I love hanging over the edge of a basket floating thousands of meters in the sky. I especially love the silence that comes as the hot air balloon becomes one with the wind and ceases to resist its flow and rather joins its silent gravity defiant dance. I like floating. I like ascending… it’s metaphoric and it’s also absolutely stunning. I’d been on hot air balloons in a couple of different places, and much like falling in love, each situation was magical and different. However, here in Dubai, they also had a falcon up there with us! I watched his gleaming eyes surveying the horizon and for a moment I perhaps felt what this magnificent creature felt when it hovered across the sky. We also had a crew of friends who were filming us… and we also had the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen in a long, long time. As I witnessed the first gleaming rays of golden light pierce the velvet dawn, I thought how fitting it was that the sun literally rose precisely behind a mountain. The jagged edges of the rock only accentuated the orb waking up to bathe us with its warmth. It was then that I noticed the falcon, calmly resting on the ledge, fully unafraid of the precipice next to him; confidently assured that he had his wings… and also his claws, in case I got too close! The sunrise hot air balloon experience with a falcon, was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Yet, it had one final surprise awaiting for us upon the descent… apparently because of the type of topography, the type of basket and the wind speed… a slight “slide” landing is typical, and let me tell you it was the most fun hot air balloon ride I’ve ever done. The captain explains all the safety protocols, you clip yourself to the balloon with a special harness (we don’t want to lose any of our friends overboard of course) and we hang and from these special leather handles. The balloon begins to descend and the captain begins a heart accelerating countdown, you crouch and give your back to the basket and face away from the land which is coming at you faster than you can imagine. Then suddenly, a thump! And we are sideways… sliding on the gravel. Of course, a couple of people laugh and nervously giggle as the balloon rises very slightly and then… thump! More dirt around you and then just like that, everything stops and the laughter begins. You look around the basked and connect with your friends, and even the falcon seems to have enjoyed that eccentric descent. You climb out the basket and it feels like you accomplished something. An easy landing? Who wants one of those! Not me… not after this memorable experience. The hot air balloon was my favorite experience. It was capped off with a marvelous breakfast in an oasis of sorts with my crew of friends… just the perfect meal to have before a couple of hours driving back to delightful Dubai.
A close second was an experience that happened two hours later, where I was driving a professional racing car around a professional track at the “Autodrome”. I felt as if I was in a movie and in a way we were making one. I’d never been inside a single seater formula one style car. I’m really bad at driving manual and now I was in one of the most efficient and powerful driving machines in the world. On the way there, our guide told me that if I was going to drive that car, I had to really step on it to make it worth my while, otherwise there was no point. After an explanation, a safety briefing and a tour around the lap with a professional driver, I was ready to try it out for myself. As I began to change gears I began to get more comfortable and suddenly it happened. I felt so much adrenaline flowing through me… and yet here it was, the long stretch where it was safest to really go fast… and so I think I did, because I floored it and changed gears as quickly as possible. I could feel joy rushing from the pit of my stomach all the way to a smile on my face hidden beneath the helmet! Of course, one has to remember that it’s not the going fast that is difficult… it’s the slowing down in time! So after a few moments I got that beautiful car under control and made it back safe and sound to the “Pitts” where I celebrate with my friends. I broke no record, but I also didn’t break the car! So, it was a great moment for all of us. We were a bit spent from the day, but being our last day in Dubai I told my team that we had to go do an activity together… one of the tallest zip-lines in the world! One by one the team zipped down over the Marina Area from one beautiful 40 story building to a landing platform across the river. Exhausted but happy we made it back to the gorgeous Atlantis Hotel. We admired the lovely sea creatures floating peacefully in the giant tanks… one of the largest in the world. We were ready for some well deserved sleep… but our friends at Dubai Tourism had one final surprise! Did I mention that all this magnificent day was actually Thanksgiving Day! We made our way to one of the wonderful restaurants at the Atlantis Dubai and shared a custom made Thanksgiving dinner. One by one we mentioned what was the highlight of the trip, as we laughed and shared a beautiful moment connecting to each other. Dubai had helped us to connect as as team, as friends and as humans. We’d used that connection to create something beautiful and today… that connection has created a shared memory that we will always treasure in our collective hearts! Thank you Dubai! That’s the power of connection!