Flying in a Hot Air Balloon over the Arabian Desert

posted in: Asia, Stories from the Road, UAE | 0

Hot air balloon sunrise over the Arabian Desert, Dubai, UAE - the tea break project solo female travel blog


I’d always wanted to ride a camel, ever since I first saw them on a family holiday to Egypt as a teenager.

So when we went on a family holiday to Dubai, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. My camel-riding ambitions may have been thwarted in Egypt, but I took the serendipitously placed brochure in the hotel lobby as a sign. I was finally going to get to ride a camel.

While my mum and I were sunbathing on the beach, my dad went to book the excursion. When he came back, there was a worried look on his face. There was a problem, he said.

My face fell. Would I lose my chance again?

But no, he said. The problem was only the early start the next morning. The company would be picking us up from the hotel at 5am so that we could avoid being in the desert during the hottest part of the day.

Well, I was excited about the camel ride, so getting up early wouldn’t be a problem. The smile returned to my face.

Morning dawned – or rather, it didn’t dawn, as it was still dark when my mum shook me awake.

We were met by a minibus outside the front of the hotel complex. My dad had a few hushed words with the driver, who laughed a lot, before coming over to me and asking pointedly if I was looking forward to my camel ride.

There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and I knew right then that something was up. But I played it cool.

It was on the minibusthat I discovered lie number one: it wasn’t 5am, but 4am.

My mum laughed it off, saying that if they’d told me the real time, I never would have managed to get out of bed, but I was still suspicious. 4am seemed very early just to ride a camel.

We stopped to collect people from other hotels along the way, and at each one the driver got out to speak to the newcomers, laughing and looking at me through the window?

What was going on?

Well, you’ve probably already guessed that I didn’t get to ride a camel that day. The surprise that my parents had in store for me was even more magical.

Dubai sunrise in a hot air balloon - the tea break project solo female travel blog

A faint glow was just appearing on the horizon as we arrived at our destination out in the Arabian Desert, pulling up beside two silken mushrooming giants: partly inflated hot air balloons.

Men were running around, checking topes and releasing the bright flames that were sending torrents of hot air into the bellies of the balloons.

Gradually, the balloons grew to their full size and started straining at the ropes. This was our cue to climb into the baskets. A brief check of the instruments, and we were released.

Travelling by balloon is like nothing else I have ever experienced.

What struck me was the calm and silence, how we seemed to be gliding through the air. Roald Dahl sums it up pretty well:

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There was not a sound anywhere. Travelling upon the peach was not
in the least like travelling in an aeroplane. The aeroplane comes clattering
and roaring through the sky, and whatever might be lurking secretly
up there in the great cloud-mountains goes running for cover at its
approach. That is why people who travel in aeroplanes never see anything.

But the peach… ah, yes… the peach was a soft, stealthy traveller,
making no noise at all as it floated along. And several times
during that long silent night ride high up over the middle
of the ocean in the moonlight, James and his friends saw things
that no one had ever seen before.

<< Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach >>

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Dubai sunrise from a hot air balloon - the tea break project solo female travel blog Dubai sunrise from a hot air balloon - the tea break project solo female travel blog Dubai sunrise from a hot air balloon - the tea break projet solo female travel blog

Surprising how similar being in a hot air balloon is to travelling by giant peach…

As we passed over a village, the sound of the Imam’s call to prayer floated up to us, mixed with the bleating of the goats and the distant sounds of a day beginning. We floated across the desert in the warming light, occasionally dropping so our flight hugged the slopes of the sand dunes, then rising skywards once more.

While we were flying, I forgot about everything else – even my fear of heights! I simply felt like I was a part of the air around me, connected to and yet distant from the daily life unfolding below. It was like storytelling.

I may not have got to ride a camel that day in Dubai, but what I experienced instead was far more magical. It taught me that sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be too set on one goal, but that there can be even better things out there than you realise.

And a happy end-note to the story: I did finally get my camel ride in Australia. Totally worth the wait!

Dubai sunrise from a hot air balloon - the tea break project solo female travel blog