Wednesday, March 7, 2012

High in the sky over San Miguel

A balloon ride one morning as seen from our house.
We had the great pleasure of having Janan's parents, Al & Carol, stay in a neighboring house for just over a month this past February.  The kids loved getting to run over to Nana and Poppa's place after school, and we all had many laughs together.  Along with a couple of tequilas.  Unfortunately, they had to head back to the cold north earlier than we all would have liked, but just before they left, we got to surprise Carol with a pre-birthday gift of a hot air balloon ride over San Miguel!  She has always wanted to do this, and we had seen the balloons so many mornings from our house, so this was an easy decision...

It didn't start out so smoothly, however, as the first day we got out to the departure field only to pack it all back up and try again the next day.  The wind was simple too stiff for a safe landing.  Though disappointed, we certainly appreciated our pilot Jay's insistence that safety came first.  The thought of being dragged sideways on the ground was not too pleasant, especially given the fact that the terrain around here is covered in countless varieties of spike-laiden cacti and various types of thorny trees.

Day one:  wind test proves it's too windy.  The test?  Release a helium balloon and watch.
If it blows farther than higher, it's a no go.
The next morning, unfortunately, was no better, as Carol was suffering from a bit of a stomach issue.  So much to the delight of Will and Alya, we pushed it back a day further.  Which meant we'd be trying the third time (hopefully the charm) on a Monday morning.  That could only mean one thing: no school!  So we got up at 5:30am again, and this time, we got the green light!  Thank god.  I wasn't sure how many more times I was going to survive getting up before 6:00am.

A little sleepy, but we are ready to go!
The pre-flight process is simpler than I had imagined.  The balloon, basket, and a few other items are unloaded, the balloon is unrolled onto a giant tarp, cables & carabiners attaching it to the basket are connected, a large gas-motor fan is started, ambient air is blown into the balloon to inflate it, and lastly some extended blasts of the gas burner get the air warm enough to rise up in prep for a take off.

Step 1:  tarp down.
Step 2:  balloon unrolled from the bag.
Step 3: Fill the balloon with a big fan.
Step 3.5:  Try to keep Will focused.
Step 4:  wait.  It doesn't take long...
Step 5:  Don't forget the money shot!  Jay ran me around to the top of the balloon to make sure I got this shot through the top hole looking back at Carol and Will and Alya standing inside the balloon.
Step 6:  add hot air...
... lots of hot air.
Final step:  Get in!  Quick!  This bird wants to fly!
So we all piled into the basket (Carol, Tom, Janan, Will, Alya, and the pilot Jay) and it was up, up and away...

Janan met us via taxi (our car was in the shop).
Her driver couldn't resist hanging around to see us off.
It was a first for all of us, and such an amazingly beautiful and peaceful experience.  It took a few minutes for the adults to get used to the fact that the edge of the basket was no higher than waist level, and the ground was way, way down below.  But it didn't take long for the nerves to settle.  To float with no real control over your direction is quite a feeling.  Yet I must admit, Jay's experience was impressive.  He knew exactly what the various breezes and drafts were going to do during our ride, and by adjusting the altitude to either catch or avoid the various airflows that result from this mountainous and gorge-carved terrain, he was able to put us into a perfect drift pattern that took is right over the center of San Miguel...

The central Jardin & Cathedral
Wow!  What a ride!
And it sure beats school!

Janan and her mom are enjoying the ride too!
... then Jay dropped us into a current coming down through a gorge that pushed us westward, keeping us low as we drifted over the neighborhood of Independencia.  Apparently the gas burner, when blasted at various intervals, gives off a high-frequency pitch similar to a dog whistle.  Inaudible to us, but it drove every dog in the neighborhood crazy, which the kids found amusing...

Some kids on a roof waiving back.
These kids weren't so lucky as to get to skip school, but they certainly enjoyed waiving as we drifted overhead!
Finally, we caught a cross-wind that directed us north-easterly for a precise landing on the local golf course.

Looking down at Jay's van chasing us towards the landing site...
The three ladies safely back on the ground.
All in all, the ride lasted about an hour, and it was a truly magical ride.  It only took about 20 minutes to deflate the balloon and pack it all up, so it was just shortly after 9:00 am when we got back into town and decided to grab some breakfast together, much to Alya and Will's relief, as I couldn't resist the urge to fool them into momentarily believing that we were going to drop them off at school.

Buttery pancakes and waffles with whipped cream & strawberries.  What a day! And it's only 9:00am!!!
If you get the chance, it should be a Bucket-List item to try a hot air balloon ride.  And San Miguel de Allende is not a bad place to do it.

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