Reopened in January 2015, after a year and a half of permit issues, Abyssinia Ballooning is back on track and is offering customers the astonishing chance to discover the earth from above.
To enjoy an incredible adventure, you need to make some small sacrifices. The one obligation coming with a balloon ride is to wake up really early. On a Sunday morning, at 4:30 am, I am all set and ready, waiting for my ride. Five minutes later, my cellphone rings and I can hear the strong and deep voice of Bram van Loosbroek on the other end of the line.
“Hey, where are you?! ”
Bram, Dutch, tall and loud, is definitely one of a kind. Almost four years ago, after twenty years spent as a pilot in his own country, he made a life-changing decision to come to Ethiopia and create the first and only ballooning business in the country.
“The journey has been long and bumpy; the road had real deep downs but I had to keep fighting for my team. I am proud to say that I managed to keep them hired even during the year and a half of closure we just went through. I also got support from some amazing people and companies like Zemen Bank. They helped us fund the structure and we are now happy to fly with their balloon,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation; they use it for client relationship management and also for promotions.”
Considering that the price of a hot-air balloon reaches up to a million birr, it sure was important for the Dutchman to find some good partnerships!
Around 5:00 a.m, not far from Holeta, we finally stop alongside an empty meadow. It is still dark but I can perceive the crack of dawn behind the neighboring mountains, a thin line of light emphasizing the morning’s shadows. We jump out of the car and start walking towards a truck parked on the side of the road. Inside the trailer: the nacelle and the balloon—perfectly folded—and two of his teammates.
Being an experienced pilot, Bram halts and makes sure the weather is safe for the flight before letting his employees take the structure off the vehicle. After a few minutes, seeming happy with the conditions, he starts walking into the pasture. The truck follows him up the hill and they stop while the sunrise starts to turn the sky into an incredible melting pot of pinks.
In the semi-obscurity, they unload the pieces, running left and right and jumping in and out of the vehicle. Their behavior amazes me: synchronized, almost like a hive. Apart from a few orders Bram has to shout out loud, they appear to be one organism following a well-known choreography. If you want my opinion, it is definitely part of the experience to watch their shadows dance in the middle of nowhere while religious chants from a nearby church permeate the air. An intriguing instant mixing calm and frenzy.
Time to go…
Fifteen minutes before six o’clock, the other passengers arrive on site. We enjoy a cup of coffee and some biscuits while the team open up the valves and start to inflate the structure. The sound of the ignited propane reminds me of the long moan of a lion’s pack, rough and unfathomable. It spreads through the meadow and accords peacefully with the gospel. I cannot keep myself from thinking that I am listening to the song of escapade.
The sun is now getting higher and we can enjoy every detail of the spectacular show taking place in front of us: the balloon rising up and lifting the nacelle. It is a really slow process that some passersby appreciate with us.
6:00 a.m: It’s time to go!
We hop on the platform and Bram releases the gas flow. The loud deflagration warms us up and dives into the balloon, hovering us up into the air. Here we go… we finally take off! Gently, one meter after another, we gradually gain altitude and in a couple of minutes, we reach up to a height of 100 meters. On the ground, I can distinguish the tiny silhouettes of some random football players trying to run after us. They quickly give up but keep on waving their hands in a goodbye—or a good luck—sign. I salute them in return before the wind takes us away.
Now, I will do my best to describe to you the feeling of being carried around by this heavy assembly, but I am perfectly aware that I am not going to be able to render the complexity of the experience. In the quiet of the sky, I can only hear the chants from the churches we are flying over. on the horizon, a golden light is flooding the mountains and hurtling down the ravines, setting ablaze the calm waters. No matter where I look, the verdant lands are paying a quiet homage to Mother Nature, rolling out infinite green layers of life. From time to time, some constructions rip out of the ground, with the glowing of a million lights under the sun’s caress.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Bram says.
I turn back to Bram and the burner, feeling the heat upon my skin. I take a minute to think about it, but “beautiful” is definitely not the adjective I would use to describe this spectacle. Astonishing, maybe. I settle for a discreet nod before getting back to the magnificence of the landscapes.
I should probably specify that it is not my first balloon flight. I already had the pleasure of this activity in Spain a few years ago and although you might think. “a ride is a ride”, similar to another, I would definitely dispute this statement. The magnificence of Ethiopia’s lands makes it an unrivalled adventure! The emptiness of the natural surroundings hits you hard and is a constant reminder that we, human beings are nothing but a virulent form of a disease, parasitizing something bigger than us.
Here, the sky’s the limit and humanity is nothing but a little dot on the soil.
Breakfast and history
The journey ends an hour later when we land next to a small village, on the other side of the Menagesha National Forest. Around a hundred kids run towards us, screaming and shaking their arms in a warm, welcoming wave. They stare at the balloon going down, trying to hide in its enormous shadow. When we get out of the nacelle, they come to our group with a quiet question upon their lips.
“Where do you come from? ”
From the blue, my dears…
Once the equipment is back in the rear of the truck, we get into a van and return to Addis in order to enjoy a warm and generous breakfast with a flute of champagne. While we eat our cheese omelet, the group listens to Bram’s historical speech about the Montgolfier brothers: Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and his younger sibling, Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, the inventors of the first hot-air balloon. Travel sure broadens the minds but a little lecture doesn’t hurt either!
If you want to book a flight, you can call +251-926-845086 or go to the company’s website: www.abyssiniaballooning. Having to close down during the rainy season, they offer great sales for the reopening weeks in the beginning of October.
Source: the reporter