Once you have been in a hot air balloon, and loved the experience as I did, you will seize any opportunity to fly again. Leonardo had it right, all those centuries ago, even though he himself had never flown:
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.Leonardo da Vinci
So, some years after our previous experience of hot air ballooning in Africa (in Namibia) we found ourselves with the chance to do it again, this time in Morocco. Our chosen operator was Ciel d’Afrique, chosen as much for the name as for their solid reputation and safety record. Who could resist the sky of Africa?
This was to be a special experience to mark our 35th wedding anniversary, and it was indeed special. Although when we learned that we needed to leave the city at 5.20 AM we did question our sanity, briefly! But we set our alarm and, at 5.10, were creeping out of our riad to walk to the Place des Ferblantiers to await our driver. And in fact it was quite interesting to stand there a short while and watch Marrakesh starting to come to life. Caleches were arriving and heading to their stands ready to take tourists on tours; street cleaners were already busy working; local labourers were being picked up to head to their work-site.
Our driver arrived bang on time and was a lovely guy. He explained that we would be picking up two more people from a riad in the Northern Medina, which we did; then we were then on our way out of the city, the skies still completely dark. As we went (it must have taken about 45 minutes to reach the launch site) the driver told us lots about the areas we drove through. He described the local villages and the way of life there; pointed out a couple of very high-end properties with famous owners, etc. His English was limited but he made a real effort to communicate and with our also limited French we managed just fine; and I even translated for the other guests!
Inflating the balloon
It was still dark when we arrived (I have no idea where we were, except that I believe it to have been east or north east of the city); and the stars were very bright as we were well away from any built-up area. Hot drinks were served (mint tea or coffee) while the balloon was prepared for the launch. There were eight passengers in total, having been driven here in two vehicles. And the basket was designed exactly for that number, with four corner compartments each accommodating two people and a central one for the pilot. Talking of the pilot, he was an extremely experienced Frenchman who has been flying balloons in Morocco since 1990; information I had found reassuring when deciding whether to book.
Once the balloon was ready we all climbed in and we were off. This was the fourth time I have flown in a balloon (the first two were in England); but it’s a magical experience and one I never tire of. The lift-off is so gentle and yet the ground drops below you quite swiftly. As we rose we could see the lights of Marrakech in the distance, as it was still only half-light. Our pilot explained that he liked to take off so early for this reason; we later saw another balloon that had taken off some time after us and which would have missed this sight. We had hoped for a dramatic sunrise over the nearby mountains too; but instead got a rather more muted but very pretty one, as the sun gradually broke through some low clouds.
The flight took us over a small village; it was fascinating to watch from above as people emerged from the open courtyards where they had been sleeping to fetch water; herd sheep out of the village to their grazing land; start to cook and so on. A bit voyeuristic perhaps, but such an insight into daily rural life here.
Back to earth
All too soon it was time to land; and thanks to the still air (and skill of the pilot), it was the gentlest balloon landing we have experienced to date. Local children emerged from the village to watch.
The two vehicles had followed our route and the same team who had inflated the balloon now deflated it and packed it for transport. There was time for some group photos before we all climbed into the cars and were driven back to the launch site.
There a traditional Moroccan breakfast was laid out for us in an open-sided tent; more mint tea or coffee, orange juice, pancakes of different kinds, honey and tasty black olives. We were given certificates with our names inscribed in Arabic, before, sadly, it was time to leave. The same excellent driver took us back to the city, again regaling us with lots of information along the way. He also showing us some photos he had taken. At the time I was hopeful he would send us these, as he took our email addresses, but five years later they have still not arrived, so …
Despite heavy traffic in Marrakesh he took the trouble to drop us back at the Place des Ferblantiers; and we were ‘home’ in our riad by about 10.30 AM; a little weary after our early start, but very happy indeed with our special treat.
As you can tell, I try never to miss an opportunity to Take Flight, perfect for this week’s Lens-Artists challenge theme!
I have visited Marrakesh twice; we took this balloon flight in 2016