After spending a few days in Cairo, Daniel and I were keen to head south to Upper Egypt and check out the temples that had captured our imaginations as children. We booked a 12-hour train ride (which was surprisingly not that bad—we slept most the way) and headed to Luxor, where we would be meeting up with Joe and seeing some of the largest temple complexes in the world—and the famous Valley of the Kings.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were given some tour options. Before Daniel could resist, I booked us a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings at dawn. Daniel looked at me resentfully—he is afraid of heights and didn’t like the idea of being so high up.
“How many people get to have an experience like this?” I begged him.
Reluctantly, he agreed. We went to sleep that night in anticipation—I was thrilled but Daniel was not happy to be getting up at 4 am.
The next morning, we woke early and were transported by van to the location where we would be going up in the balloon. We enjoyed some tea, which was a welcome relief waking up so early in the morning. There were people there from all sorts of countries. I heard German, Australian, Chinese, and many more languages as they explained the procedure we would follow in the balloon. We watched as the giant balloon began to fill with hot air and stand tall. After climbing in the basket, we were subjected to several more blasts of hot hair that singed our foreheads.
“So far this isn’t fun,” Daniel commented.
“Just wait,” I said as we began to rise.
I had never been in a hot air balloon, but my dad had and he told me it was an experience unlike any other. I felt so fortunate to be here, in the place that had captivated me from childhood, doing something I was not sure that I would have ever had the opportunity to do (and for $45 each).
We hovered over the ancient tombs and began to see the lights of the sun over the horizon. Pinks and purples lit up the place I had been looking forward to the most—Hatshepsut’s temple. We were going to explore it the next day, but it was nice just to get a glimpse.
There are 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and close to 80 in the Valley of the Queens. Some of them were hidden from our view, but you could see many of them from so far up. The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, and I was struck by how beautiful the irrigation systems were. We could already see the tiny outlines of people beginning their work for the day and urging along donkeys pulling carts. It was amazing for me to think that this irrigations system had been used for thousands of years and that it was still in use in our modern world.
I turned to Daniel. He peered over the basket and smiled.
“Alright,” he said. “This is pretty cool.”
Eventually, what comes up must come down. We began drifting downward into a field where a van awaited to take us back to the hotel. By now, the sun was already turning hot and was starting to burn our shoulders.
We were surprised to see some unexpected visitors waiting for us below. There was a group of children from the ages of about 5 to 8 waiting for us, begging for a coin or two as we landed. We were ushered from the basket to the car and asked not to give them anything, but it was hard. Their hands reached into the van, dirty and desperate.
It was such a sad and interesting experience to go from a literal high to seeing the realities of a place. Several months later, I look back on this adventure fondly, but it still is hard to imagine those faces and not being about to do anything about the circumstances.
Have you ever had an experience like this traveling where it is bittersweet?