Hot air balloon in the Pyrenees, Spain
Deflated. That’s how I felt. That’s how we all felt. But sometimes these things are out of your control. Not everything on your travels goes well. It’s important to learn that and to still try to find the good in the experiences.
Still, we were pissed off.
The plan was a morning of hot air ballooning over the Pyrenees Mountains in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia. Arriving before dawn, the clouds already looked ominous but the men unfurling the balloons across the tarmac was a promising sign. I tried with my mind to blow away the grey covering the sky and focus on the colours being spread out on the ground.
Blue, red, orange, yellow. The coloured patchwork of the material mesmerised me. I had never been in a hot air balloon before and the excitement was building as we held it open while a large fan blew air inside, slowly and partially inflating it. Across the airfield, another balloon was being prepared and the pilot was testing the gas. At every burst of flame, with the noise that comes with bursts of flame, I felt my heart skip a little beat at the anticipation of what was to come.
The sun was beginning to rise by this stage and the view of the mountains was becoming clearer. A cold night had deposited a layer of snow on the tips of the higher ones. The white almost melded together with the low-lying clouds which were hanging around the mountains. In the distance small patches of blue were appearing in the sky. I renewed my mental effort to wish away the grey.
For a long time we seemed to wait, the fan still blowing air into our balloon. One basket had already taken off, carried by a coloured bulb and the strong winds that were whisking around us. But our pilot was just chatting with his colleagues. At one point he blew up a small party balloon with helium and let it go up into the sky, watching the direction it took. That didn’t seem like a good sign – but, then again, there was a much larger one up there with people attached and it seemed to be doing ok.
But then, suddenly, I noticed the fan had been turned off. There was some chattering in Catalan as the balloon slowly deflated. We, the non-Catalan-speakers looked confused, while the others looked disappointed. The colour drained from my face as the bright colours of the material gradually collapsed on the ground.
Our hot air ballooning adventure was over before it had even begun. “Unpredictable northerly gusts”, was the explanation given. And in an activity that has the potential for serious danger, it’s the pilot’s decision that is final. Apparently he thought it was too much of a risk to go up because a sudden burst of wind would be too much of a risk. So as he broke the news to us, people were already starting to fold up the balloon on the tarmac.
There are some things you can’t control. The weather being one of the most obvious ones when you’re on the road. A bit of rain can be annoying; a cloudy day when you had hoped for a nice sunset can mean unspectacular photos; oppressive heat when you want to walk around a city makes for an unpleasant day. But this was one of those opportunities that wasn’t going to come along again soon and it had just slipped away.
We were deflated. There’s no denying that. But the thing that made us all so angry was watching another balloon full of tourists float around the peaks of the Pyrenees as the clouds broke and the blue sky welcomed in the morning sunshine. Perhaps they had got up just in time, or perhaps they had a pilot who wasn’t quite as cautious. I never got an answer to that – but one thing is for sure. They were looking down on us that day.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
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