Hot Air Balloon – Africa Spectacular (05.02.17)

Thrilling, spectacular and as gentle as the breeze, hot air balloon rides are without doubt a magical form of travel. And, as with many other adventure activities, they carry a considerable element of risk.

While in my experience floating silently above the unfolding twilight scenery at dawn or dusk, with all the attendant sights, sounds, smells and bells is truly memorable, I do appreciate that it is not for everyone. You are after all floating through the air like a breeze-blown feather, thanks to a gigantic cigarette-paper thin envelope, powered by a one-man master blaster set of heaters.

As someone uncomfortable with heights I was surprised to be totally unfazed, probably because the tranquillity. Windless and eerily calm, it makes even the human voice sound loud, as it breaks nature’s monastic morning calm. I felt at peace, entirely unflustered by the surreal reality of being suspended in a wicker basket, a very long fall from the earth below. I loved every moment, as my eye line followed the 3-D surroundings as if in a dream state. The whole thing was more ‘outer body’ than ‘white knuckle’.

Thankfully the risks of riding in a well-organised, pilot-trained balloon have dropped significantly since the first-ever French hot air balloon took off in 1793, but the threat does need to be addressed. Although relatively few in number, we do hear of accidents occurring across a wide selection of destinations. In Nomadic Thoughts’ case, as a company focusing on ‘safety first’ we find ourselves in a dilemma. Although we understand that, when safely administered, it is a thrilling trip-enhancing experience we also categorise the activity as a ‘high risk sport’, similar to bungee jumping, heli-skiing or white-water rafting. Which means, as we do not run the activity ourselves, we are unable to bear any responsibility.

Any hot air balloon provider will ask each client to complete an indemnity form confirming that they partake at their own risk, thereby releasing the organisers of liability. The result is that you and your next of kin would be on your own if any subsequent accident was to have a lasting effect on your life. Certainly as the traveller, you must at the very least make sure your own personal travel insurance covers you for the activity.

Frankly, however excited we get about the experience, you will need to decide for yourselves whether a hot air balloon ride is an activity you are prepared to risk.

I decided it was. As my hot air balloon safari photos show, the extraordinary expanse of horizon-stretching wilderness is punctuated by the balloon shadow wafting past, over and through big game animal herds, busy birds and even the odd stand-alone bathing hippo and inquisitive giraffe. Between heater blasts (take a hat), the feeling of momentarily interrupting nature’s twilight hour is all-pervading.

The perfect unflustered morning commute, over rustling jungle and twisting rivers to a backdrop of trumpeting elephants and startled gazelle dances. The sparkling wine bush breakfast after landing wasn’t bad either.

Hot Air Balloon safari – photos in ‘as it happened’ order.

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