When we last left off, we were floating gently in the sky with Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris and our pilot, Marc. You may remember me mentioning being a little afraid of heights, too. If you’re in the same boat, don’t for a minute let it put you off the experience- the soft, gentle rise of the balloon was honestly nothing like the upward lurch that generally has me feeling queasy. Your mileage, of course, may vary- but imagine the bragging rights if you make it.
Our mileage, meanwhile, was steadily clocking upwards. There’s nothing quite like a sunrise seen from above- it’s honestly quite indescribable. Picture long shadows stark beneath you, slowly drawing in while the sun blazes so bright at the horizon you can’t even look that way without tearing up. Camera- keen visitors and Instagram kingpins, be sure to sneak in a few panoramic shots while you’re up there too! It was a truly magical moment- I won’t spoil it more for you, because you need to see it for yourselves.
Despite the icy winter day, however, it was surprisingly warm in the balloon. Score one for fascinating facts: we’d left the cold air mostly below us, hugging the earth while we floated free. Plus there was the burners to add an extra toasty layer.
While we’re talking amazing [and slightly mystical] feats of science, the balloon proved to be surprisingly steerable too. While we drifted slowly over the valley, the clubhouse a gradually receding memory below us, Marc was able to control how fast we rose and fell as well as our general direction pretty effectively. When we eventually set down, we lucked in even more. I had frantically spent the last 30 seconds of our flight tucking away my glasses least they bounce away into the bushes- I am always, without fail, the person that will happen to- but we had a remarkably soft landing, one small bunny hop and down. I’ve had more of a jolt getting out of bed some mornings.
Still to come, however, was the perhaps most surreal part of the experience. As we had landed in an area fairly dense with trees, it would have been impossible for the team from Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris to deflate the balloon where we stood, so despite our perfect landing it was time to move on. Picture a fully-inflated air balloon standing tall and proud, fully loaded with passengers, slowly wending its way through the veldt on the back of a dinky little flatbed barely 2 inches wider then it, and you’ll have a small glimpse of the absurdity of the moment.
I’ll admit to being mighty impressed that Marc was able to set the balloon down on trailer perfectly first time, without the slightest upset. I can’t even parallel park without several attempts or a guiding hand. However, champagne awaited, so tally ho, and onward!
When we reached the perfect spot, it was time to crack the champagne- sipping gently with our new-found comrades in the perfect tranquillity of a winter African morning, balloon softly and expertly deflating behind us. There was, of course, a few extra toasts to the happy couple too.
Just as the chill was beginning to seep back and the bottles run empty, the team had finished repacking the balloon [a feat of impossibility in itself] and it was time for breakfast. The decadent spread back at the Clubhouse was both delectable and inclusive enough that even an awkward allergy-ridden soul like myself was able to gorge themselves happily. Pro tip: there’s a reason Bill is so proud of his Northumbrian porridge. Do make sure to try it with all the trimmings- it’s quite heavenly!
With a warm winter’s day finally in full bloom, a delightfully full stomach and one singularly magnificent encounter with the sky under our belts, there was little more to do then bask in new-found friendships on the veranda and enjoy the morning together. Each of the intrepid travellers went home one magnificent experience- and one brag-worthy certificate- richer, with a few new friends nestling in their phone books and an incomparable set of pictures to brag to the world with.
I made it to the sky and back- without even losing my glasses along the way. When will you take the Bill Harrop’s challenge and experience the world like few others have before?