Life on a Table recipe #54 – Ouma Gre’s SpekulaasNovember 7, 2016
Getting there – facing challenges in conservationNovember 8, 2016
Text and Photos by Marita van Rooyen
“What a treat to stroll through the veils of twilight, to float across the sky like a slowly forming thought. Flying an airplane, one usually travels the shortest distance between two points. Balloonists can dawdle, lollygag, cast their fate to the wind and become part of the ebb and flow of nature, part of the sky itself, held aloft like any bird, leaf or spore. In that silent realm, far from the mischief and toil of society, all one hears is the urgent breathing of the wind and, now and then, an inspiring gasp of hot air.” – Diane Ackerman
W orking together with about 20 people (ground crew & catering team) and four pilots, the family business of Namib Sky Balloon Safaris is run by the Hesemans – Eric, his wife Nancy and children Denis and Andreia.
Eric was born and bred in DRC. Together with Nancy, they are the founders of Namib Sky. Designated examiner for Namibia, Eric still loves his flying after 24 years in the Namib Desert. He shouts a lot, but nobody takes him too seriously as he is the clown of the company! Nancy makes sure the whole operation runs smoothly.
The company was launched 19 years ago. It was the first ballooning operator in Namibia. The Hesemans own a concession in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, one of the largest private game reserves in Africa. Eric, who is a pilot himself, believes that Namibia is a very special country and that every Namibian experience, including ballooning, becomes a special occasion.
With an eagle’s-eye view over the Tsaris, Nubib and Naukluft mountain ranges, the Namib Sky balloons glide softly over the pinkish, red dunes of Sossusvlei, playfully touching the tips of some of the higher dunes, the pilots pointing out small specks of zebra, gemsbok and springbok in the distance. It’s such a magical experience, you almost forget to breathe and every now and then have to pinch yourself to take a gulp of the fresh high-altitude air.
Balloon piloting is not for everyone. It’s a constant learning experience, requires concentration and maintaining a fine balance between the right amounts of gas, wind and good weather. Eric has been flying for 25 years and his son, Denis, is the safety officer for Namib Sky having completed more than a 1000 flights.
When not flying, there’s always something else to do; checking balloons, baking early-morning croissants, doing general maintenance, going sand boarding or exploring one of the most beautiful areas in Namibia. Life in the desert is one of the best there is. Tranquillity, peace and serenity aside, the Namib is actually bursting with life. The desert is all about details; you can spend a whole day looking at rocks and wondering about their geological processes. You can listen to the barking geckos at night or learn about the survival methods of desert-adapted animals. This is where you discover many of life’s little secrets. You never become bored with the desert and it’s the same with ballooning. Life is not set in stone; you must just go with the wind and you’ll find that it is actually one magnificent adventurous journey.
Namib Sky Balloon Safaris currently uses eight balloons to take passengers over the NamibRand Reserve and Sossusvlei area. A balloon consists of a basket, envelope and burner and varies in size. They have reduced the maximum passenger capacity of the balloons by 30% to allow passengers more space in the basket and to enhance the balloon maneuverability. Ballooning is dependent on the wind. If the wind speed is anything above 10 knots, it makes it difficult for the envelope to inflate, and the flight usually doesn’t take place. Being able to read the weather is thus an important part of the job.
The best part is that wherever you’re flying, you have a great view. Namib Sky Balloon Safaris respects mother earth, making sure that the majority of the landings are on a trailer or an existing track. Car tracks are kept to the minimum, as in a sensitive area such as this, tracks can be visible for as many as 40 years, leaving the natural environment with an unsightly man-made scar. It just doesn’t pay to damage one of the last remaining natural wildernesses on earth. The Namib is a glorious place where you can see the earth’s shadow as the sun sets over the mountains.
| This article was first published in the Flamingo January 2010 issue. Information has been adapted accordingly.