Deserts take many forms, but to most of us the word conjures up rolling dunes as far as the eye can see. Such a desert is the Namib, home to the world’s highest dunes. Many of them surround the clay pan of Sossusvlei, and one of the best ways to appreciate the scale and sheer number of these dunes is from above, in a hot air balloon.
Nobody can be uncheered with a balloonWinnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne
This was not the first time we had the chance to fly in a balloon; we had tried it once previously quite near home, in Oxfordshire. But the green fields of the Thames Valley are a far cry from the deserts of Namibia, and we anticipated that this would be a very special experience – as indeed it was.
We were picked up from our lodge a bit before sunrise and given warm blankets to tuck around ourselves as we drove to the launch site a few miles away, along with a couple of other guests. Once there we watched as the balloon was inflated, enjoying the warmth that came from the flames. Desert nights here are very chilly, especially in winter!
Once the balloon was ready we all climbed aboard. We took off, floating above the dunes as the sun rose over them. This was the perfect time of day for photos; not only was the red hue of the sands at its deepest but the low sun gave each dune a defined edge.
Our pilot gave us a wonderful ride. At times he dropped so low that the basket just caressed the top of a dune; at others he climbed high so we could get a sense of the scale of the Sossusvlei landscape. Near the start we passed above our lodge; later there were a few antelope below us, seemingly unaware of our passing.
Back down to earth
After an hour or so we landed smoothly in a peaceful hollow between the dunes. The balloon was deflated, and breakfast served, with champagne and some exotic Namibian specialities such as smoked kudu. Our pilot opened the champagne bottles rather dramatically with a machete. He gave me one of the bottle necks with the cork still wedged in it, which unfortunately has long since been mislaid.
But I don’t need a champagne cork to remind me of this amazing experience, as it will live in my mind forever. And these photos will always take me back to that sensation of drifting above the dunes as the sun rose and warmed the desert.
I visited Namibia in 2004