Last week I wrote about the trials and tribulations of air travel which I find to be a necessary part of modern life. If you want to travel, you need to go by plane, to go any distance.
Today I am telling you my experience of a much slower form of travel, a hot air balloon.
For sixteen years our home in Port Coquitlam had a wonderful view of Mount Baker and the other mountains near the US border, plus the farm lands across the
Fraser River. Dave used to spend hours, with binoculars, watching the hot air balloons that would sail across the skies over Cloverdale every summer afternoon.
One year, I decided that this would be a perfect Father’s day present for both him and his dad. We set off with the whole family in our huge old station wagon, to the small airstrip at Cloverdale, where the balloons started out. The balloon arrived in a van and was unloaded, both Dave and his dad, Ray, helped unroll the seemingly miles of fabric and attach the big basket. A big fan was then started and as the air went into the fabric, it began to swell and rise up into the air. We all had the job of holding ropes until the balloon and basket were in the correct position then the two men and the pilot climbed into the basket, the ropes were dropped and only one young woman was hanging onto the basket, to keep it steady.
I’m not sure what happened, but the basket suddenly took off from the ground with the girl hanging onto the outside. A big hand came over the edge of the basket and unceremoniously hauled the girl into the basket by the seat of her pants. Dave later told me that as the basket rose suddenly, he crouched down and his dad promptly sat on his knee, both of them scared with the sudden rise of the basket.
Inside the basket were three men, the stowaway girl and two big propane tanks, so it was rather squashed, however, Dave said once the basket was airborne, there was no feeling of movement, just a gently breeze and a wonderful view. The girl was supposed to follow the balloon in the van, so another person was pressed into service and our family followed behind, in our own car. The balloon flight was about two hours which longer than intended, but the wind had a mind of it’s own and the balloon went slightly off course. The pilot eventually brought the basket gently down into a field of cows, who were very interested in investigating the strange craft.
Apparently, permission has to be asked off the landowner before anyone can step onto the ground. While you are in the basket, you are not technically trespassing, but once you step onto the field, you are. Luckily the farmer had no problem with allowing the passengers out, so a ceremony of pouring champagne over the heads of Dave and his dad was carried out and the adventure was over.
Many years later, Dave and I were in West Africa on a photo safari, we had the most wonderful experiences of viewing lions, elephants, rhinos and all other sorts of beautiful animals in their natural surroundings. What a marvellous gift we gave ourselves mingling with nature at it’s best and within just a few feet.
While in Kenya we decided to go on a balloon ride over the plains. Setting off while still dark, we rode in a jeep for about one and a half hours, to where the take off area was. The balloon was really big with an enormous basket that held sixteen people. Fortunately, there were only ten of us going so we had lots of rooim. We had to clmb up the sides of the basket and slide into our seasts, while the basket lay on it’s side. The basket was then pulled into an upright position with the rising of the balloon.
As Dave had experience on his first ride, there is not a feeling of being yanked up into the air, more of a feeling of the ground dropping away from you. We gently drifted along, viewing the sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro, below us were herds of gazelle and giraffe slowly moving over the plains, it was like being in a dream.
Our journey was about ninety minutes but, once again, the wind had a mind of it’s own and we drifted off course. The pilot has certain areas where he is supposed to land and they try to avoid the small native villages as the company then has to pay for landing there. The villagers, of course, love to have the tourists land as they get a hefty compensation for the event. We had been really amazed to learn that although the Masai people live in mud huts and live very simply by raising goats, they have cell phones and even battery tv’s.
Every village is surrounded by thorny branches, woven into fences to keep out lions and other predators, in the evening the goats and other livestock are brought into the enclosure for safety. There are many miles between villages and the only way to travel is on foot or the occasional bicycle. The Masai make sandals out of old tires and wear bright red blankets over one shoulder with one arm exposed for carrying their spear. Really weird to see a cell phone in the other hand!!!
Our balloon was hovering, trying to find somewhere to land but eventually came down in a tree. Our basket was once again lying on it’s side and so were all the passengers. The Masai thought this was a wonderful event and dozens of them came out to view the spectacle. By hauling on the ropes, the men below brought us out of the tree and we landed safely on the ground, surrounded by smiling black faces. I had taken a packet of English biscuits on the trip but we hadn’t opened them, so the children were delighted to receive the treats. One of the village elders made sure that each child got one from teenagers to tots, giving a smack to anyone who tried to take more than one. It was nice to see that the same rules apply wherever you live.
The vehicles that had followed our flight soon arrived and we were transported outside the village area and within a half hour a breakfast buffet was cooked and tables set up for us to eat. What a wonderful adventure, sitting eating breakfast in the middle of the plain with various animals walking by, content to find their own food and more or less ignore the group of strangers in their midst.
If not for the inconvenience of the conventional air travel that we had endured to get to Kenya, the wonderful experience of sunrise over Kilimanjaro, landing in a tree and breakfast on the plains of Africa would not be part of my memory bank.