My sister Kay and I never pass up an opportunity to try something new, so on our trip in India, we decided to take a balloon ride. Honey, are you saying to yourself: so what? Or even: big deal? If those are your thoughts, stop reading now. You will be just too jaded to connect with our feelings of what-the-hell-are-we-doing and lemme-outa-here.
When we planned the our trip last Fall, I was entranced by a picture of tourists floating over the city while watching the sun rise. It looked romantic. And, maybe it was one of those “bucket list” things a person needed to do. No matter the reason, my sister and I found ourselves in Jaipur, standing in a small field edged with big trees– the official launch site for our evening trip. We stared at the deflated excuse-for-a balloon that waited for us. It was lying on its side, its stripes faded, looking sad. The pilot was standing next to it, looking at his watch and pacing. He was relieved when a pickup truck pulled up in a cloud of dust. The men in back leapt out and unloaded a large fan and a generator. They yelled at each other in Hindi, pointed up to the sky, and threw up blades of grass to test the wind. What were they saying? Perhaps words like: these-Americans-are-crazy? Hmmm. I tried to avoid Kay’s eyes, but I could feel them boring into the back of my head.
To ignore all the commotion of shouting men and the loud fan that was now blowing air into the balloon, I took a little walk to calm myself. It was peaceful beyond the trees. Small groups of women and children herded their goats home before dark. Such scenes of normalcy restored my courage so I went back to the launch site, and, Honey, I got there in the nick o’ time! Our pilot was in the basket, his men were holding its ropes and the full balloon was trying to leave without us. “Get in! Now!” he yelled. I ran forward and clambered into the basket. Behind me, I heard Kay saying, “I’m not sure…” But someone pushed her in and when I turned to look into her face it was white as a sheet and her eyes were huge.
That balloon then shot up into the sky like a rocket. I mean, that puppy really took off! I peered over the side of the gondola and noticed that there were small mountain tops. Way down below us. It was like being high in a 747, not at all like the riding-on-a-leaf experience I had imagined. Kay sank down inside the basket and pulled her hat low over her face.
The whoosh of the flames was loud. And, they were hot. Also, just above our heads! I saw a tiny ice chest next to the pilot. He reached inside and brought out a bottle of water. I shook my head no. I might need both hands to hold on. Besides, water wouldn’t help. Vodka, maybe. Standing butt to butt in a square basket that was barely higher than my waist, we were completely at the mercy of the wind. There was no going back!