I had been to Clark for the past three years to see all the action and to watch the take-off of the Hot Air Balloons in the Philippines. During the first year, I only wanted to see the actual balloons for myself and fortunately for me, the box effect brought the hot air balloons back to the original site. Last year, I found out a lot more about the festival, the people behind them and how the balloons fly. This year, I was in the chase crew and found out where they landed! It was a dazzling sight and a very rare adventure indeed.
As I said in my previous posts, hot air balloons followed the wind. I wasn't sure where the wind would take them this time around but I knew I had to be there on time to catch the 4x4s that would chase them around Clark!
There were throngs of people at the entrance by 5:45 a.m. and I almost didn't make it. The sun was up and I was running to the end of the field where the assigned vehicles were parked. The first balloon, the one that every single balloon will follow, had just lifted off. And we were going to chase that one!
While many festival goers continued to pause on the streets to look up and pour in the event site itself, this Range Rover made its way from the field past the other balloons to the other end of the field.
I had a very awesome view from the ground, being a little closer to the balloons that were lifting one by one.
Well, more like from a window.
Our very capable chase crew driver merged with the crowd and, through the help of the event enforcers, made our way to the opposite road where it was less jammed, honking along the way. We had with us a number of able-bodied men forced to sit out al fresco at the special platform that was being towed by the retrieve vehicle. This is where they would put a retrieved hot air balloon basket and its contents.
All the excitement died down for a while as I found myself dozing on and off for around an hour. I was very comfortable at the back of an air-conditioned 4x4. Hehe.
We followed the balloons into small roads and barangays. I saw them above roofs and near wires, trees and shrubs.
I lost track of where I was and gave up trying to remember. My attention was divided between looking in front and out the windows (left and right). Things started to heat up when we received news that the balloons were about to land.
The wind brought to the balloons in the same area where they had landed the day before. I was caught completely off-guard with all the volcanic ash on this part of Clark.
We had to cross a small river and the guys at the back had to hold on for some Range Rover action.
I had wanted their spot at first but it's a very good thing I didn't get my wish. They were splashed with water and "mud" plus they had to cover the faces with all the volcanic debris in the air and hang on tight at the same time, not to mention close their eyes and sunbathe in direct sunlight the whole time.
The 4x4 easily rammed into mounds and mounds of grayish white dirt and we bounced up and down inside the vehicle.
We stopped to look for the right balloon with a view of other balloons from a distance.
It was harder than I thought, for the balloons were deflating fast and ours was already flat on the ground.
We found it near the X that serves as the judging point for the winner on this day's race.
As I had discovered a year earlier, one of the versions of how hot air balloons race is by throwing the nearest marker to the big red X.
It took six men to fold, pack up and load the balloon cloth onto our vehicle.
They had to give up their seats and get in the basket to ride with us back to the event site.
They stood under the hot blazing sun for more than an hour! Unlike being nog-nog (translation - "sunburned") like them, I fell asleep comfortably inside the Range Rover. Hehe. I was very thankful for the day but I was dead tired because I hadn't slept yet. My energy was spent and the adventure had a very happy ending. We finally made it back by 9:30 a.m.!
My thoughts? The residents and children have the best view of the Hot Air Balloons! They were running around unrestricted and beat us to the balloons. Plus chasing even just one hot air balloon is definitely worth it and riding a 4x4 in mounds of ash taller than I am is so much fun! Someone actually told me that the landing site used to be a river before the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and that really covered a lot of ground.
All I can say is that my best travel adventures turn up when I least expect it. I'm going to borrow from the words of a book that I'm reading now (Learn to Make Time by Lucy MacDonald), it says, "If you don't know where you are headed, then any road will take you there."
- I loved running with all my might (unexpectedly) to the end of that field during that early morning to get on that Range Rover. I didn't know I could run that fast.
- I loved seeing my friend in action (he was doing a great job boss-ing around with more than one walkie talkie haha).
- I loved how our Kuya driver took us in for the ride. He was so dependable and indispensable to the chief balloonist for the day.
- I loved the spirit of bayanihan and go-for-all-terrain attitude that our chase crew showed. That basket must have weighed a lot and there is definitely a technique to folding that hot air balloon. Just standing under all that sun and holding on to the vehicle was outstanding.
- I loved that Range Rover for my first 4x4 adventure, for the many over-the-top (think non-stop roller coaster ride) bouncing and for the many naps that I took during that 3-hour escapade.
- I loved that mini river that splashed the guys and proved that the vehicle was really for "all-terrain".
- I loved the white dirt that flooded my shoes and made my hair hard. I lived it (tried "climbing" a dirt "mountain - taller than me) and breathed it (until I got a little sick the next day haha).
- I loved the sun that made my pictures nice and made me sweat like a pig.
- I loved the view and a new experience of Clark.
- Most of all, I loved the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta for the opportunity of a lifetime. Now I know a place where the Hot Air Balloons land!
It doesn't matter if you and I have to wait until February of next year again for the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Air Boss Carlo was right the first time we met, being on a chase crew is another adventure to tell and experience =)