As my pilot starts the engine, I put on his Vin Diesel jacket and batman shades and buckle up. Within seconds, we are airborne, flying just inches away from the jebels or rock towers of Wadi Rum in Southern Jordan. I don’t care if the morning wind is whipping across my face – the view before me is too distracting. I see a blanket of gold studded with grey landforms: the desert sprawls beneath my feet, with the occasional rock formations poking into the skies.
Flying on a Microlight
I’ve flown on a floatplane in Alaska, floated on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia and skydived in Spain, but nothing quite prepared me for this flight on a microlight. A microlight is basically a 1 or 2-person aircraft, similar in design to a hang-glider but equipped with an engine and landing gear. So as you can imagine, a microlight allows you to glide close enough to mountain peaks and yet high enough to get a bird’s eye view.
“Wohoooo!” Once we’re mid-air, I hear a loud cheer through my headphones and see Zsolt, my pilot, grinning like a child. He’s flown the microlight for 16 years but he’s never lost one bit of passion. As we whizz between two giant rock towers, we cheer and laugh like we’re on a rollercoaster ride. I stare in awe as the desert runs for miles beyond the horizon – and I see him equally distracted by the stunning views of Wadi Rum.
“It’s beautiful here isn’t it? I’ve flown in Jordan for close to a decade and I can never get bored of its beauty.” Zsolt Petrovszki is a native Hungarian, who’s flown all sorts of aircraft around the world, but has now chosen to call Jordan home.
A Love Affair with Jordan and the Microlight
He’s flown commerical and private aircrafts, done paragliding for years and now has fallen head over heels for the microlight. I can easily see why: it’s a perfect combination of flying with an engine (which means speed) and feeling the wind in your face (a thrill that airplane-flying does not provide). The microlight can fly up to a maximum of 4,000 feet and can fly for over 2.5hours without refueling.
Why Jordan? I ask. He says simply, “Look around you. There’s nowhere else like this in the world.” Indeed, Wadi Rum is something special – the colors of the desert change like a chameleon upon the reflection of the sun’s rays, while its topography transform unpredictably as we swoosh from one point to another.
Floating on a Hot Air Balloon
As soon as I descend from the microlight, I’m up in the skies again – this time, on a hot air balloon. The occasional bellow of the hot air pierces through the tranquility as the glaring sun showers the desert with its light. In the wispy morning air, I can see grey jagged peaks beneath me and the dreamy Red Sea in the distance.
Wadi Rum is a perfect place for hot air ballooning: there’s so much to see from above and plenty of surprises at each corner. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, I get a refreshing perspective of the vast desert and its peculiar rock formations, sand dunes and the occasional natural springs. It’s easy to see why Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon.
We find ourselves floating solo in Wadi Rum, there are no other hot-air balloons in sight. A stark difference to my previous hot air ballooning experience in Turkey (literally thousands of us). Despite being in a group of 15, we are struck speechless by the beauty surrounding us – so much so, there’s a soothing, comfortable silence as we let the wind take us.
Khalid, my balloon pilot tells me why hot air ballooning is a good way to see Jordan, “Every visitor flocks to Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. But we break convention and go up to the skies and get away from the crowd. Get away from everyone.”