Sunday, November 16, 2008

Up, up and away

Beloved Wife and I finally managed to use the wedding present given to us by our friend Syl. I had known since way back that Madame was interested in going hot-air ballooning. Syl pipped me to the post, giving us a voucher for a private flight, good until the end of 2008.

The voucher had been pinned to the corkboard in the Crumbling Villa for months. We were too busy in the spring, and hot-air balloon flight isn’t possible in the UAE during the summer because the air outside the balloon is as hot as that within. Something about relative density, I believe.

Beloved Wife telephoned Amigos Balloons early in November and fixed a date, subject to weather. The air has to be fairly dry, cool and not hurtling along at twenty knots. We were kept on tenterhooks until after 9pm on Friday before getting the ‘Go’ message, because Friday afternoon had been a tad breezy.

Our pilot collected us from the Crumbling Villa at an unholy 5:30am on Saturday morning, and we drove to Tawi Nizwa to meet his ground crew who were busily inflating a 75000 cubic foot nylon bag with air, using a fan attached to a petrol lawnmower engine. Then the propane burner was lit and the air in the envelope gently warmed with a 3m long roaring flame.

Within a minute or so the balloon was upright, into the wicker gondola we climbed, the tether to the support vehicle was released, and the pair of us along with our pilot Tariq floated buoyantly up a thousand feet or so to see sunrise over Jebel Buhays (N25º01' E055º47' approx).

Apparently it’s possible to control, or at least to influence, the direction of a balloon’s flight by varying its altitude. Wind direction varies with height above the ground, and in order to go in the correct direction our pilot took a low trajectory, scooting level with and just to the north of Pink Rock (aka Qarn Maliha, N25º01' E055º44' ish).

So we got to see sunrise again, over Pink Rock. And then a third time, having dropped to merely a few dozen feet above the dunes.

Apart from the regular intermittent roar from the propane burner, the flight was uncannily quiet. We whizzed along at an average of about 9kph. Beloved Wife expressed a preference to this over dune-bashing – partly because of the view but mostly because of the smoothness of the ride, and of course you don’t get sand in all your bodily orifices.

LOST: Recently abandoned...

...and miles from anywhere

Our nominal one hour flight ended as smoothly as it began. The ground crew was waiting for us just on the Sharjah side of Tawi Nizwa with picnic chairs and tables laid out for a small buffet breakfast. See: I said the pilot could control direction. The crew grabbed on to the gondola, and as the hot air was vented we touched down on to the sand. Then after toasting the end of the flight with an anonymous fizzy drink that can only be described as ‘green flavour’, Madame and I had our breakfasts with Tariq, received our novelty Certificate of Ascension: “This is to Certify that Madame Cyn and the Grumpy Gaot [sic] slipped the surly bonds of Earth…etc” while the crew rolled up the balloon and put it all away. The whole thing: envelope, gondola, fan, gas burners and bottles all fit nicely into the back of a small pick-up truck.

I think we need to go ballooning again sometime. Thanks, Syl.



Keefieboy said...

I am SO jealous!

nzm said...

Me too!

I used to see them regularly over Melbourne and want to go. We just didn't get to it.

R Bailey said...

Like the photo at the end, nice angle of the horizon.

p.s. Where was the merc(?) stuck, salvage rights !

Richard B.

hemlock said...

CAN you just leave your car in the middle of the desert? (when does rescuing it cost more than a new one?)

Simon said...

Sounds a lot more controlled than here.

Bristol is the centre of a lot of ballooning activity including the first (I think) international balloon fiesta and an actual balloon factory.

Here the support crews race along like loonies following their wind born charges who inevitably end up landing in some farmers field. I believe the standard landing fee is a bottle of decent whiskey.

It is not clear if the balloonist or the ground crew are having more fun.


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