February 28, 2016
While driving out to Big Daddy, I espied a couple of hot air balloons taking in the spectacular vistas of the Great Namib. After my long day of hiking, I checked in with my hotel’s Activities Office and decided to enjoy the balloon experience the following morning.
I’d only been in a hot air balloon once before – in Sonoma County, California. But I didn’t take the ride to enjoy the view of the area’s vineyards. Once I got about 150 feet up, I jumped out – attached to a bungee. It was an amazing experience.
But there were no bungees on the ride above the Namibian desert.
We arrived at the launch site right at dawn. The three balloons were laid out on the ground and the burners were lit. Quickly the balloons filled and we clambered into the baskets. Each basket held sixteen people. A total of 48 people went up.
It was incredible being able to watch the sun rise over the African desert from such an aerial perch. The shadows were long, and every shade of orange was visible as the landscape awoke for another blisteringly hot day.
The other balloons floated along with ours on their own leisurely pace. Some caught their own thermals or wind currents and would come closer or drift further away. It was fun to be able to view them and imagine how our balloon looked from afar.
Hot air balloons are completely dependent on the wind patterns – one goes where nature takes it. This particular day, we were fortunate because the winds were blowing to the west. We were treated to stunning vistas of the desert rather than the low hills and scrub to the east. Our pilot said that it was the first time in a month one of his tours had had the opportunity to chart such a beautiful direction.
After an hour soaring to heights over 2,000 feet, we passed over an impromptu banquets area, complete with white tablecloths. A motor convoy was soon snaking its way along a dirt road below, made bigger by the plume of dust kicking up from their wheels. The balloons began their descent as the trucks pulled up beneath us, and we gently landed, all four balloons within a hundred yards of one another.
We jumped aboard the safari trucks and were whisked over to the banquet area, where a champagne brunch had been laid out in the middle of nowhere. A compete breakfast buffet was proffered with many exotic meats to complement the meal – zebra, kudu and ostrich. The pilots entertained us by opening the champagne bottles with sabres – no cork pulling needed.