The deflated balloon

Hot air ballooning above the Pyrenees in Spain is one of those moments I had been really looking forward to. But not everything always goes to plan.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain
Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

Hot air ballooning in the Pyrenees in Spain

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.

26 thoughts on “The deflated balloon”

  1. And sometimes you can’t plan for foiled plans on your wedding day. My husband and I were married in a hot air balloon and it was supposed to take off for our flight after the ceremony. But the weather had other ideas. It was so windy, they couldn’t even safely inflate the balloon for our wedding photos. 10 1/2 years later we still have not ever been on a hot air flight.

    • Oh no! That’s so sad that you’d gone to all the effort and then the weather ruined things at the last minute. I’m sure it was still a beautiful wedding, though. I hope you manage to get up in the air sometime… perhaps for an anniversary somewhere?

    • Cappadocia looks amazing! I didn’t make it there when I was in Turkey but everyone has told me how beautiful it is there. And apparently the hot air balloons almost always take off because the weather is pretty decent. In Spain, by contrast, there’s actually quite a low success rate for getting off the ground.

  2. Awww, that sucks. Ballooning was the highlight of our time in Costa Brava – so sorry you didn’t get to have the adventure! Although I have to say your photos and words are still very pretty 😀

  3. Well even if you never got airborne, it still made a great story:) I came across a hot air balloon on the grounds of a golf course not long ago. The people in the basket appeared really pissed off. They had clearly “crashed” and the pilot was struggling to get the flame going again. I never did see the balloon go back up….

    • Ha ha – oh, wow. Imagine crash landing in a golf course. Yeah, you would be pretty cranky at that, I imagine. I wonder whether the pilot did something wrong or whether it was just a freak bit of weather?

  4. Not to deflate you even further, but I finally got to go up in a hot air balloon last year and it was AMAZING. You should definitely try to arrange such an excursion again. However, you definitely don’t want to be up in a hot air balloon in nasty weather, so it’s probably best that your ride didn’t go forward as planned.

    • I think I’ll definitely have to find another chance to do it. It seems odd that I’ve never been up in one before, despite all my travels around the world. I imagine it’s an amazing way to see the countryside.

  5. Failed expectations are the hardest things to let go. You were so close to being up there it has to be disappointing. On a bright side, when you do finally get up there it will be sweet vindication.

    Heading that direction this spring so hopefully get a chance to check it out myself. Ballooning over the African Safari is near the top of my still to do list however ballooning over Spain should rock as well.

    Hope you get a chance to try again soon!

    • Please let me know if you get a chance to do it yourself and what it’s like. I’ve seen photos from friends who have gone up and it looks incredible.
      I think you’re right about Africa too – that would be awesome. It’s up there on the list with Turkey for me.

  6. That sucks. The anticipation and early morning must make that disappointment heightened. Being in the balloons in Turkey was the highlight of that trip for me.

    Have you ever been at all? If not, definitely try it if you get another chance. Go looking for chances even.

  7. I think I’ll certainly need to discover another opportunity to do it. It appears to be odd that I’ve never been up in one, in spite of every one of my goes the world over. I envision it’s a stunning approach to see the field.


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