Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hot Air Ballooning and Snake Charming on Thanksgiving

Today was amazing!!!
It started off with a groggy wake up at 3:15am. We had to get ready for our 3:45am pickup to be carted off for hot air ballooning. We were the first pickup, being on the far side of town, so we were alone on the cold, dark bus. We picked up the rest and headed into the blackness that was predawn Australian desert. We stopped first to test the winds and let out a small balloon with a red light to see what direction the wind was blowing. I was able to experience the night sky in all it's brilliance, away from the city lights. We got back in the van and drove down the road a little more, tested the wind there, then got out of the van to begin the long task of preparing and inflating the balloon. We had to roll out the balloon first, then unfold it, then he began inflating it with a giant burner. Not long after, the tour guide motioned me over to the basket. He asked me to climb inside and hold on. He was going to inflate the balloon and sit the basket up with me inside! It was my worst fear, I thought there was a possibility that I could fly off into the sky without anyone else in the basket. He flamed and flamed, the heat was very intense and the sound reverberated past as I clung to the rope handles and pretend I wasn't hanging upside down in a hot air balloon basket. Finally, the balloon go full enough and the basket began to tip up. I slid upwards and was finally sitting upright. Everyone else jumped into the basket, and he continued to burn to achieve lift off, as his assistant ran around and untied the basket from the van. We dragged a little, but finally began to drift effortlessly into the sky. We watched the van get further and further away. I was concerned about the bottom of the basket holding everyone, and kept my hands on each side at the basket for the first 15 minutes of the ride, but I was mysteriously not afraid of the height. We got amazing areal views of the bush just outside of Alice Springs. We witnessed the sunrise from the air, as the light travelled higher and higher into the sky, making the dull grey greens of the plants in the morning into more brilliant colors. We travelled in the air, burning sometimes to go higher, opening the top at times to sink lower, for about an hour. He warned us to take the lift off position when landing because there was the possibility of landing sideways. We bounced once, bounced twice, dragged along the ground a little, until we finally rested, upright near our target. We were only upright for several second though, and our basket slowly tilted, then landed on it's side, all of us laying upside down and hanging on to the rope handles. We took turns climbing out of the overturned basket in the most graceful way possible. We then had to begin the strenuous task of repacking the balloon, before toasting with champagne and enjoying some fruit and light breky. We were carted back to our prospective hotels, and Matt and I returned to our beds to sleep for another 3 hours.
We awoke around noon, were happy to discover our leftovers from last night that we had offered to anyone as free food were still there, and had leftover pasta for lunch. After lunch, we went exploring, with the mission of visiting the reptile center. We arrived while they were in the middle of a presentation, but were able to join and hold some of the lizards, as well as the Olive Python. The guide draped the enormous snake around my shoulder and I held it's bulk with my arms. It's head kept coming closer and closer to my face. I closed my eyes, and it licked my cheek! We explored the rest of the center, which included some of the most poisonous snakes in Australia, as well as plenty of all varieties of lizard, a salt water croc, and a frog.

After my brush with the snake, it was time for more low key touring. We visited the flying doctors museum next and learned about how the doctors serve the huge bush region with medical care. It was fascinating to see how the program worked, and it was good to find out that even people living far outside of the main cities had access to good health care.

We walked back across town and decided to begin our Thanksgiving feast! We were shocked that we had been able to locate precooked turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing in the coles in town. We also had some biscuits and made some sweet potatoes and green beans. It was quite a traditional American Thanksgiving spread to be in a foreign country, in the middle of the desert. We had a nice Peter Lehmann wine with dinner, and Matt said grace, and we both said what we were thankful for. It was very civilized and pleasant and lovely, and it was nice to have Thanksgiving since I missed mine last year with my stomach bug!

Tomorrow we will explore Alice mall a little more, and Saturday we head to Uluru!

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