand about to awaken the fire-breathing dragon:

  

And off we went!


We were up, joining our fellow voyagers!

My camera settings and editing make my earlier pictures look like daytime, but we had liftoff just in time to watch the sunrise over Luxor:





Okay, okay. It was totally worth that 4:00 AM wake-up call!

Beneath us spread a patchwork quilt of the world's most ancient farmland. It has been enriched for millenia by the flooding of the Nile River and is now irrigated with the river's life-sustaining water:
In the distance, smoke rose from sugar cane fields where leaves were being burned off the stalks to make harvesting easier and faster: 
The smoke hung like a shroud over the fertile fields:

It clung to the earth even in areas not being burned:

We created shadows of our own on the land:
This is what an eagle sees, I thought to myself. Very interesting:

We glided over another balloon-launching site. 
Ballooning is a very popular tourist activity in Luxor (in spite of a crash in 2013 that killed 19 people, but let's not think about that):
As we drifted west, we crossed over the line between farmland and desert that couldn't have been any clearer if it had been drawn by a Sharpie pen:

The dry Egyptian desert lay before us:
There is the Temple of Ramses III that we had just visited the day before:
Queen Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple nestled cozily against the cliff, and behind that cliff was the Valley of the Kings:
The colossal Amenhotep statues were oblivious to our passage overhead:

Exciting? You'd better believe it!
As we criss-crossed the valley, we appreciated the textures, shapes, and subtle color variation below us in a way that is impossible when standing on the ground:

Without engine noise and only an occasional hiss of flame reaching into the balloon, there is a peacefulness to balloon travel that is like no other form of transportation:


It looks like fields are also burned post-harvest and pre-planting:
The Nile was just a shiny ribbon in the distance:

Far below we could see farmers and their animals hard at work:



The farmers didn't appear to be using any modern machinery. A few men and a few donkeys were sprinkled here and there harvesting thousands of acres:


They must have been whittling away at the growth with machetes. The only sounds we heard from below were their faint calls to each other. We certainly didn't hear the roar of any power tools:

They did all the hauling by donkey and cart:

Of all the pictures I took, this is the only one with a truck in it, and suppose it could have been one of the trucks used to pick up the hot air balloons:
We also got a good look at the bottom-up construction process:
And we scouted out possible tourist destinations:
We thought we would end up at the same parking lot where we began, but apparently it isn't that easy to steer a hot air balloon. We noticed that other balloons were landing in random fields all over the valley:

Trucks drove to their aid, and men helped the passengers out of the basket and took care of the limp balloon:
Others balloons near us were landing. Wait! That red, white, and blue balloon looks very familiar . . . 
Could it be one of THESE? Nahhhh.
We started our descent. Cane fields look soft from above, but it's an illusion. They really aren't a good place to land. Maybe we could land in Amenhotep's lap? Or the parking lot?
Oh good, this will work:
This young man was waiting for us. I was pretty sure we couldn't all fit in his wagon.
Touchdown!
Uh-oh. Here come the natives.
What do you mean you don't like us crushing your new plants?
Some of us got out, and the rest stayed in as ballast so the balloon could be pushed to a new landing pad:


 
These farmers look like they've done this before:
Um, Kasey, I think you have a balloon growing out of your head.
A much better landing pad, don't you think?
Hey, is that our little friend with the donkey cart? Where'd he get the cool bike?
He and his buddies figured they deserved a little baksheesh (a small bit of money given as alms, a tip, or a bribe, a term we heard often):
They certainly earned it:
Okay, time to get back to work:
Stan paid our little friend a dollar to go get him a piece of sugar cane:
Note how the cane is tied up in bundles. Is that to make walking into the field possible, or is it part of the harvest process?
Pretty soon Stan had emptied his wallet and had enough cane to supply everyone in the group. Thanks, Stan! The boy says thanks, too. He probably made as much money as his dad that day.
And just like that, the flame was off, the basket was detached, the air seeped out, and our magical carriage was nothing more than a flattened pile of nylon fabric:
What a spectacular adventure!

6 comments:

  1. I'm feeling cheated that we didn't see Amenhotep from the air. I looked through all of my pictures, and nope. Dang it, I just knew I was on the wrong side of the balloon!
    That was a wonderful experience and a wonderful day. So glad we got to go!

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  2. Very cool adventure. I went ballooning once. We ran out of gas and ended up landing in a prison. Let me tell you got a much better reception from the farmers than we did from the prison guards.

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    Replies
    1. You're supposed to use the balloon to get out of prison, not into it.

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  3. An unforgettable adventure and a great place to do it.

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  4. Loved all the accompanying hot air balloon trivia, including that song!

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