‘Look down there. See that white bird with the black tips on its wings? That’s an Egyptian vulture. They’re quite common in this area. He must live here, because I saw him the other day.’
Not a series of sentences you would usually expect the day to start with. Perhaps the most unusual part is the looking down at an exotic bird. But if you are 2,500ft up in the air – around 800m – with a seasoned hot air balloon pilot on hand to point out the various wildlife, then this is the kind of thing you can spot quite easily.
There’s no doubt that a hot air balloon ride is a spectacular way to start the day, and the companies offering these will be taking bookings again this month after the hot summer period. It may involve a ridiculously early start, but it’s easy to shake off any feelings of tiredness when the views are this spectacular; catching the sunrise and seeing the different colours over the mountains.
When you book a ride, you’ll be told a meeting point, and it’s a short ride from there to the take-off site in the minibus, somewhere out in the desert. On arrival, you’ll see the huge balloons being prepared, blasted with rapid bursts of air (cold first to give their shape, then hot). When all is ready, it’s time to clamber into the basket as quickly as possible, scrambling over the footholds and watching out for falling sand and dust. Baskets can usually take up to 24 people, and are equipped with padding and ropeholds.
Once you’re airborne, the desert lies before you in a dream-like haze – you can see sand littered with huge crater-like pockets, covered with the tyre tracks of enthusiastic off-roaders. As the balloon climbs to its highest point, it’s amazing how calm and tranquil everything is, and there is hardly any wind. Keep an eye out for mountain goats, mules and desert foxes – even a camel or two – below. Bliss.
Flight are available through Blue Banana, who also offer many other activities – balloon flights take place from October-May, and stop during the summer. Cost is Dhs950 per person (minimum age five years), with transport available from major Dubai hotels and Wafi.
For information or to book, call 04 360 2363 or visit www.bluebanana.ae.