An Early Start
The sun hasn’t even started to colour the horizon when I drag myself out of bed and stumble-stagger my way down to the foyer to meet the tour bus from Balloon Adventures. The sun still hasn’t made its first appearance by the time we’ve left the slowly filling streets of Dubai or even when we turn off the highway and onto a bumpier, less well-traveled side road.
In fact, we stand shivering in the cool desert air as we wait for the balloon to be inflated; some of us huddling extra close so as to get a bit of the warmth that comes off the burner as it blasts hot air into the envelope.
I’m using cool hot air balloon terminology just like the irrepressably charming Captain Mike, who whisked us through the skies with more enthusiasm than anybody should have at 6am on a Thursday morning.
It was only as we piled into the basket that the sun crested the horizon, angry and red like some distant apocalypse that we’d be making a very slow, serene escape from.
The Air Up There
While there’s quite a bit of noise and heat as we’re lifting into the air, we’re soon at 4000 feet and I’m stunned by just how quiet it is. There are 24 of us in the basket, but each of us seems to realise the importance of quiet at this moment. It’s as if the stunning sight of the sun’s light slowly spreading across the desert and the fact we’re floating high above it all has approached the religious.
In fact, with the exception of Captain Mike’s witty commentary and the occassional belch of flame from the burner, the entire half hour is like this. Whether we’re stunned into silence by the experience or we’re just not awake enough for conversation, we are all wide-eyed, open-mouthed observers as we float over the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
We don’t remain at 4000 feet, of course. As we drift towards our landing site, Captain Mike takes us low enough to see more of the desert’s rolling dunes and the sparse vegetation that clings to them.
Down this low, we’re able to see just how quickly we’re moving. The dunes whip below us as startled foxes and gazelle race away from the ominous shadow that hovers overhead but never seems to strike.
Even now, moving at speed, it’s still incredibly relaxing. The sun has conjured up some much needed warmth and the warm air whips through my hair (well, my beard) as we draw near to the edge of the conservation area and our rendezvous point.
A Bumpy Landing
“Landing positions!” Captain Mike shouts as we begin to descend. We dutifully bend our knees, grip the ropes, and lean back as we’d been instructed prior to take-off.
We strike the barbed wire fence that surrounds the conservation area as we’re coming in, although it’s more of a kiss than any real contact. Just like that we’ve hit the ground and we’re all hanging onto the ropes and dangling precariously. There are a few surprised cries as we tip to a point where we’re almost lying on the ground on our backs, and then we’ve leveled out again.
“That’s what I call a pussy landing,” Mike informs us as we clamber out of the basket and onto the road he’s landed us beside.
We have a twenty-odd minute wait until the trucks make their way out to us with cool refreshments and our return to civilization, but there’s an incredible serenity to that twenty minutes out in the desert. We’re the only people in any direction for miles, although we can hear the distant sounds of gunfire from a nearby military base.
We’re the only people in any direction for miles, although we can hear the distant sounds of gunfire from a nearby military base. When they’re not firing it’s just the wind and our own muted chatter. The balloon, its work done, slowly deflates on the hot sand; much like it’s smaller cousin’s do after the party is over and they’ve been forgotten about.
Riding back to the buses, I cling to the side of the 4WD and soak in the sun and the view. It’s not even 8am, but it’s going to be hard to top this day.
Is riding in a hot air balloon on your bucket list?
If you’ve been before, where did you fly and what did you make of the experience?
I was lucky enough to be invited to go hot air ballooning as part of the Hidden Dubai campaign, although all opinions are my own.
All photos taken on an iPhone 4. Some have been edited using Instagram. All images are property of Aussie on the Road, but feel free to share them with accreditation.
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