Up and away! A Balloon ride over the Nile river

Trip Start Dec 09, 2005
Trip End Jan 01, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  , Qinā,
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

December 20, 2005: Yesterday we set sail early headed for the city of Edfu (Ed - foo) to visit yet another temple. As interesting as they are, these temples are all beginning to look alike. But honestly, they're still very interesting. After visiting the temple we set sail for Luxor, another large city along the Nile. The cruise was very relaxing as we passed through one of the locks of the Nile River, a passageway that allows ships to transition from a higher level to a lower level of a body of water by raising or lowering the vessel. It was an unusual experience because I've never seen that. The boat was actually lowered about 20 feet by some mechanical means. How'd they do that? Michael tried to explain it to me, but I still don't get it. Anyway, it was pretty neat. We wrapped up the evening with a formal dinner where everyone wore black and white.

Today was a very early day in Luxor. As the phone rang for our 4 a.m. wake up call, I still couldn't understand why we had to get up so darn early to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Can't we do this around 10 a.m., right after breakfast? Apparently not - something about the early morning wind yadda, yadda, yadda. So anyway, we got up and joined the other adventurous souls who had signed up for this exciting experience. And man was it cold! Okay, it was probably only about 50 degrees, but that seemed pretty cold since the previous mornings have been about 60 to 65 degrees. So Michael and I grabbed our heavy jackets, scarves and gloves and headed out.

This was Michael's and my first time in a hot air balloon. It's something I have wanted to do for a long time but never got around to it for one reason or another. And boy was I excited! Our bus took us to a small boat, which crossed over to the west bank of the Nile, where we boarded another bus to the departure field for the balloon ride. From a distance we could see the giant yellow sphere fill with fire, gearing up to lift the 20 or so people up into the air for an unforgettable experience. The closer we got to that big balloon, the more excited I got. As we climbed into the balloon's basket (which was separated by four compartments large enough to hold five people each), I felt like an ant sneaking into a picnic basket. After the pilot briefed us on the landing protocol, he pulled a lever, released a burst of fire into the hollow balloon, and up we went.

Soaring over sugar cane fields and unfinished apartment buildings, the cold air suddenly turned warmer and the sight of the Nile River below literally took my breath away. As we rose 1000, 2000, 3000 feet into the air we could see the sun peeking over the distant mountains. The large orange ball beamed so bright I could barely look at it. But it was quite a sight to behold. The sun seemed to rise more quickly than usual, but only because our balloon was also rising. I felt as though we were in a race with the sun to see which would greet the blue skies faster. But our little manmade apparatus was no match for the sun's brilliance.

With a thick Spanish accent, our pilot pointed out the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens off in the distance - two sites we will visit by foot in a few days - as well as a few other points of interest. He explained how the balloon must follow the flow of the wind and how he could only direct the balloon up and down, not side to side. And it seemed that just as he mentioned that, the balloon began to sink lower, lower, lower until the bottom of the basket was scraping the tops of the neatly planted fields of sugar cane. A silent rush of panic swept through the basket as the passengers became suddenly aware that our lives depended totally on this guy we didn't even know and could barely understand. But he seemed pretty calm, so I figured we wouldn't crash.

The lower we got the colder the air became, and then all of a sudden the pilot squeezed the lever, blew another blast of fire into the balloon and up we went yet again. Whew, that was a close call. We had a few other brushes with power lines and such, but for the most part it was a smooth ride. As the balloon began to lower yet again, I noticed a strange sight - a truck driving along the railroad tracks just behind a row of houses and apartment buildings. Children came running out of the backyards and a few men magically emerged from the nearby sugar cane fields. I thought these happy souls were just thrilled to see the massive balloon near their village, until I realized that this was our chosen landing spot. The pilot yelled his command for us to assume the landing position, which was nothing more than squatting while grabbing hold of the thick ropes inside the basket. The men from the truck jumped out and ran towards the balloon, grabbing the rope handles on the outside and pulling hard. After a few scrapes against the rocky dirt below, the basket came to a halt and the ride was over. Anti-climactic, to say the least. I was almost in disbelief, thinking instead that this was simply a photo stop on our little voyage before heading back up into the sky. But no such luck. This was really the end of the road so to speak. So we all hopped out and boarded the minivans that quickly came out of nowhere to shuttle us back to the little boat and the east bank of the Nile. That was a great experience.

After lunch on board the ship, we headed out once again to visit a temple - Karnak Temple. We had heard so much about this temple, the largest temple complex in the world. It is very impressive, with its enormous columns and several secret passageways. Michael and I toured the complex like two kids in a giant sand box. Michael's impression of Karnak is that it is curiously well preserved and breathtaking in its overall stature. And after visiting so many temples in such a short period of time, he says he has come to the conclusion that the temple hieroglyphics were nothing more than ancient comic strips. No insult intended to this ancient form of communication, but the hieroglyphs do resemble our modern day comics, telling a story with pictures. I wonder if future generations will view our written words and pictures the same way.

To top off the day, we had the opportunity to visit a very special place. The Manacare Center for Severely Disabled Children. It was such a blessing to see the smiles on the faces of all of those children, who were at the center for rehabilitation related to various physical disabilities. The staff welcomed us and the others in our group and the parents of the children were excited to see Americans there to see the progress their children were making. Several children asked to have their pictures taken, and it was great to see their faces light up when they saw their own images on the screen of Michael's camera. I wonder if this was the first time they had ever seen their own photo. This was a wonderful, heartwarming experience. The facilities were not nearly as advanced as what you would find in the states, but it was good to see the remarkable work the Egyptians were doing with what little they had.

This was a great day. Between the balloon ride, Karnak Temple and the children's center, no doubt, the best thing about today was the balloon ride. The next time I do that I'd like to try it in the evening with a nice glass of wine and some cheese while watching the sunset. But for now, we're sailing yet again. Off to the nearby city of Qena (Keena). Tomorrow we'll see what that town has to offer.
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