It seemed like my head had barely hit the pillow when the alarm sounded at 3 am. We were being met by our guide in the hotel lobby at 3:30 am in order to get to the balloon launch site in time to be airborne before sunrise. We were driven by our at an unusual urgent pace in the dark, passing security police along the way, we suddenly stopped on the side of the road where another man guided us quickly as if we were doing something wrong in this dimly lit area.
Through a pathway we went, down towards a wooden plank, "is this shady I thought". We see a number of dhows altogether, we were told to climb through each one to another dhow, we were the first ones there and soon learned this was part of the trip we had booked. So as more and more bleary-eyed punters turned up to fill these dhows to make the Nile crossing. Munching on a few Twinkies for breakfast, we headed off across the river and landed on the West Bank where a van awaited us to take us the final step to the launch site. To be perfectly honest, the gravity of crossing the Nile in a dhow was somewhat lost on me at 4am!
We reached the launch site around 5am and waited as the balloon inflation process was completed. Then we clambered as graciously as possible into the basket and started the ascent into the heavens. It was still dark when we took off, along with about 30 other balloons. It was a surreal moment as the pilot stepped on the gas and we climbed above the dark Egyptian landscape.
From one second to another, the first rays of light broke the horizon as we settled upon our maximum altitude. The fingers of light visibly crept across the vast, sandy desert towards the thin, green sliver of fertile land abutting the Nile. The sight of 30 balloons alighting silently, like inverted teardrops, in the dawning light is something that will be forever etched into my mind. Cast upon the breeze, we floated up-river in the direction of Cairo, giving us a magnificent view over Queen Hatshepsut's temple and the valley of the Kings.
And then, all too soon, it was time to head back down to land. The balloon gently sinking back towards earth as the pilot released its hot air. The top floor of Egyptian houses are left open to the sky, and as we descended we were granted an interesting window into the morning routines of the folks living there. As we neared the ground, we were greeted by a swarm of young kids racing to grab our rope and haul us down to land.
Obviously, this is how they earn a meager living. I guess you have to make money where you can. The landing was definitely much less elegant than the takeoff and we nearly tipped the basket over in the field. However, we did eventually land successfully and were able to clamber out of the basket unscathed, ready to be collected by the minivan.
Next stop was the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt during the 18th dynasty, and she ruled the country longer than any other indigenous female pharaoh. She was also a very successful pharaoh that preferred peace rather than warfare. While she did see some warfare during the early stages of her rule, eventually her reign ushered in an era of extended peace. She also re-established trading relationships and increased the wealth of Egypt, allowing the Egyptians to introduce a higher caliber of architecture, the likes of which remained incomparable worldwide for hundreds of years.
Our final stop was that Valley of the Kings. During Egypt's New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.), the valley became a royal burial ground for pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramses II, as well as queens, high priests, and other elites of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. The tombs evidence elaborate preparations for the next world, in which humans were promised continuing life and pharaohs were expected to become one with the gods. Mummification was used to preserve the body so that the deceased's eternal soul would be able to reanimate it in the afterlife. When a new King or Queen was ordained, work commenced on their burial chamber in the valley and continued unabated until their death. The depth of a burial chamber gives an idea of how long that King or Queen lived and reigned.
Our ticket enabled us to enter 3 tombs. The artwork adorning the tunnel walls is truly amazing! They tell the story of the lives of the tomb inhabitants in hieroglyphics. No trip to Egypt is complete without a visit to the Valley of the Kings.
Back to the Hilton in time for lunch and an afternoon by and in the pool!
Lynn and Andrew Mitchell are 50-something travellers who enjoy travelling in comfort through some pretty interesting places. We started Einhorn Travel Accessories because of our passion for travelling the world, seeing amazing things and enjoying unique experiences together. We believe our extensive travel gives us a unique perspective, and we understand how important it is to have the right gear. We source travel accessories from around the world and offer them on one site. We would really appreciate you visiting our store and making a purchase or two.
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Travel date: 22 December 2018