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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
The envelope is inflated with burning helium.
The envelope is inflated with burning helium.

Dubai - When you are looking for a new adventure, why don’t you just inflate a balloon, bravely hop in a basket, tie the two together and take off to the sky?

If you think that sounds too incredible, you are seriously mistaken. Although flying has been a hot item for years and many people have flown on a commercial plane or even twirled around in a helicopter, these vehicles fail to make you feel as free, fantastic and graceful as a hot air balloon does.

Flying in a hot air balloon should be on everyone’s to-do-list, as it is literally one of the most uplifting and unusual experiences you can have. The tranquillity and smoothness with which you glide through the silent air is heavenly.

It may even beat the miraculous underwater-world so favoured by divers.

One of the best places in the world to ride a hot air balloon is over the Emirate Desert. Simply fly to Dubai (a passenger plane is recommended for such a long trip), and then Amigos Balloons has you standing next to a basket big enough for 20 passengers after only a 30-minute bus ride from the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Squinting to make out shapes at dawn, you will witness a team of men carefully rolling out the 500kg balloon and connecting the envelope (the actual balloon) to the basket, which has a burner and several propane flasks installed in the centre. Having tipped the basket on its side, they use a large gasoline-powered fan to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially filled, the burner then shoots huge flames into the envelope to upright the balloon and allowing the passengers to climb in to the basket.

This is truly a magical happening, a bit like seeing your favourite childhood bouncy castle come to life, but 15 times its original size.

Once the ground crew let go of the ropes, take off begins. The Amigos pilot fires large volumes of hot air into the balloon, and so, as quickly as twilight trades place with sunrise, up you soar into the sky.

Once airborne, the colours in the sky rapidly change from pink to orange to blue, sand dunes reduce in size, and suddenly you see the Hajjar Mountains of Oman. A mere 40km from Dubai and 125km from Abu Dhabi, you will find yourself floating soundlessly through the sky, climbing to a dizzy height of 1 200m.

During this unique experience, you will effortlessly glide through the air at different levels. When flying high, you may see the Burj Khalifa glimmering in the far distance as the sun bounces off its sides.

Flying really low – when the basket almost grazes the top of the dunes, much like Aladdin’s magic carpet would have done – you will see animal footprints in the sand before you spot the camels, Arabian Oryx and gazelle that made them, trekking into the desert at a leisurely pace.

Peacefully passing over an ocean of forever-changing dunes and camel farms, riding a hot air balloon provides fabulously romantic picture opportunities.

Imagine your smiling face(s) against a majestic backdrop of camel-coloured dunes complete with a shadow of the balloon, almost surreal green oases and a now deep blue sky. This would be the highlight of your holiday, the best birthday surprise or the perfect way to propose to your loved one.

After an hour of having hot air blazed over your face (both from the sun and the burner, which sounds a lot like a whale pushing water out through its blowhole), you will have to get ready for landing.

Descending is a piece of cake, but landing can be a bit bumpy. A regular landing won’t break your bones or bruise your ribs, but you do have to press your back firmly to the side of the basket, bend your knees and hold on tight.

When the basket first touches the ground, the hard ground will throw it back up again and make you skid three or four times.

While enjoying the balloon rodeo, you will see the Amigos Balloons ground crew approaching, and you realise you have survived being a colourful blob in the sky. - Saturday Star

 

If You Go...

Starting from R2 722, you can explore the Emirates Desert by hot air balloon.

Should you prefer a private flight, without other sightseers, this can be arranged.

All hot air balloon rides include transfer from and to your hotel, refreshments and a flight certificate to remind you of this day for years to come.

Amigos Balloons: http://www.amigos-balloons.com

Tel: +97 104 289 9295

Flights from South Africa to Dubai: www.emirates.com