by Michael Lorentz
There’s a phrase in Setswana that perfectly evokes the moments before dawn: motshegare wa naka tsa kgomo.
It means: “The time of day when you can only see the horns of your cattle.”
I’m reminded of it when I take guests hot air ballooning over the Namib Desert in Sossusvlei.
You have to be up before first light, while the air is still.
There’s a great sense of anticipation. The air is chilly as you wait for the huge balloon to fill. You can see its outline and hear the roar of the gas burners.
Once you’re airborne, you drift across the desert in total silence.
As the first rays of sunlight appear, they begin to illuminate the extraordinary landscape below you.
The Namib Desert is very ancient and has its own peculiarities. The high iron content of the sand dunes gives them a bright orange color. And they’re huge. Everything is on such a vast scale that it seems to make more sense from the air. The silence and the colors are intense: orange, red, browns, yellows, and the shadows moving across the landscape.
Sometimes, a carpet of sea mist rolls in from the coast.
It’s one of the most extraordinary places on earth, and from half a mile up, it can feel as though you’re floating over an undiscovered planet.
In a balloon, you can only control your altitude, not your direction. There’s something wonderful about surrendering to the wind and just going with it, until it’s time to land for a champagne breakfast.
It’s a pretty good way to come back down to Earth.