A few weeks ago one of my colleagues sent out an email asking if any teachers were interested in going on a hot air balloon ride outside of Addis. My days off have been filled with guests and trips recently but last Sunday I made time for a balloon ride.
A van picked the nine of us up from the ICS parking lot at 5:30 am and drove us to a big field outside of the city, not far from Menegasha. The field is a popular soccer venue on the weekends and at dawn the players were already beginning to arrive. Some of them stopped to watch the balloon preparations and see us off.
Now here’s the funny thing. The Ethiopian equivalent of the FAA, which issues a new permit for the balloon every weekend, does not allow aerial photography. More precisely, you can take pictures, but you can’t publish them. So alas, you get interior shots only, and not all the lovely photos I took of top secret teff stacks, donkeys, and village wells.
There was a good breeze and we traveled something like 22 km in our allotted hour. As we came in for our landing in a field, children and other villagers came running after us. They kept coming until we had a crowd of about 300 people around our little basket. Kind of a Wizard of Oz moment.
We waited a long time in the field for the crew to find us. Cell phone reception isn’t good, there are no street names so it was hard to explain where we were, and there weren’t any roads near us anyway. Our pilot John kept the balloon up for a while so the crew could see us from a distance but eventually he had to deflate it because the wind was picking up and we didn’t want to take off again (though that REALLY would have been a Wizard of Oz moment).
Finally the big truck arrived to transfer us back to the van, which was parked some distance away on the nearest road.
The van drove us back to the soccer field where we enjoyed a celebratory glass of champagne while the big truck went back to the landing place to collect the balloon.
Back in Addis, our morning adventure ended with a nice brunch at Le Louvre restaurant.
If you are in Ethiopia, I highly recommend Abyssinia Ballooning. It’s the first and only company in the country running balloon rides, and they do a great job (reasonable prices, too!)