Waking at 5:00am the day after New Year’s wouldn’t usually be my cup of tea. Having never been in a hot air balloon, however, I jumped at the chance. 11 of us made the effort, along with Justin, the pilot. A 15km drive inland from Galle delivered us to the take off site and the first sighting of our transport for the next hour and a half. As the sun began to rise above the surrounding hills we were off – the huge basket and balloon gently lifted us into the sky; mist gradually being burnt away by the early morning sun. Photo opportunities aplenty.
Justin radioed through to Air Traffic Control giving our location and the direction in which we were heading – purely dependant on the direction of the wind. The day of our flight was exceptional – sunny and still – which meant for a slow and calm ‘float’ towards the coast. We glided over the tree tops, not a touch of turbulence, and looked down upon the lowland tea plantations, paddy fields and small communities. Every pathway we flew over we were greeted with shouts of ‘Hello’, ‘Come here’ and, finally, ‘Goodbye’ from the schoolchildren beneath us practicing their English on their way to school – waving frantically. We waved and shouted our helloes and goodbyes back as we drifted away towards our landing site.
A gradual descent, a couple of bumps, and we were surrounded by the local villagers and more kids on their way to school – no doubt our unannounced arrival made them late. This was, after all, the first time most of them had seen a hot air balloon, let alone had one land in their village (every day a different breeze and a different landing site). As they helped us steady the basket and clamber out they gathered round and loved smiling for the cameras and asking where we were from and what our names were. Half an hour later we were off again, unfortunately, this time in a van. What a way to start the New Year – or, indeed, any day.