Flying on hot air

What it’s like to fly a hot air balloon:

– You get up long before the sun. There are plenty of stars in the sky an a very thin moon crescent, and as it happens the Earth might be crossing an asteroi field, although shooting stars are not visible from the road. It’s a good kind of lack of sleep, full of anticipation.

– You’re in a field in the middle of nowhere when the sun appears. Right in front of you there’s a massive, rainbow-patterned balloon rising from the ground, flapping as it fills with cold air. You could easily build a dancehall in there.

– Everything takes forever as they prepare the balloon, but then things move forward very quickly: you get briefed on how to get inside without endangering anything or anyone, explained about balloons, then you get inside the wicker basket with the balloon up above your head, and before you’ve had time to wonder how nobody is going to fall off the whole thing (the basket is about one metre high, and there are no safety harnesses of any kind), it lifts off. Just like that. You don’t feel a thing, and then all of a sudden you’re hanging above ground, rising so smoothly you hardly feel the altitude.

– It’s very, very beautiful up there. You can see the trees below, the red cliffs, the mountains around keeping the win at bay. At sunrise, it gets warmer as you get up: the warm air from the day before is lingering there. The sun is barely up and the light is perfect. It’s much too perfect to take pictures. The basket doesn’t move at all, and it’s still so thin and low, there migh as well be nothing there. Just the air holding you very peacefully, and the beautiful landscape below. When your eyes move around, it gets very dizzying very quickly, however: your gaze can travel around, up, down, and there’s just distance and sky everywhere, so it’s best to find a steady point to look at. It’s quiet, dizzying and exhilarating at the same time.

– Going down again, you brush again some trees. You can’t know in avance where you’re going to land. Hot air balloons are a wonderful, but extremely inefficient way to travel. You’ll eventually be picked up after a lot of confusion, and one false landing in very tall grass.

– You’re back down again. It’s still early morning. There will be time to get back to civilisation, to fold down the giant thing, to have a drink together, and there will still be a whole day ahead. But now you’ve been through the open skies.

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