“SCREECH! SCREECH! SCREECH” went the alarm at 4am in our pitch-black hotel room in Luxor, Egypt.
I jumped straight out of bed in my underwear convinced we were being attacked by arab insurgents (I blame you, mom, for these worries). There is nothing I hate more than being jerked out of sleep by an alarm clock. I look over at M who audibly growls and rolls over in her tiny bed; she is the best friend I girl could have, but she is NOT a morning person. As I rub the sleep from my eyes it dawns on me that today is the DAY! I have been looking forward to this day for ages!
Backtrack 4 and half years. I was crammed against the window of a packed bus from London’s Gatwick airport headed to Piccadilly Circus. I had just gotten in town from a late-night flight from Madrid. A hippy-looking blonde girl squeezes in next to me. I try to stare ahead but she finally makes eye contact with me. Damnit, now we have to talk; she starts blabbering to me about Australia or something, while I mentally freak out, realizing I had no idea how to get to my hostel. Then she she mentions that she just got back into town from backpacking though Egypt.
Lightbulb! Ok, now she had my attention! I don’t even remember her name or any other part of her story really, the only thing I remember her telling me was that the best part of her entire trip was a hot air balloon ride she did while she was in Luxor. Blonde Australian hippy girl painted a beautiful picture of the sun rising over the lunar-like landscape of the legendary Valley of the Kings, with its morning light reflecting off of the Nile river and the surrounding palm trees and temple-studded landscape viewed from the sky.
Ok, I was sold! One day I would go to Egypt and do a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.
And April 11th, 2012 was that magical day!
Dragging my tired, sunburned, and sleep-deprived body up to the rooftop terrace of the incredible Nefertiti Hotel, I got the breakfast staff to pity me enough to hand over some pita bread and mint tea, trying to calm my stomach for the morning flight, and no, not from nerves. Poor M and I were very sick that morning, and pretty much for the entire time we were in Egypt. But fear not! No amount of Egyptian stomach bugs or food poisoning would keep us from this day!
Armed with Benadryl in our pockets, several liters of bottled water, and plastic barf bags in our purses, we set off in several sketchy looking caravans blaring arabic music at an ungodly hour, picking up other bedraggled westerners around sleeping Luxor before heading over to catch a ferry to the west bank.
As the grey mist began to burn off, we watched many of the hot air balloons begin to be filled with gas in a random field. Typical Egypt, with tons of workers and/or townspeople running around and no one seemed to know what was going on, but eventually we were herded like cattle into one of the big balloons. We hadn’t even signed a release form!
Before we knew it were heading high up in the crisp morning air, with the other balloons far below. Torn between that feeling of pure bliss you get when a dream is coming true in a breathtaking place, and a strong desire of wanting nothing more than to be on the steady, unmoving ground and to puke my brains out. I closed my eyes for a minute, took several deep breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, and gave myself a mental pep-talk. I would NOT have the memory of one my biggest travel dreams besmirched by getting sick over the side of a hot air balloon in front of 20 people.
Being the control freak that I am, once I mastered my nausea, I was good to go. Getting camera happy, I took about 500 shots of the same view of the Valley of the Kings and the river from ever height and angle possible.
As we drifted closer, I put my camera down and tried to take it all in. Ignoring the chit-chat of my companions, I focused on the fact that I was getting to see a landscape that has been virtually unchanged for thousands of years, with dark holes and tiny paths scratched on the surface to mark recent excavations. In the distance I could see temples that Pharaohs and queens had walked around in and see the tombs where they were buried. I could see the famous Howard Carter’s house, where he was based when he discovered King Tut’s tomb! How many more undiscovered tombs and sacred historic spots lay hidden under that ancient golden sand?
After we landed, we fell out of the basket onto the sweet, unmoving land of what I am pretty sure was someone’s backyard. Shooing the local squawking chickens out of way, M and I looked at each other knowingly. That was an experience beyond words. It was something neither of us would ever forget.
Have you ever been to Egypt or Luxor? Did you or would you do this hot air balloon ride?
**You can book at hot air balloon ride with Dream Balloons for 300 EGP for two people (around $50) at the Nefertiti Hotel, where we were staying. Ask for Mohammed, he is one of the smiling, happy owners, and not to mention one of the nicest and most helpful people I have met in my years of traveling around 25 countries, not an easy feat!