One thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time is ride in a hot air balloon – it seems so cool and so peaceful! When Hassan mentioned that you could do an excursion the next morning to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, I signed up immediately! It was only $100US per person, so I thought it was quite the deal! (That’s the standard price, too!)
The wake up call was crazy early. We had to be down, ready to go, at 4:15. About 12 people from the boat went, and considering that the boat was sailing with minimal guests, it turned into about 25% of the boat! (Yes… on a cruise meant for I heard 250 people, ours had 40 – 50. Basically how Egypt tourism is going these days.)
We got on smaller boats to go across the river, where we filled out forms removing them from liability and listing our weight. You definitely aren’t in the litigiousness of the US anymore! I took a few seconds to read what they asked me to sign, and the guy interrupted me and was like “the pilot will explain this all soon.”
I just replied with “I read all documents before signing them.” He looked perplexed.
Then we got into vans that took us to the field where they were inflating the balloons. That was its own kind of awesome thing to watch. They were inflating probably 12 hot air balloons and each one inflated at a slightly different rate. In the pre-dawn hours, the main light was coming from whenever they were firing gas into the balloons. Definitely cool to watch.
But then even cooler – we got into the basket of our balloon! It’s bigger than I expected – I think there were 12 people in the basket, including the pilot. It’s also so much hotter! The heat coming off of the burners was incredible. Luckily, when you’re on a hot air balloon ride, they’re not burning all the time – just when you need to go up.
We were probably the fourth balloon to launch that morning. There were balloons ahead of us and behind us, and it was cool to be in the midst of all of the balloons. At this point, dawn was beginning to break.
We went up, but not quite as high as I expected (there were a lot of balloons way higher than us). We were gliding along maybe 20-30 feet off the ground. Really quite close. I think someone else thought that too and said something to the captain, who then said “high is easy! It’s the mark of a good pilot to show you close!”
And then we clipped some rocks. Which really hurt – there was more force than I expected! I think the pilot got the message, and then decided to have a “lesson” and teach some of the others on the balloon how to pilot it to show how easy it was to go high. It made me groan and laugh inwardly. It feels like a very standard and typical Egyptian thing to do.
But as we went up, it was amazing. it was everything I thought and hoped it would be. We could see the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut Temple, the Nile, and the whole of Luxor. There is a very clear line where you can see the greenery of land irrigated from the Nile with the tan of the areas given over to desert.
There was a bend in the Nile, and the sun was coming up right behind it. Sunrises and sunsets here are just fiery – all reds and pinks and oranges.
All too soon, it was time for the balloon to come down for landing. This was also surprised to me compared to what I expected (I guess maybe I naively expected a soft landing?). You had to get into “landing position” which is to say, you had to brace yourself on different parts of the basket. They also said not to get out until instructed by the captain, as the weight of the balloon had been calculated and they needed it. When we landed, it was pretty hard – and we kind of dragged along the ground for a bit (hitting a few times) before coming to a stop. It wasn’t terrible, just wasn’t what I expected.
The whole balloon ride made me think about how lucky I am and how incredible Egypt is. Every day, it seems like I get to make a memory I’ll have forever. A hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise? Definitely on that list.