Guest post written by Edward Covello
I had always been fearful of flying in a hot air balloon. It seemed dangerous to me, even though I’m not afraid of heights or of airplanes. But one day, when I was on a photo journey that included the African nation of Namibia, I had a chance to take a ride in one and float hundreds of feet above sand dunes and rock formations in an area called Sossusvlei. The balloon was leaving at sunrise, when the diverse palette of desert colors was at its most intense.
The day of the balloon ride, I got up promptly at 4 a.m. I then met up with my South African guide, who had driven me all the way from Cape Town.
After an hour and a half of bouncing on rocky sand-covered roads, the dawn began to break. I could see the colorful balloon being readied for our voyage. As the crew finished up their final preparations, the five of us – the pilot, a young French couple, and my guide and me – began boarding.
We stood tightly packed in the passenger compartment (or basket). There was no room to move, but I quickly figured out how to manipulate my camera while keeping my body as still as possible.
The pilot explained how the balloon’s heat engine worked and how he navigated the flying ship we were in. He gave us safety instructions and then ignited the engine that heated the air. My fear of riding in a hot air balloon was starting to evaporate.
Soon we began floating gently into the early dawn light. It was the smoothest and most unreal flight I had ever experienced. For the entire hour, I had no sensation of moving, and no feeling of the acceleration or deceleration that you get in a moving vehicle or plane. I was nearly delirious.
Looking down, I began taking aerial photos of the enormous sand dunes, their colors changing by the minute as the sun rose.
Occasionally we passed over herds of giant antelopes, called Oryx, racing through the desert. At low altitudes, I spotted scrub hares bounding across the desert floor from one bush to the next.
Before I knew it, the ride was over and the balloon made a gentle descent. A landing crew that had been tracking our flight from a pickup truck helped us get down from the cabin. Then they began packing the now deflated balloon, which had delighted and thrilled our group.
I’ll never forget that hour. I had let go of my fear, put my life in the hands of strangers in a foreign country, and captured surrealistic sights where few get to travel. It doesn’t get much better than that.