Balloon over a desert landscape
Deserts,  Lens-Artists,  Morocco

Reaching for the sky again in Africa

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?

Setting off

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.

Taking flight

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

27 Comments

  • pattimoed

    Wow, Sarah. What a great experience. I love your shots of village life as people started to stir. I’d love to do this, too! Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Wow, such beautiful photo’s Sarah! And love your story telling along the way … must be a wonderful memory of your time in Morocco.
    So, sometimes it’s worth getting up a little bit earlier than usual to get these amazing views 😉.

  • Suzanne

    No, you will never see me in a balloon unless sedated so I am impressed with your ability to do so. The view is amazing and to be honest I can see why you would do it, just don’t invite me 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha 😆 OK I won’t invite you Suzanne, but you’re missing a treat! Once you’re up there and get used to the idea then it’s not scary at all, just an amazing sensation 😀

  • Rose Vettleson

    I haven’t yet been in a hot air balloon, after reading this, I’m hopeful to soon find an opportunity. Leonardo was right. I’ve only been in planes and helicopters and have a constant longing to be in the sky, and I also carry a lifelong love of aircrafts. And what a lovely 35th anniversary memory. I just feel so happy for you after reading your post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose 😀 If you enjoy flying then you really must try this if you get the chance. It’s something completely different because a) it’s so silent, and b) you are exposed to the air, not shut away in a tin box!!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Great photo’s Sarah, love those looking down on the houses, fab experience. We thoroughly enjoyed our balloon flight in Turkey and would definitely do it again somewhere. I (Michaela) did one many years ago in Egypt over the valley of the Queens, was a fun experience but the thermals weren’t conducive for flight and we seemed to just go round and round in small circles not really going anywhere 😁 Was a great view though, and a bumpy landing 😆

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Ooh, Egypt would have been a great place to do this! We’ve not been to Turkey but I’ve seen photos of the balloon flights there and I know it would be a must for us if we do go one day 😀

      • thehungrytravellers.blog

        Turkey is a favourite place of ours, so much variety. We were so lucky to spend 9 weeks there during covid it enabled us to see major sites without the usual crowds so that really suited us. Hope you get to go there one day.

  • Tina Schell

    Loved your story Sarah and you took some wonderful images and now have a lovely memory! I had a similar experience in Australia where my husband and I did a balloon flight over the vineyards. It was truly magical and we did have a fantastic sunrise as we broke through the overhead clouds. The operator told us that only about 50% of the planned flights happen due to wind conditions, and that our 4am awakening fortunately had not been for naught as we were among the lucky half which would definitely be able to take off. Phew, I had no idea!!! Although the flight was perfection and greatly exceeded our high expectations, our landing was a bit bumpy and the basket toppled over when it hit the ground. Fortunately no one was hurt and it is a funny element of our adventure. Thanks for the very fond memory.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Tina 🙂 Seeing the vineyards from above must have been wonderful too! I’ve now had four balloon flights in total and this is the only one when we’ve landed upright. All the others tipped over 😆

  • Marsha

    Sarah, what a lovely experience. Your photographs are lovely as always, but your description of the experience and the exotic location makes it one to remember. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • margaret21

    This is something I’ve always – in theory – wanted to do. But I’m not brilliant up on a church towers, so maybe not. My husband had a trip on a microlight over ‘our’ part of the Pyrenees for his 70th, and sadly we’d left by the time my 70th came along. I’m not sure whether I’m not just a tiny bit relieved!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I love it but maybe it’s not something for anyone with a real problem with heights. I never like being on the edge of a drop, like a cliff, but I’m usually fine if there’s any sort of barrier between me and the drop like a railing, window or in this case a balloon basket 🙂 It’s a shame you didn’t get to the microlight flight over the Pyrenees, but I’m sure you’d find one over the Yorkshire Dales would be just as amazing in its way. Just saying … 😆

  • starship VT

    Not only does this look like a fantastic experience, but it also yielded some wonderful photos too! I’d love to take a hot air balloon flight there — your post reminds me of how much I loved Morocco too! Great post and photos, Sarah!!

Do let me know what you think - I'd love to hear from you

%d bloggers like this: