I am fortunate enough to have an uncle who has a passion for aviation. Why does this make me lucky? Well, my uncle’s passion initially panned out as an aviation store. However, his passion grew enough that he decided to become a pilot, not of airplanes, but of hot air balloons! I have been fortunate enough to take flight twice in his hot air balloons, once six years ago and the second time was this past week.
Riding in a hot air balloon is a truly awe-inspiring experience. There’s something wonderful about those few moments when the balloon drifts silently over the land. On my most recent ride, my favorite moment was when my uncle brought the balloon very low to the ground as we passed over a lake. We could see the reflection of the hot air balloon in the ripples of the water, and I felt like I could almost touch it if I reached out (of course, we were actually still a few meters above the water).
I should note that my uncle lives in the Netherlands, which (as you have probably already heard) is very flat and is covered by quite a few farms. This makes the country an ideal location for sending up hot air balloons, because level fields are great landing areas. Hot air balloon pilots can’t control the wind, thus it is imperative that there is a place to land in any direction the wind may blow. This explains why you won’t see too many hot air balloons cruising above states like Maine or West Virginia; there’s not enough opportunity for landing. New Mexico, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, which is why it is able to host the largest hot air balloon festival of the world, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which sends up over 500 balloons every year.
A hot air balloon ride is a worthy experience for anyone’s bucket list, but I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, namely those afraid of heights. There can also be some suspenseful moments during take-off and landing. For example, after the hot air balloon had touched down on my most recent flight, the strong wind caused the small basket (built to carry just five people) to tip over as my uncle’s co-workers worked on taking down the balloon, but no one was hurt. The view you might get from an airplane is similar to one you might get from a hot air balloon, but the former lacks the same moments of serenity that a hot air balloon allows. Taking flight in a hot air balloon is a truly unique way to view nature from above.