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Up in the Air!

September 24, 2023

Thursday got off to an inauspicious start. After rising early for our 6 a.m. pickup to catch our hot air balloon, we cooled our heels for nearly 30 minutes till the balloon company’s van arrived to take us to the water taxi across the river. The crossing was very slow, then we joined a chaotic queue of boats jockeying to disgorge passengers to waiting vans. More chaos as the vans hustled dozens of passengers to the launch site. Our safety briefing consisted of instructions on how to avoid breaking our legs if we crash-landed.

Ten to twelve balloons fired up as the sun was rising, and we clambered aboard with great anticipation. Our craft slowly rose to perhaps 30-40 feet and was struggling to gain more altitude. Soon we skidded hard on the ground, but rose again. Meanwhile, other balloons were rising with what seemed like minimal effort.

Suddenly we were descending again, skimming the tops of a field of corn, but we recovered. Our friend Chris reported later that there seemed to be a malfunctioning valve or feed supplying the gas that would elevate us. We gained a bit more altitude, but then there was a palm tree looming ahead (which we side-swiped) and a frightening set of power lines right in our path. The pilot managed to lift us high enough to clear them (whew!) but our ride was nearing its end. We took a hard landing in the dirt of the launch field, and that was it. Although there were mildly thrilling moments, I have to say that my first balloon adventure was underwhelming. Back to The Merit for breakfast!

Our last outing with Ahmed was to the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut’s Temple. On the way we stopped to examine the Colossi of Memnon, two enormous statues right at the side of the road. These 60-foot-tall statues of Amenhotep III originally guarded a temple, which is being excavated. An earthquake in 27 BC fractured one of the statues and subsequently people reported that it was singing at dawn; the phenomenon was later attributed to wind blowing through cracks and holes.

Beginning in the 1500s BC, the pharaohs, in an effort to foil tomb robbers, chose the remote Valley of the Kings to construct their burial places. The landscape is truly forbidding, with sheer rock faces of sandstone and vast empty expanses of desert. There are 64 tombs there, 45 belonging to kings, the rest to high priests. The most recent discoveries were in 2006.

Entry to individual tombs is tightly controlled. At any given time perhaps fewer than ten are accessible; a ticket allows you to enter a specified three. For an extra fee you can visit others, including Seti, the deepest and longest, and Tut’s. I visited Ramses I, III and IV. The images below are from IV. Not being an Egyptologist, I cannot interpret the figures, but can only appreciate them for ther beauty and obvious symbolism.

From Ramses I:

And from Ramses III;

Next time: Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple.

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One Comment
  1. Marlo Quikc permalink

    Your early morning photos are beautiful but the description of your experience was less so. Fortunately, you ended up safely on the ground and ready to continue your adventure.

    Once again, the beauty and antiquity you are seeing are astounding. The details, the colors, and the craftsmanship are wonderful in your photos and I can only imagine how much better in person.

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