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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Luxor

Riding in a hot air balloon next to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and crossing the Nile at sunrise was one of the best experiences ever.  It was breath-taking and amazing.  
The day started at 4:30am when the van from the balloon company picked us up at our hotel.  The van was clean and comfortable and the driver drove safely.  They took us to a boat to cross to the west side of the Nile.  The balloon lift-off area was near the Valley of the Kings.  While we were on the boat, they served us a cup of tea.  Here we are with our friends we met at the hotel, Andrea and Brandon.
Here are the other people on the boat.  We're all looking pretty tired because not yet 5am.
Crossing the Nile was beautiful because of the full moon.  Here's a photo I took from the boat.
It was exciting to arrive at the balloon site and see so many balloons firing up to lift off.  There were about 4-5 vans of guests from various hotels.  Many of the people in our van were from the Sheraton.  We had stayed at the Oasis Hotel.  We were told there were more guests than usual because they had not been able to fly the balloons for the past two days because the weather was too hazy.  We were also informed that if the weather was not good when we got there, that we would get our money refunded if we couldn't go another day.
It turned out to be wonderful to have so many balloons going at the same time because we enjoyed watching all the other balloons sailing through the sky.  Ironically, I have great shots of the neighboring red balloon but no shots of us flying in our balloon because of course I was in the basket of our balloon.  If any of you from the red balloon ever read this blog and have shots of our balloon (the multicolored one near you after crossing the  Nile), please leave me a comment so I can get your photos!
The ground crew for the balloon was very nice about offering to take our photos in the balloon.  They were very nice folks and tried to accommodate us and make us feel comfortable and happy at every step.
Before the balloon took off, one of the ground crew gave us a quick talk about what to do when landing, particularly if it were a rough landing.  There are strong rope handles all along the interior of the basket and he said to squat with our backs toward the direction the balloon was landing and our child held between our legs.  Fortunately, our landing was very smooth so we didn't need to worry about any big bumps.

The ground crew seemed very experienced about getting the balloon up in the air and handling guests.  It took a little while for our balloon to get off the ground.  At first I worried that our balloon was too heavy because there were a lot of people in the basket, but I later learned that our size balloon was designed to carry up to 32 and I think we had about 28 people in the basket.  Once the balloon got into the air, it didn't seem to matter that the basket was pretty full.
Here are many photos and videos of our balloon adventure.




The fire in the center of the basket was quite hot.  We were at the outside of the basket so it didn't effect us much, but I heard from another woman that when she went a balloon ride, she was toward the middle of the basket and put a scarf over her head because the fire felt pretty hot on her hair.  So you may want to bring a scarf just in case.
Here's Andrea with her face reflecting the glow of the firing up of the balloon.

Here's the link to this video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XW7MY8y2fj8&feature=player_detailpage



The Valley of the Kings is right over this range.
The sun is just starting to come up in this photo.

Sunrise with balloon silhouettes.
Cameron (as well as some of the adults) was a little scared when the ride started off.  The firing up of the balloon makes kind of loud torching sound and looks a little scary, but after the initial strangeness of it all, things were fine.  Cameron just hid down in the basket when he was scared in the very beginning.  He later came to love flying through the air, saying the balloon was like "an outdoor plane"!
Here's a shot looking up at the inside of our balloon.  The colors were so vibrant.  It must have been beautiful to see it sailing through the sky.
We sailed right over houses and could even see goats and donkeys inside the courtyards and clothes hanging on the clothes lines.  This photo shows a cemetery next to some houses.


The checker-board look of the crops was interesting to see.

Here's a donkey pulling a wagon below us.
Brandon is telling Cameron something about what he's seeing.
I love this shot.  I think I will blow it up and frame it when I get home.  This memory is precious.
It was sugarcane season and there were enormous trucks heaped high with sugarcane in the streets.   Two doors down from our hotel was a little food stand that sold sugarcane juice in big glasses for two pounds each or in a large water bottle container supplied by us for 5 pounds.  Cameron tried the juice for the first time in Luxor and loved it.  I love it too.


We thought one of these might have been our cruise boat that we had left the day before.  We'd done a 3 day Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor
The Nile, with many cruise boats parked on the left.




Many of these crops get water from an extensive canal system from the Nile that was built centuries ago during the time of Egytian ruler Mohammed Ali.


We were going to land in one clearing initially but then we went back up in the air again and landed instead in a field nearby.  I later heard from the balloon pilot that the first landing was coming in a little bit at an angle so he opted to go up again and try for a perfectly level landing.  It was very smooth, smoother than the landing of  planes.

The red balloon went very close to the minaret of a mosque.  It was quite a sight.




 This is the field we ended up landing in.
 I was sorry to see the flight end since it was such a rush to be flying in a balloon, but it was a great ride and lasted at least an hour.
 When we first hit the ground, Cameron, monkey that he is, hopped out of the basket.  But the ground crew person told us 'no' so we scooped him back up into the basket.  It turned out the balloon went up another foot or to and landed a few feet away.  The ground crew got to work immediately getting things ready for our departure.  We stayed in the balloon basket while they readied things for collapsing the balloon.






 The basket of the balloon was as big as a narrow room.  It took many men to get it loaded on to the truck.
 I really liked these hokey certificates they gave us which included my favorite Egyptian bird, the hoopoe.
Here's the pilot of the balloon with Cameron.


 Here we all are with our certificates.
 Cameron wanted to see up close how the balloon was packed up into the sack.
 We learned that the label of the sack said Cameron's name all over it!  We told the ground crew this and they scooped him up and put him on top for a photo.

 Here they are loading getting ready to load the basket on to the flat bed truck.
Here's the van after dropping us off.  

While we were on the van, I interviewed the pilot of our balloon and learned a lot about what it takes to become a pilot and what logistics are involved in planning each flight.  Here's the interview:

Here's the link to this interview:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fim8ByrxyCs

And now for some logistics if you would like to do a balloon ride with this company.  The company is called Hod-Hod Soliman, address:  Omar Ali Street, Television Street, Luxor, Egyupt, tel/fax:  (002-095) 2271116, email:  hodhodoffice@yahoo.co.uk.

The cost can vary depending on the season and number of tourists.  Our tour agency on the boat said it was 750 Egyptian pounds per person,  including children, but we ended up booking a package deal through the hotel at 11:30pm the night before for about one third of this.  I assume we were able to get this rate because it was the night before and the balloon wasn't filled yet and there are still few tourists here so there are discounts that won't be available when tourism is back in full swing.  I think the normal rate from the Oasis Hotel is about about 450 Egyptian pounds per person.  

The company did a very professional evaluation survey at the end of the tour and were very courteous throughout.  All in all, this was an amazing experience.  If you're planning to visit Egypt, I recommend you add it to your itinerary!  Here's a link to a website that has a lot more information:

The one small thing I would mention is that if you want to be in a balloon that goes directly over the Valley of the Kings and the temples, you might want to talk to the pilots of the balloons before hand to find out which ones are going that direction.  I saw a few balloons went in that direction and a few, like ours, went over the Nile.  I loved crossing the Nile so that was fine with me, but if you have your heart set on flying over the other sites, you could clarify this in advance.  If you'd like to see more videos of our balloon ride, I'm uploading them now to post later on this blog.

2 comments:

  1. Stephanie O'KeeffeApril 24, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Magnificent! Gorgeous photos - what a thrill! Your blog has been fascinating as a travelogue and as dramatic journalism. Such an experience you have had there! Thank you for sharing it all in such great detail. Hope you enjoy the rest of your time there!

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  2. WOW!!!!!!! Amazing! You got some really great photos, I agree with the one you want to blow up, beautiful! Don't think we could have gotten Jonathan up there unless he was with Cameron...

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