Up, Up and Away in a Hot Air Balloon Over the Pyrenees
After awaking at the crack of dawn, I walked outside my hotel on a crisp, clear morning and saw the stars shining as bright as I have ever seen them shine. I could not get the song ‘Up, Up and Away’ by The 5th Dimension out of my head. As a kid, I remember hearing that song again and again as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s or dentist’s office. Hearing that song always made me wonder what it would be like to go for a ride in a hot air balloon. On this morning, some 25 to 30 years later, I would find out exactly what it was like.
Before daybreak, my travel companions and I left the Hotel Grevol in Llanars, Spain behind and boarded the bus headed for the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. My dream of riding in a hot air balloon was about to become a reality. With the exception of the bus’ engine and the intermittent whistling of its hydraulics, the journey down the road to the launch site was as silent as the night was dark.
Upon arriving at the departure site, I could see the light of day starting to creep up on the horizon. As I made my way down the path amongst the morning fog and the ‘cock a doodle doos’ of some nearby roosters, I could see that the preparations had already begun.
Two balloons, each with their accompanying basket, were being carefully unfolded and laid out. Once this stage of the preparation was complete, a representative from Vol de Coloms (all four of whom are brothers) brought over a large, gas powered fan and began the process of filling the giant balloon.
Our group decided to find a place to keep warm, but our search ended before it even began. Our pilot had just fired up the first loud burst of flames into the balloon. This meant the air filling process was over and the final preparations before lift off had begun. After a number of five second flame bursts, the balloon was completely vertical and heading skyward. It was time to jump in the basket. Before long, our adventure was underway.
Unlike any other type of air travel that I’ve experienced, there was little to the process of becoming airborne. In fact, I had not even realized that we were no longer on the ground until one of the other twelve passengers announced they could not believe we had already lifted off.
From the moment we lifted off to the moment we gently touched back down, I felt like I was floating in space. There was not a single bump, nor turbulence. We were literally floating with the wind.
With the exception of the four pronged flame thrower above our heads being flipped on by the pilot, the only thing we heard was the sound of our own voices intertwined with the animal sounds (including cow bells and rooster calls) from below.
As I peered down, the first site my attention was drawn to was the aerial view of the Santa Margarida volcano. The volcano, the largest in the region, has a perfect cone and lush vegetation that circles the rim of the crater.
The 90 minute plus, cava filled flight over the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park also took us over the lovely town of Hostalets d’en Bas (which I had the opportunity to visit the following day). The main street, lined with terraced houses and shops covered with red marigolds and flying Catalonian flags, gave me the clear impression that Hostalets d’en Bas is a very cohesive community.
Another highlight of the journey, was the sight of the second balloon floating alongside us throughout the flight. The image of this balloon in the sky added another element of beauty to an already endless amount of eye catching scenery.
As we began the first of a few attempts at landing, I noticed the huge shadow of our balloon’s basket sailing along a nearby mountainside. Having a great time while snapping away with our cameras, the wind eventually led us toward number of corn fields where we eventually made our gentle landing.
Following the pilot’s direction, we hopped out of the basket and walked across the freshly tilled corn field to the van and trailer where we waited for the brothers to pack up their precious equipment. When they finished, our group piled into two vans and took a slumber filled ride to the hot air balloon company shop for a very nice brunch.
The most surprising thing to me about the journey was the sensation of floating. We floated fifteen hundred kilometers above the earth and, at times, it was absolutely silent. I did not even hear the wind blow at any point throughout my flight.
As I gazed out over the beautiful Pyrenees during the trip, a new tune popped into my head. The tune I now heard was the simple introduction to ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.’