Wednesday, February 12, 2014


This past weekend Amy and I found ourselves back in Dubai. We booked an early morning hot air balloon ride and the pickup for it was at the Dubai Ikea. The night before we ate at the Al Dawaar revolving restaurant on top of the Dubai Hyatt. The restaurant is good, but the view of the city is better.

Afterwards we drove to the nearby city of Sharjah. Sharjah is a suburb of Dubai, but has a much different vibe due to lack of tourists. It was a special night because the city had set up light shows at mosques around the city. We spent the rest of the evening walking around the beach corniche looking at the many mosques as they were painted with projections and lasers.

We woke long before the sunrise to catch our ride to the balloons. Our guides / drivers / pilots from Balloon Adventures Emirates were waiting and as soon as everyone arrived we immediately raced to the launch site (and when I say we raced, I mean we raced... those vans were moving!).

At the launch site we quickly unloaded, got a safety briefing, and watched as the balloons were inflated. The heaters on the balloons are wicked looking when they fire.
According to the pilot these balloons are some of the largest in the world. Considering that there were 25 of us (including the pilot) along for the ride, I believe him. As the balloons finished inflating we scurried over the sides of the basket and promptly took off.
We quickly ascended to 4,000 feet. As we rose we watched the sun rise over the mountains in nearby Oman. When we reached our maximum height we could see Jebel Hafeet south of Al Ain and the Burj Khalifa was barely visible through the haze in the opposite direction.
I've never been in a hot air balloon, and I have to say that I think its one of the coolest experiences that I've had. After flying in planes, jets, helicopters and even skydiving, it's weird to be so high in the air, but to be surrounded by such calm and quiet.
Another thing that made the experience so memorable is the how the desert changed as the morning light intensified. The desert almost looked like the floor of the ocean as the light moved up and down the faces of the dunes. It was really beautiful, and I don't know if you could get the full experience if you were on the ground.
The ride lasted about an hour. As we drifted closer to our landing site the wind picked up. We were told that we were in for a rough landing and we were briefed on how to properly get into landing position. We dropped into our landing site doing about 26 knots. The basket skipped across the desert for a few hundred meters before over turning onto its side and skidding to a stop. 
According to Captain Pete, the pilot, we were the lucky 10% who got to have an "exciting" landing instead of the boring upright kind. Amy and I agree that there is a strange similarity between Captain Pete and Ernst Vogel (from Indiana Jones)! Considering that he's Hungarian, has lived in New Zealand, ballooned in the German army, has a Tunisian wife, and a son with three passports, I'd say that Ernst Vogel should consider himself lucky to be compared with Captain Pete!

We were able to watch the other balloons land as we were waiting for the ground crew to come and pluck us out of the desert. And, being that we landed in the middle of the desert, we of course came across some camels.
It was an amazing experience and I highly recommend that you give it a try if you find yourself in this part of the world!

Here's a video of our flight:

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