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Our first full day in Egypt began with a boat ride across the Nile at 4:30 in the morning! We were to welcome the dawn from the basket of a hot-air balloon over the Egyptian desert. We’ve always wanted to go up in a balloon and when Sheri found out that we could do it in Egypt, she jumped at the chance. The worst part of the experience was that it was so early after arriving in Egypt. We were still suffering from jet lag and were a bit punch drunk from the international travel experience. But we weren’t going to miss this for anything!

Of course, the balloons are popular and we were part of at least a hundred people on this particular morning. There was an entire field of them going up at once. Watching fifteen feet of flame shoot up into the night is pretty exciting. I took hundreds of pictures on this trip.

The baskets are large and hold sixteen or twenty people at a time, divided into little compartments. The pilot is in the middle surrounded by tanks of propane. The tanks don’t last long and he changes them out quite often. The balloon pilots are actual trained pilots with uniforms displaying their wing pins. Our pilot was very professional. Sheri and I were placed directly next to him and got to watch as he worked his magic.

The flame was directly above us and HOT.

From the balloon, we could see the Nile twisting through the country with a narrow band of green fields on either side. West of us was the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatshepsut.

In the hills, we could see openings cut into the rock. Were they ancient tombs waiting to be explored, but off-limits to tourists? It made me muse on what wonders we are not allowed to see?

From our height, we were able to look down onto some of the local houses and businesses. There on the edge of the desert life is clearly harsh and hasn’t changed all that much in 3000 thousand years. There were more carts than cars and more donkeys than bicycles. But even then it seemed peaceful and content. The lack of noise that surrounds us in our normal life was stripped away at that height and it was both exciting and calming.

Even with a pillar of flame above me, I found peace and contentment in the sky above Egypt. Part of the allure of Egypt is what we imagine is there but aren’t able to see. We conjure up cities of ruins under the sea of sand and hold our breath as we round each corner.

But the grandeur we seek is long gone, only the vestiges remain among an impoverished populace that sells access to the illusion. I don’t blame them for it; this is their inheritance. But I am nostalgic for what we’ve lost.

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