“I’ve been on the internet and I’m not going back.”
It’s a phrase I’ve used jokingly to describe my dad’s opinion on technology on more than one occasion. He prefers his favorite CD’s to an Ipod and he rarely has his cell phone on. Some days I envy his philosophy and how disconnected he could actually be. As a result of this “anti-tech” lifestyle, I was never really sure how supportive or understanding he was of my online work.
“You know, Indonesia has poisonous snakes in the water?”, and “Why do you want to go there?” or “That place is dangerous.”
Always worrying about his forever baby girl, these are just a short snippet of the endless list of questions I’ve had to explain while telling my father of my next journey. Right before I left of my latest trip, however, I received a gift from him that was so simple, but spoke volumes.
Just like any family around the holidays, we have our annual traditions. The siblings all exchange their gifts on Christmas eve and then Christmas day “Santa” arrives and we exchange presents with our parents. This particular Christmas my dad had given us all surprise gifts in addition to the other wonderful things we received. He handed me my card, my name scrolled on the front of the crimson envelope. I opened it, revealing the animated Dora the Explorer, inside with a check marked “your next trip” in the memo.
In her own little way that Spanish speaking sightseer was a symbol for me. It meant my father had embraced my travel lifestyle and was just as excited for me to continue my journey and share my story. With or without the check, that was the most meaningful gift I could have received. I immediately knew how I was going to spend this special money… on a hot air balloon ride in Bagan, Myanmar. It was something that was out of my current travel budget but I really had wanted to experience it and here was my chance. My dad was thrilled when I told him what my intentions were with my “Dora Money” and we talked about some ideas on how to best capture my experience while I was in the sky. I booked my space on the balloon later that week and set my excitement off to the back of my mind.
Bagan is the opening of an Indian Jones movie. The landscape is desert-like, the villages are small and down every dusty, winding road lies dozens of ancient temples waiting to be explored. The archeological zone is home to thousands of religious buildings and the absolute best way to wrap your mind around the sheer size of the plains area is to hop in a basket and float over them.
I met our driver in the dark outside of my hostel a little after 5am and I climbed into our cute, colonial British WWII bus, resting on one of the long leather benches that flanked the sides. The roads were quiet and dark, the only light two beams from our little round headlights, a set of eyes bouncing their gaze over the dirt road as we bumped along. We collected all of our ballooners and made our way to the proposed take off sight. Earlier in the morning they send out a test balloon to analyze weather conditions and determine where to take off and land for the day. I’m curious to know who gets the job of “night balloon course tester”.
We pulled up alongside a large pagoda, the sun just beginning to emerge and it revealed a row of Cabernet colored balloons all laying on the ground, pulsing periodically as they were partially inflated with air. I stared wide-eyed with excitement as we are broken up into small groups and assigned an operator and a balloon. The anticipation builds as he leads us over to review a few small safety requests.
The crew of Myanmar men busily work around us, setting up fans, making adjustments and then turning on the burners. As the propane burners expel a fiery heat, the warm air becomes less dense than the air surrounding it and the balloon begins to slowly take shape, rising into the sky simultaneously as the sun rises from beyond the Irrawaddy River.
I set my feet into the rungs on the side of the wicker basket and swung my leg over, like mounting a horse, then slinking into my corner of the basket.
Then, lift off.
Blanketed by the first light of day, the pagodas glisten and the temples form impressive shadows over the barren landscape below. The feeling is surreal. We bobbed over the tops of the structures, effortlessly floating along, balloons ahead of us in the distance. The morning mist snakes through the tree lines on the ground and there is a silence in the air interrupted by the occasional whoosh of the flame releasing a blaze into the balloon. It was the most at peace I’ve ever felt.
I looked out into the horizon and smiled. What an amazing gift a children’s card and a check turned out to be. Just like Dora I had embarked on a new journey, overcoming obstacles and finding new adventures.
Here is the video my dad and I talked about, a view from the basket rising up off the ground and into the sky and all creative credit goes to Dan.
Oh, and I came to find out later that Dora’s a balloon enthusiast too.
Become a Ballooner:
Get more information about my fantastic hot air balloon experience and also find out if there’s a spot for you at Balloons over Bagan!