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Author Bruce Kahn gives us a bird’s-eye view of Tanzania’s Serengeti, Australia’s outback, and California’s wine country from the quiet confines of a hot-air balloon.
Text by: Bruce Kahn

ver since I read the Jules Verne novel “Around the World in 80 Days” I had wanted to “fly” in a hot-air balloon. Finally about two years ago I had the opportunity. I was going to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in southeastern Africa. In the Serengeti, animals run wild without bars or cages; herds of animals walk freely. So when I heard I could see hundreds of animals in the wild, I jumped at the chance.

I found the experience of flying in a hot-air balloon to be amazing and memorable.

Ballooning is serene and thrilling. Rising smoothly toward the clouds, I was surprised by how still it felt as we moved in the balloon. It was almost motionless, and within minutes, we were cruising at several thousand feet and able to see for miles. The landscape and tops of trees were beautiful. You could even see birds flying and some animals in the trees. I was also amazed that there was no noise from the wind as the balloon traveled.

The first hot-air balloon was launched in 1783 by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, a French scientist. Because of its experimental nature, the first passengers were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. The balloon stayed in the air for 15 minutes before crashing to the ground. A few months later, a balloon was launched with two men aboard, and it flew for 20 minutes before returning to land.

Since then, there have been many scientists, explorers, and adventurists who have designed and flown balloons all over the world. It is now a tourist activity in many places. When I visited Alice Springs in Australia, I floated over the outback. It was the funniest sight to see wallaby and kangaroos hopping about, running and racing on the prairie.

There are three main parts to a balloon. The first part is the basket, or gondola, where the pilot and passengers are held. The second component is the burner, which propels the hot air into the envelope, the third part. The envelope is the “balloon” part of the hot-air balloon. The flow of hot air into the envelope causes the liftoff.

There are hot-air balloon enthusiasts all over the world, and throughout the year, you can find sporting events, rallies, and races. When I lived in Texas, I lived near a big open field where the Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival was held. I didn’t know it until one Sunday morning when there were more than 50 hot-air balloons floating overhead. About 100 to 150 feet in the air, I could see the captain and his crew piloting the craft. We waved as they floated by, and the dogs barked and howled at these unusual vehicles. They reminded me of the floats in big parades. They were in the shapes of animals, cars, telephones—and some were just plain old balloons. Many had advertising on them, which I suspect helped to defray the cost of owning and operating a balloon.

For me, hot-air ballooning has been an awesome experience. I’ve been over the remote areas of the Outback in Australia, the plains of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey and over the Napa Valley wine region of northern California. The landscapes made each experience unique. The sparse desert-like game preserve in Tanzania is so different from the beautiful, lush vineyards of Napa Valley. Seeing the mysterious mountains and caves in the Cappadocia region of Turkey was especially fascinating because you could actually see hieroglyphics on the walls inside the caves.

I am an adventurer at heart … and I’m ready for my next lift off.


Up, up, up and away.

Ever Since I read the Vern Jules Novel, ”Around the World in 80 Days” I had wanted to fly in a hot air balloon. Finally, two years ago I had a great opportunity! I travelled over the Serengeti National Park by hot air balloon and was able to see hundred of wild animals running free. This was much different than seeing them behind bars or in cages at the zoo. It was an amazing and memorable experience for me. The ride was so calm and beautiful and I was surprised that the balloon was so quiet as we moved over the tops of the trees.

The first hot air balloon was launched in 1783 by Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, a French scientist. How does a hot air balloon work? It’s quite a simple invention- it only has three parts! The first part is the basket or, ”gondola”, where the passengers stand. The second part is the burner which blows hot air into the balloon, the third part. The first successful balloon, carrying two men, flew for 20 minutes before landing. Since then many people have flown hot air balloons all over the world and it is now a very popular tourist activity.

For me, hot air ballooning is such a wonderful experience. I have seen Africa, Australia, Turkey and California from the sky. The different landscapes make each experience unique. I am an adventurer at heart and I am ready for my next hot air balloon trip!



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