Egypt Series: 4:30am in a Hot Air Balloon

I remain in awe of this moment, this experience, striking this off my bucket list accompanied by my sister. If I’m being candid, my intent was not to experience this in Egypt. I planned to do this in Cappadocia, Turkey, as a once in my lifetime excursion in the most picturesque location. I’m unsure if I’ve disclosed this, but I’m fearful of heights, which is why I intended to do a one-and-done deal. My plans changed without a single regret. The adventure was better than I could have dreamed.

Planning

It started a little something like this… The day we arrived in Luxor and settled into the Malkata House, we spent time sorting out what the following days would entail. I scoured Airbnb Experiences and stumbled upon the hot air balloon ride. This was not the first time I’ve noticed hot air balloon rides advertised in Luxor. I soon realized that this city is known for this excursion, later confirmed by the staff of the house. I secured the reservation and was quickly contacted about the schedule for the following morning.

Like everything else, the planning was not uncomplicated. I booked the 6am slot as it was all I saw on the site. The second male contacted me via WhatsApp inquiring about our location. He urged us to upgrade to the earlier tour, which came at a premium. I declined many times until it was revealed that all other guests for the morning were in the earlier time slot. My immediate reaction? Bliss. Our money would stretch, landing a private tour over Luxor as the sun came out. Or, so I assumed. The owner graciously upgraded us to the earlier slot. Clearly, this was not only more convenient for them, but it saved them money. Looking back, I’m thankful that this is a battle I lost.

After our time and location are confirmed, we sent images of our passports and the details required. The headache subsided while excitement rose.

Experience

Before 4am struck, our driver was outside waiting to greet us. Somehow the two of us awoke early enough to apply our faces and get dressed. Despite the time, we were photo ready.

Unsteady, we entered a white van. The kind I would not voluntarily enter under different circumstances. When we approached the pickup area along the Nile, we noticed busloads of tourists. Three employees entered the van, and we joined the queue of vehicles headed to the empty fields for our ride. From then, things advanced quickly. I can’t recall the duration, but from the car rides to the commencement of the excursion, we lost more time than anticipated. So much so that there was a rush getting us up and away. There were conversations about the sun coming out and people not getting the experience they paid for.

From here on out, this adventure was surreal. My eyes laid on over a dozen hot air balloons. The workers formed fires and maneuvered the balloons upright. Though we rushed, I basked in it all. I then captured this to the best of my ability. Naturally, the beauty could not translate through the lens. Still, it captured the magnitude of the memory, providing me with something tangible, initiating a mental rewind.

The views were nearly whimsical. As if it was a semi-realistic page out of a storybook. Reality shortly poured in as things hectically evolved. We were assigned to a balloon and introduced to our pilot and the videographer. It was not until we approached the balloon that I learned how enormous it was. Each held roughly 30 people. Although the science adds up, my brain couldn’t grasp that all of us would be headed up in this device. Afraid of heights but exhilarated still, I pulled up the bottom of my dress. I was assisted into our corner of the hot air balloon we shared with a couple.

The basket carrying the passengers was divvied into 8 or so smaller units, physically separated by small borders. After we were situated, we were instructed to crouch down and be seated. It felt bizarre as we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers, but it didn’t last. I suppose this is how they tested if each section had the correct number of individuals. Upon standing, I immediately felt the scorching heat of the fire on my face. While attempting to capture our memories and balance the heat, I somehow missed when we began to lift off.

Once the measurement between the basket and the ground grew, the sun peaked through the clouds creating hues of oranges and pinks. Mesmerized, my fear of heights was nonexistent. I did my best to balance seizing the moment and capturing it. Ooo’s and ahh’s were let out in unison as our group submerged into the excursion. I glanced around as the sky and ground were loaded with balloons at varying altitudes. From every angle, this was surreal. The sights of the sunrise, mountainous deserts, a backdrop of other hot air balloons, and people soaking it in were unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

As I looked down, the height began to weigh on me. The balloons on the ground became the size of a pea. My two hands held tight to the basket as I realized how little of a border separated me from the open sky. My fear of heights vanished again as I fixated on the experience. I glanced to what was my right at the time, and my eyes stumbled upon the Nile. It hit me again. Not only did I make it to Africa, but I’m here doing a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The following 40 minutes consisted of the acceptance of my reality.

As quickly as we went up, we came down. Not one hour passed before we approached the ground. Considering this venture was advertised as a total of 3 hours, and we were approaching hour 2 (including the drive and meeting the other participants), I was puzzled. While processing, we made a semi-smooth landing on a slope in the sand. The videographer reappeared as we clapped for our safe landing. We took turns hopping out. Once we made our exit, the pilot voiced a few words and granted us certificates of completion. This piece of paper came unexpectedly but was another souvenir I didn’t know I needed.

And just like that, this magical experience came to an end. I was sad that this didn’t last as long as advertised, but I couldn’t complain. Given the better slot at no additional cost, I was grateful. This tour was something that will live in my head rent-free for the rest of my being. I highly recommend waking up in the wee hours of the morning and taking part. Luxor is recognized as a hot air balloon destination for a reason.

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