Philippines, Pampanga

A Weekend of Everything That Flies – The 18th Hot Air Balloon Festival

I’ve heard about the hot air balloon festival from a lot of friends. I was amazed at the colors playing in his photos.

Joy's favorite flowers - TULIPS
Joy’s favorite flowers – TULIPS

So by all means this year, I had to be there. I had to watch these balloons fly in the early morning, never mind not being able to ride it.

Coming from a team building the whole day of Saturday, straight from shift, I was exhausted as hell when I got home at 930 pm Saturday night. Which means waking up at 230am Sunday is kind of impossible especially that I was to sleep alone. I could just unconsciously snooze my alarms.

Luckily, I only overslept by 30mins, and I got up at 3am. By 330 I was already on-board a 5-star bus at the Cubao station waiting for it to take me closer to the balloons.

And because I didn’t have an extra charger with me, I did not enjoy the free wifi in the bus.  So I slept the more than an hour ride and woke up just in time for the bus’ arrival at the Mabalacat terminal (Dau). Other students behind me were headed for the same destination. They had mats, water jugs, umbrellas and food with them. I had malong, umbrella, sunblock, shades, food and water.

I was probably one of the quickest to move after getting off the bus. I was alone, and I had a Nike backpack which could carry up to 15Kg, so I was on my feet after I asked for directions. I walked a little bit to a gas station and crossed the street to board a jeep going to SM Main

After I got off it, I boarded another jeep to take us to the hot air balloon venue. However, it only took us to the Petron station and we had to walk 5-10 minutes more to get to the Omni Aviation Complex, where the 4-day hot air balloon fest was being held. There were free jeep rides that could have taken us there, but I didn’t know it at that time.

The announcer, Tonette Rivero (I hope I got the name right), and he’s a guy, gave us an overview of the events. He said that the hot air balloons had to take off in the early morning because the balloons wouldn’t take flight if the air outside is not colder than the air inside, and yes, that’s why it’s called a hot air balloon. So the best time to do this is always when the air is coldest.

He also explained the Hare and Hounds principle of the competition. The hare, which is the Philippine Air Lines balloon, will take off one minute ahead of the rest. After which, anyone who is ready to take off can do the same and as much as possible try to follow the trail of the hare balloon because the winner is judged on his nearness to the landing spot of the hare. I wonder who won the competition, though.

The Philippine Air Lines Balloon, the Hare Balloon
The Philippine Air Lines Balloon, the Hare Balloon

Easy? Not quite. He then added that the pilot (yes they are certified pilots) doesn’t have control over where the wind is going to take him. He can only control his altitude. Some years the wind was westward, some years the balloons reached Mt. Pinatubo, some years the balloons did
a complete u-turn after the wind blew them back to the take-off site.

Alone and new to the place, I fought to keep my spot as newcomers kept pressing forward. When the national anthem was sang, a para-glider who carried the Philippine flag flew back and forth the field. Such was my honor and pride at that instant.

Paraglider carrying the Philippine Flag during the flag ceremony
Paraglider carrying the Philippine Flag during the flag ceremony

Then the balloons started to take form: a bright yellow sun courtesy of the Department of Tourism, a bouquet of Tulips, the pink elephant which was inflated right infront of me but never got the chance to take off, the inverted guy, the largest specially-sized space shuttle courtesy of Axe, the firetruck, and all the other colorful balloons from Belgium, USA, Sweden, and Germany.

True enough, not all the balloons took the same route as the hare balloon. Tonette said that Angeles city is waking up to a very colorful sky as most of the balloons were blown to that direction.

It was followed by the skydivers led by a certain Commanding Col., who all jumped from 4000 feet above sea level. They acually wanted to get off at 8000 but it was too cloudy. Most of them felt “bitin” because of that but they nonetheless had fun, and so did we. Col. maneuvered in the sky after his free fall as he needed to lose altitude fast because he was supposed to land first.

I wonder how it would have felt to skydive. Hmmm. Next on my bucket list? Maybe.

Col. landed perfectly in the middle of the field and it wowed everyone. Next was the chaplain of the PNP, imagine you guys! A priest sky diving! And then all the others followed suit.

And if that’s not enough, and take note, the day just started, the ultra-light airplanes took flight and wowed us with it’s size that contrasted the flying stunts it actually did. The planes cost a fortune though but watching them fly, and land, in close view–priceless.

One of the Ultra Light Planes - made of aluminum and fiber
One of the Ultra Light Planes – made of aluminum and fiber

In the mean time, portalets were available, food and beverage like yellow cab, burger king, chicboy, and zagu, among others, were there. Stores selling balloon replicas, the official hot air balloon shirts, colorful kites at PhP200-PhP300, bags and all other stuff also abound inside the complex. I got one of the official shirts at PhP 250.00 Although size small is not too small and the shirt is a bit bigger than my regular size =)

There were also small planes displayed in the field by different flying schools:

A single-engine plane displayed at the Omni Aviation Complex
A single-engine plane displayed at the Omni Aviation Complex

Other cars were also parked / spread out in the complex. This one I particularly loved:

Would you please be mine, Mini?
Would you please be mine, Mini?

Alright, so back to the events. The Breitling Jets were outstanding and jaw-dropping. It gave us goosebumps though sometimes the narrator sounded funny, the jet stunts were just too movie-like to even be real.

They had different formations, head on would-be collision, break outs, and manuevers.

Here’s a photo from their website:

The Breitling Jets in formation
The Breitling Jets in formation

Uh-maze-zinggh =)

Here’s a photo taken by a good friend of mine, Mark Reyes:

One of the Breitling Jets during the 18th Hot Air Balloon Festival
One of the Breitling Jets during the 18th Hot Air Balloon Festival

Then we witnessed the rc-jet, which had a real jet engine, used jet gasoline, and even sounded and looked like one when it flew. Gosh, I want one of those! It even took off and landed just like the real jets before it, except of course, the real Breitling Jets took off and landed at the nearby Diosdado Macapagal International (Clark) airport.

What seemed to be a boring event followed, but after watching it, I was wrong. The light planes balloon burst competition. 6 planes, most of them cesnas, would release balloons from the ground (held by a person), and they would try to hit the balloons, while airborne.

The 2-engine Philippine Coast Guard Plane which carried the sky divers in the earlier part of the program
The 2-engine Philippine Coast Guard Plane which carried the sky divers in the earlier part of the program

There were 6 contestants, the Philippine Coast Guard, which missed all 4, 2 from Sapphire Aviation, one of which, Capt. Sandoval, won the contest after bursting all 4 balloons, one from Omni Aviation, the host, Tonette, from the Angeles Flying Club and one from, another flying school.

This is the winner of the competition: Captain Sandoval’s plane.

Captain Sandoval's Plane at the Balloon Bursting Competition
Captain Sandoval’s Plane at the Balloon Bursting Competition

At that point, about noon, it was too hot that even the umbrella surrendered. The air was humid and the dust was piling up on our faces. Zagu and cold water did not alleviate the heat. I then decided to go.

Our other friends, though we didn’t get to see each other, remained there until the glowing balloons during the night.

Here’s a picture captured by Romel Fernandez, one of our friends, who stayed till the closing part of the program:

Glowing Balloons on the last day, courtesy of Romel Fernandez
Glowing Balloons on the last day, courtesy of Romel Fernandez

So next year, just before the Panagbenga feast in Baguio, drop by Clark and witness for yourselves this spectacular event!

one photo courtesy of :

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