Terror Somewhere High Up Over Namibia
July 17th, 2007 · 6 Comments
Shitting my pants in a confined space filled mostly with strangers was not a decision I ever thought I’d make. At least not sober or until I was on the far-side of 90. But there I was staring at eight unsuspecting victims, only one of whom had made any sort of commitment to me (and which now seemed quite tenuous).
Not twenty minutes before I was fine. A little groggy due to the early hour, but I was laughing and joking and inquisitive about the whole process. But that was before we were wrenched up off the ground in the middle of fuck knows where or how to spell it.
That was also before I realized the true extent of my fear of heights and flying and having my guts smeared across a rather picturesque field of soft green grasses that I would enjoy looking down upon right now if I wasn’t focused so intently on keeping my sphincter snapped shut. The sheer panic I felt while trapped inside various fuselages over the years should have been a big red flashing don’t do it sign, but I never thought to extrapolate my fear to include hot air balloons.
Hot air balloons are pretty. They’re colorful. They’re the picture of serenity. If Jazzy scooters weren’t so darn user-friendly, hot air balloons could be the official conveyance of grandmothers everywhere. They are just that docile.
That is until you hear the screeching, scratching, scraping sound of your basket as it slides over shards of sharp rock during liftoff. And then you think back to how you saw this same crew driving to the launch site yesterday morning and so you’ve got to figure they’ve been grating the bottom of this thing like parmesan on a daily basis for a good many years.
Do they take weekends off? Do they ever perform maintenance? And has anyone noticed this thing is made of wicker? Last I checked, wicker was not the brawniest of Earth’s materials. Nobody puts convicted serial killers in prison cells made of wicker. No. In fact, leaving a wicker chair out in the elements during just one Ohio winter guarantees that the first person to sit on it in spring lands flat on their ass. Somehow I thought I might like this?
Until this precise moment up high over Namib-Naukluft Park near Sossusvlei in Namibia, I didn’t realize I could be terrified and awed at the same time (terrifawed?). My pupils dilate with fear as my irises greedily drink in the scenery that is something out of a schizophrenic’s fairytale picture book. The rising sun diffuses color over two distinct panoramas. One, a vast undulating sea of pink-hued silicates. The other, a green tufted plain with majestic rocky peaks thrusting up proudly wherever they see fit. Where the two landscapes meet, their borders abut in an unspoken truce without overlap.
Having disallowed Travel Boyfriend to move his feet lest he hasten the destruction of our fragile basket, he is forced to pivot at the waist to take this all in. I, however, am now crouched down shaking violently, feeling like a caged animal before slaughter with my flee sensors tripped. Mockingly, there’s nowhere to flee but down.
Travel Boyfriend bends to check on me and I snap, “Stand upright! You’re throwing off the balance!”
I consider confessing that the reason I can no longer stand is because my bowels are as loose as synthetic shoelaces and the only way I can retain control of them is to engage in a full-body muscle compression. That he has the gall to then take a step to the other side of our compartment informs me that his waning patience would be overwhelmed by such a disclosure.
The noxious smell of butane and the frequent, fickle belches of flame are doing nothing to calm my nerves. I’m convinced that in addition to my current state of cardiac arrest, I am now also facing death by asphyxiation. But slowly, ever so slowly, I will myself to rise. Although more from fear that my crouching will draw unwanted attention from the man in charge of this bloated bird. A man whose perfectly blended features exude the delicate ruggedness one so desperately hopes for in her hot air balloon pilot. And here I am about to befoul this beautiful man’s most prized possession.
“See? It’s not so bad. Look out, not down.” Travel Boyfriend envelops me in his arms as I venture unboldly towards the edge. Each tiny movement feels like waking from a falling dream.
I pretend my eyeballs and my brain are two separate entities and I allow my eyes to feel inspired by the beauty while my brain shuts down all functions unnecessary to sheer survival. It occurs to me that if was going to be hovering above ground in an oversized birthday decoration anywhere in the world, this is the place. I glance out as our twin skirts up over a hilltop and I raise my camera gingerly to click off a few shots.
Lulled into a false sense of security, the butane ignites and flames scream out once more. I jump forward. I jump back. Why am I jumping? My feet dance like a drunkard’s marionette. Oh, dear god, the wicker has been compromised! I take one last fleeting look around at the strangers and my boyfriend and I make the decision. I’m sorry, but it would be a Herculean feat not to soil myself right now, and I am a mere mortal. It all makes such rational sense at this moment. I’m going to shit my pants. I’ve made peace with it. And once I make that peace, an unexpected thing happens. My body stops fighting me. I actually relax. Given permission to do the unthinkable, my mind casually wanders off to other thoughts. Thoughts like, “Hmm, could we be landing already? I was just beginning to enjoy myself.”
Travel Betty Basics
An awesome company called ATI Holidays helped us make our hotel, car and hot air balloon reservations for our Namibia trip. We were staying at the Kulala Desert Lodge while in Sossusvlei. The front desk can also hook you up with the hot air balloon people since you will be picked up and dropped off right there at the hotel (IF you survive, mwahahaha!)
Other Betties blogging about hot air balloons: