UP, UP, AND AWAY FOR $80
Unlike my partner, who wing walks outside of biplanes and skydives in her leisure, I have always shied away from any extreme activities. I tend to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground (in more ways than one) lol. While backpacking solo through Luxor, Egypt this past summer, I Facetimed my partner and told her about my itinerary and she encouraged me to add 'riding in a hot air balloon' to the list. I froze. An actual hot air balloon? In a foreign country? Solo? Hundreds of feet in the air? After overthinking it for at least an hour, I contacted my Airbnb host and he arranged the excursion at sunrise for the follow morning and told me that the van would drive me to the site at 3:45 in the morning. I actually rode in a hot air balloon at sunrise across the Valley of the Kings and the Nile River. Now looking back on the experience, I complied a list of the PROS and CONS of riding in a hot air balloon in Luxor, Egypt.
1. INNER PEACE
It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! Seeing as I always like to keep my feet on the ground, in more ways than one, many people may read this and think that I am a total wimp for putting myself "in a box" so to speak and not doing activities like sky diving and scuba diving and such (which I leave to my partner lol). But, floating hundreds of feet in the sky, I felt calm. I felt as if everything in the world was still and I could finally exhale and release. Release all of my stress, anxiety, and fear. This experience was very freeing for me. Being able to soar in the sky, free my mind, and feel totally at peace was well worth my fear of heights.
Hovering over the Valley of the Kings allowed me to view it from a different perspective. I toured the Valley of the Kings as well as the Valley of the Queens the day prior and had the pleasure of viewing many different burial sights from King Tut to Queen Nefertiti (blog coming soon :0) Hovering above the valley allowed me to gain more appreciation for the vast lands and its monuments. When most people think of Egypt, they tend to think of it as being a dry desert. Contrary to popular belief, there are acres upon acres of lush sugar canes fields on the far opposite side of the Valley of the Kings. All I could see as I looked down onto the fields was thick lush green earth. The hot air balloon also slowly glided close to the Nile River so that we could see it as the sun rose. It is absolutely breathtaking!
How much did it actually cost to soar in the clouds in a hot air balloon at sunrise across the Nile River in Egypt????? Drum roll please..............only $80! Yes, $80 for the experience of a lifetime. You can probably even negotiate the price :-) I am soooo glad that I actually booked it and did not chicken out. The company even provided me with a certificate to take back to the states and show to my friends and family that I actually rode in a hot air balloon. I booked the excursion through my Airbnb host named Mohammad. I will share more about my Airbnb experience in Luxor in another blog :-)
1. "EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM"
This picture is the epitome of how I felt waking up at 3:00 am (yes! 3:00 in the morning) to get ready for my 3:45 am scheduled pickup from the Airbnb. I am not a morning person in any shape, fashion, or form. It takes every once of effort for me to wake up and make it to work on time Monday to Friday. I am one of those people whose mind is total mush in the morning, especially without my morning cup of coffee. It took every ounce of effort to drag myself out of bed, shower, and get dressed for the excursion. I wore my "black and abroad" t-shirt, a printed skirt, Chacos, and a hijab. Lesson learned? With the temperature in Luxor being upwards of 120, it is vital to cover as much exposed skin as possible to avoid sunburn, dehydration, and exhaustion related to the heat. I did not feel culturally pressured to wear a hijab during my stay in Luxor. Ladies, I would avoid wearing a long skirt because you actually have to hop over the railing on the hot air balloon to enter the basket. I had to hike my skirt up kind of high in order to get in the basket, this can be considered pretty risque in Luxor.
2. FAUX ENTHUSIASM
This is probably the most awkward situation I have ever been put into as a solo traveler. My partner, who traveled to Egypt the year prior, definitely agreed as she had encountered the exact same thing even though she booked her hot air balloon ride through a different company. When you arrive at the site, someone with an "old school" camera videos you as you are made to enthusiastically gather in a circle and swing around to appear as if you are having the time of your life.....once again....I am totally not a morning person. Then, the company lined everyone up in single-file and each person was made to give a "thumbs up" to the camera. There were only five other travelers in the hot air balloon. I was told that I was pretty lucky because companies typically have upwards of twenty people in one balloon.
3. LANDING AFTERMATH
Just before the pilot (yes, there is an actual pilot who is hired to steer the hot air balloon) announced that we were going to descend, he made it a point to tell us passengers/tourists to refrain from giving money to the kids who were following our decent. At first, it appeared as though the children were leisurely playing in the sugarcane fields but as the hot air balloon began its descent, the children seemed to gather closer and closer. Once the balloon landed, the company's employees helped us to exit the basket as we were practically surrounded by children of all ages begging us for money. Some children were even attempting to sell us rocks and sticks as well as wooden-carved items. We were quickly ushered to the van across the field. I took a seat in the van and found it best not make eye contact with the children. The children ran from the hot air balloon, swarmed the van, banged loudly on the windows, and refused to move until the driver started the engine and sped off. It was scary, overwhelming, and sad because I would have loved to help the children but I knew I could not help them all....
I wrote this blog because I think that anyone who is thinking about riding in a hot air balloon in Luxor should be fully aware of some of the cons, not just the pros. It was a fun experience but I do not anything could have prepared me to see all of these children running to the balloon then swarming the basket then swarming the van. I also not find many blogs that spoke about the negative aspects in depth prior to booking. Overall, I would recommend riding in a hot air balloon in Luxor but please beware of some of the things that you may encounter....