Getting really high in Luxor

Trip Start Oct 24, 2010
Trip End Jan 16, 2011

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Where I stayed
Nefertiti Hotel Luxor
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

I think it was the first night in Luxor , that I got up early, before sunrise, and went up to the top deck of the hotel. It was dark and I could see the Luxor temple lit up below me to the left. I looked across the river Nile, toward the Valley of the Kings, their tombs, and funnery temples.  That valley was the King's entrance to the afterlife.

There, in the predawn glow of early morning, I could see brightly colored orbs lighting up for a brief moment then going dark again. They were ballooning over there on the west bank. That afternoon, we met the nice guys from Memphis, who said they had been onboard one of the morning balloons. They recommended the flight wholeheartedly.

Now  many of you know I have a problem with heights. I avoid even ladders, if possible. When I approach a second story window in a building,  my knees get a little rubbery. Overlooking a cliff in Yosemite, well, only my laundryman and I know how scared I get.

I discussed the "opportunity" with Barbie, and she supported the idea completely. We signed up and paid 70 US each for the trip the next morning.

At 4 AM the next day, we had a knock at the door. This is the Egyptian equilivant of a wake up call. I got up, knocked back, and said "Shoo Cran" Arabic for "Thank you". Once in the lobby, we were ushered out the door to a cab, driven to a nearby dock, and seated on a boat with a table and place settings for 20 others. We were alone, then we were provided a luke warm cup of Nescafe. "Wait a minute, one minute" was our handler's assurance. Barb was much less enthuaistic now, as she wondered why were were up at 4:00 AM sitting here in an empty ferry boat. She wrapped her eyes in a scarf, laid down on the bench seat, and curled up into the fetal position.  Within 20 minutes, a tour bus loaded with other hot air enthusiasts arrived and they also got their luke warm cup of instant Joe.   
The night's are cold here, with temps dropping into the 40s. During the day the temp runs into the high 70s. You need to bundle up in the mornings. The boat pushed off and crossed the Nile from East to West. We were met on the west side by a fleet of mini vans. I think there were several companies at work here. The handlers worked hard to keep us in separate groups. The vans drove for five minutes through the darken villages. Once we arrived at the hot air balloon take off area, were were told to wait by our respective balloons and watch the inflation procedure. It was dark and cold as the Captain oversaw his ground crew begin to inflate the bag, first by a powerful cold air fan, then later with the large propane powered bruners. It was still dark and I snapped a few shots of neighboring balloons as they lit up like some giant Christmas bulbs.

Our balloon was huge. It's basket was a large rectangular wicker one with grab handles all around the base, and all around the top of the railing inside. The balloon and basket were capable of carring an amazing 20 passengers in addition to the Captain. All around the area, other groups s were watching the belated inflation of their balloons.

We were directed to climb into the basket via a set of steps provided at each end of the basket. Next the Captain instructed us on how to handle a crash landing. He used his hands as a graphic example of the types of landings. He described the Egyptian landing as a soft decent, his palm gently carressing the other palm to a complete stop. He next describbed what he called an "English Landing"  where the upper hand slammed into the other palm, then bounced back up into the air,  and slammed down again, and again. Everyone laughed nervously. I remembered signing the release earlier, describing how much fun it was to brush the treetops, before the disclaimer of no responsiblity for the operator for facial, hand, arm,  and other bodily injuries. Next,  the Captain , wearing a white shirt with applets and four golden bars on each one, said he would explain the crash landing position.  He stated that when told to do so we should assume the postion for crash landing. We` were to squat down facing the outside. We were to hang on to the two hadles on the top rail, squat all the way down, and press or backs into the interior wall separating the four compartments.  Then he added " Whatever you do,  DO NOT LEAVE THE BASKET ONCE WE ARE ON THE GROUND!"   (His momma didn't raise no fool!)

I have to say the exercise, was not very reassuring. What was reassurning was the fact that we had very little wind.  El Capitan, began periodic blasts from his flamethrowing torches into our fabric elevator. I noted that he did not have a pyrometer which would monitor temperature at the top of the bag. He did have a CB radio and a GPS. He was in his 30s and gave an air of competence and appropriate seriousness. In his uniform, he certainly looked the part. I smiled as I noticed the nylon line doubled over to make two parts running from the sack to the 5 ton truck next to the ground crew.

The ground crew was in festive mood. Their launch work was about over. There in the dark they started chanting a singing a Bedouin chant. They had a tabla drum and a tamborine to drive the beat forwad. They were singing goodbye to us and they were all smiles. The song would continue as they flashed on and off in my viewfinder as the captain put the fire into our exhaust pipe without an outlet.  The captain was in contact with tower control nearby using his CB. " Captain of Balloon 223, prepared for take-off , In Shalla" (God Willing)

The cadance of the druming and chanting increased to a frenetic pace. Faces were appearing in brilliant light then fading back into darkness as the lights went out. Then, there was a disconcerting "Bump" that shook the the craft I was standing in.  We were on the veritible edge of lift-off.

Now the chanting, singing and drumming peaked out. They were really into it, and so was I. I was thinking, "Maybe I really stepped in it this time." The captain now put the hammer down and leaned on the triggers for a longer blast then stopped....I looked down and the ground crew started fading farther into the predawn light as the silence and stillness enveloped us.

It was sureal how quiet and calm it all was. I think you could have lit a candle up there. Very quiet.  I think were were the first off the ground.  Our Captain may have been the group leader. He would periodically report his altitude and postions (maybe speed) to the controller, and always ended with "God Willing"  That helped a lot.

Air Balloon control seemed to release the others one or two at a time. Soon we were high above the West Bank of the Nile River waiting for sunrise.  We could see the sites below that we had visited and a few we had missed. The Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut's temple, were all below us.

If I took my eye off the viewfinder, my mind would start thinking about such cheerful subjects as the curse of the Pharoahs, wondering how strong the wicker floor was, and more importantly how hot the blue circle on the top of the sack was. These balloons often burn a hole in the top portion of the bag, and the result is a long flapping screamer to the earth below. At 2500 feet, I wondered how deep a tomb we would make on impact, should our bag flame out.
I struggled to regain my focus on the photos. We watched as the sun came up over the eastern ridge of the Nile River Valley. Some of the other balloons were now silouettes on the sunrise. I forced myself into a personal state of denial while 1/2 mile above the real Nile.
Still I recalled the guidebooks reference to an incident here a couple of years ago where the balloon hit a cellphone tower injuring many, but not killing anyone. They got lots of excitment, at no extra charge! As I tried to move this image from my mind, I spotted a series of high powerlines in the near distance to the south. We were slowly moving in their direction.

Always wanting to be helpful, I noted the existance of this electrical hazard to the Captain, just in case he was unaware of them.  He smiled at me and said "Not a problem." Then added the "God Willing " addendum. That helped a lot.

We soon began our decent. The ballons that were previously below us were now following us from above. We floated over the tops of villager's homes, and sugar cane fields. We were moving slowing, maybe two miles an hour or less. We decended lower and lower, until we literaly were scraping along the tops of the 10 foot tall sugar cane. The Captain, lifted up up and over a palm tree, and then we bagan decending again. I could see the ground crew truck following us. Two Kids ran out of their houses, jumped on a couple of donkeys and were running to catch up with us. I thought this must be a daily occurance for them.

The west bank is well suited for ballooning. All the poeple and houses are located on a narrow strip of irrigated land along the river. The take offs and landings occur in an area to the west that is all desert. We got lucky. We had an Egyptian landing, softer than I can describe.
As we decended to earth, a crew of ten ground crew appeared from nowhere. They each grabbed two handles at the base of the basket and walked the still floating basket over to a place where they had spread out ground covers. Then they began bundling the bag, and soon we were steping out of the basket on the same steps we entered on.

I took a photo of the Captain with three young school teachers. One each from Canada, Austrailia, and South Africa. They are all teaching together in London and have taken a two week trip to Egypt together.

I felt relieved to be on the ground and a bit suprised on how peaceful and comfortable the hour long flight had been. We were each given certificates of accomplishments, documenting our ascension into the skies above Luxor, Egypt. I am so proud of my certificate and the pivitol role I played as dead weight on our historic flight. I function very well as ballast.

Still awaiting the cusrse or the mummies. Enjoy the photos. Stay tuned.

We fly tonight from Luxor to Sharm El Shiek, Sinai, Egypt, then by car in the night to Dahab on the coast of the Red Sea.

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Bro Don on

Looks Wonderful, God was smiling on you!

Steve White on

Glad to see you two are still traveling - do you remember me from Varanasi last year? I came across your web address this morning and I have been living vicariously on your postings.

Nothing exotic for me this year - but next year.......

All the best,

Steve W.

don mckee on

Barbie supported the idea completely....or she called your bluff! I have to say that this post was very well written, with humor, humility and suspense. It was an enjoyable read indeed. Alone in my downstairs den, I found myself laughing alound.

thomasgillam on

Thanks Don, for being there. It is good to know someone out there is tuned in to the trip. Thanks again for your comments.Won't be too long now and we will be back (on the 16th.)

Linda Bentler on

Loved the pictures and the witty discriptions; you and Barb were very brave. The scenery looked unbelievable; I can't imagine what that must be like to be on top of the world looking down on ancient Egypt.

joni on


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