We reached Swakopmund on our CapeToVicFalls Adventure and, after two nights of camping in the cold desert, were excited about the comfort of a hotel and town. Even more exciting were all the activities available there: from skydiving to sandboarding, from hot air balloons to quad bikes, there were lots of choices for some fun in the sand!
Coming back from Sossusvlei (read report here), we were quite happy to come back to civilization with a comfortable bed, nice restaurants and lots of stores to stock up on daily necessities and any equipment we had missed in our travel preparations (like more warm clothes!). It was almost surreal to walk around Swakopmund in a way. While I was well aware that Namibia had been a German colony for a short time more than 100 years ago, I didn’t realize how much German influence there was. Some of the buildings looked like they were plugged straight from a small German town! You can even find German food, cakes and bread (yes! my favorite) in the stores, German signs to boot. It turned out that some of it is left over from the colonial times, but some also from a more recent influx of German immigrants looking for a new home!
While the food is very good – it’s the many activities that bring visitors to Swakopmund! Just reading about them gets your heart to beat faster and there are so many, it’s hard to choose! It reminds me a lot of Queenstown, New Zealand (read here). At the “high” end of the adrenaline curve, there are skydiving and paragliding, sand boarding (lie down or stand up) and quad biking. At the more leisurely end of the curve, you can opt for kayaking, a fishing boat trip or dolphin cruise or hot air ballooning. There was something for everybody in our group to spend a day, and a few of us wished we had more time to try a few different things… With the beautiful desert as the backdrop, we chose hot air ballooning for the day. I had never been and was looking forward to the mix of excitement of flying and the peace of doing so in a hot air balloon! I was not so much looking forward to getting up in the middle of the night to be ready for take off at sunrise!
Our pilot picked us up at our hotel before anybody else was awake and we were soon driving into the desert in the dark, swinging of the dirt road to reach our supposed launching spot. After checking the wind for direction and strength to make sure the planned trip will still work and is safe, setting up the balloon started. While I had seen a balloon before from afar, I was still surprised how huge it is as it unfolded on the desert floor. I was also
surprised shocked how big the flames of the burner were to heat the air – certainly big enough to burn our ride to a pile of ashes in a hurry. But our crew was calm and confident and it was soon time to board our little basket (literally, as in woven!). It’s standing room only for the ten of us, but we all had a great view!
The balloon was rising very quickly and soon the humongous burner could be turned off and we started to leisurely float towards the coast and the dunes separating us from the ocean! It’s truly amazing how quiet and peaceful the ride is, making the balloon the perfect ride to experience the desert. And, instead of walking up the dunes like in Sossusvlei (read here), seeing the gigantic dunes in their different shapes and shades is stunning! We quietly enjoyed our ride, taking lots of photos along the way.
Much to soon, it was time to prepare for the landing – and it became clear to us, how much we are depending on nature for a balloon flight, with little control over it! As we started to descend, the wind at lower levels was blowing in the opposite direction, taking us straight back towards where we started. We could see the ground crew in their trucks scrambling back in a cloud of dust below us! We had to go up a little again to avoid some power lines and the main road, getting ready for landing. Our pilot warned us to hold on in case we tip over – not a helpful comment to remain relaxed – but she had everything under control and we touched down softly. We were all ready to get out, but that would have sent her with the ballon straight back into the air, so we had to hold our horses! We had to wait for the balloon to deflate slowly and, one by one, got the sign to climb out! Wow, what an experience! For me, it was the perfect mix of excitement and enjoying the peaceful and so quiet ride over the desert. It reminded me a lot of paragliding, being exposed to the wind, seeing the world below you without hindrance and no noise to distract you, you can truly enjoy the beauty of the desert. If you ever find yourself in a beautiful place with an option to ride in a hot air balloon – seize the opportunity, it’s a great experience and gives you a whole new appreciation of nature and the world around you!