Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010: Up, UP AND AWAY!!!

(Karannina) This morning we woke up at 5:30 with great anticipation that we would go hot air ballooning! We drove to the site where we would take off. Our pilot told the rules: how to get in and stay in til we have landed. Our balloon navigator took 4 balloon tests to test the direction of the wind and how strong the wind was. All three of the ground crew only got as far as taking the balloon basket off the trailer and attaching it to the balloon. We never got the chance to see how big the balloon was, as most of it was still in a huge bag on the smaller trailer. Our pilot, after checking the wind conditions one more time with a balloon and observing the tips of the tall trees swaying, he told us that we have to abort the flight mission until the evening. DISAPPOINTED, we drive back hoping to get a glimpse of the Chateau Chenonceau. But we only got as far as the first moat and the huge wall, which was at least one kilometer away from the Chateau. When we got back home, mom called France Mongolfiere to confirm our evening flight. Space was available for this evening's flight and we crossed our fingers, hoping we would be able to fulfill our dreams of flying in a hot air balloon. And guess what happened :) After we finished our homework and snoozed (not including Alex), we meet the balloon ground crew and pilot at the launch site. After one balloon test, our pilot confirms our flight. Quickly the ground crew removes the basket from the trailer, attaches the balloon to the basket and unravels 30 metres of balloon fabric and additional 20 metres of ropes on the grass. Finally we know that our balloon can hold 100,000 cubic metres of hot air in order to lift 16 people, the pilot (and one parachute: I wonder who that was for?) and 5 tanks of fuel. Surprisingly, not like stories of hot air balloons, the crew didn't attach weights to the basket like we were expecting. Instead they secured the hot air balloon basket to the Range Rover. Huge loud Honda movie fans blew cold air to fill the balloon while our pilot walked in the balloon to secure the ropes critical for moving and landing (controlling the air flow) while the ground crew kept the bottom of the balloon open for the air to fill. Immediately after, we were instructed to walk in front of the powerful fans and crawl into the one of the 5 compartments of the basket, three people per compartment. The pilot unleashed huge flames devouring the propane gas, forcing it into the bottom hole of the balloon in order to raise the balloon upright, while the ground crew was holding the ropes for the top of the balloon secure, releasing the cold air and retaining the warm air within the balloon. Poor Range Rover, its front end slowly lifted off the ground. Quickly the ground crew jumped on the end of the basket to weigh it down, while one released the teather line attached to the Range Rover (thanks for slip knots). Then we were airborn and free with the wind. You could hear the "WOW! WOW!! WOW!!! WOW!!!!" as balloon riders expressed their exilheration. As we floated farther and farther away from the ground, I felt like this was a dream. It didn't feel realistic at all. There was sooo much to see! You would have to have 4 heads just to get a glimpse of everything. Once I thought I saw sheep grazing, but there were cows, not sheep at all! I waved to people down below so much, that now I have a sore arm! I almost forgot, we also saw Chateau Chenonceau from the hot air balloon. We also got to see a gipsy camp. They were burning their garbage. At one time our pilot flew is sooo close to the water (we flew over the Cher river the whole flight) that I was getting really worried, "Is he (our pilot) trying to scare us or has the hot air balloon gone out of control?" but our pilot was trying to get as low as possible, so photographers on board could take nice pictures and so viewers, like Alex and I, get to see a different view. The one hour ride was the most enjoyable time of my life (so far). Close to the landing time, our pilot told us the landing would be rough, because he had to land right in between 2 trees. He said that we had to bend our knees so our legs wouldn't take the full impact. Some of the ground crew had to help us land. The basket had to be in a certain position so they could get the basket back onto the trailer. As our pilot attempted to stablize the balloon with the challenge of ensuring that it would not get caught in the trees on either side, Dad and other strong men climbed out and helped push the basket. We went through thorn bushes before the balloon and basket were in a place were we could get out. Sure it was a bumpy landing, but it was more adventurous for me. During the landing, Dad actually took a video instead of bending into the basket. I was surprised that he didn't fall out. Once out of the basket, the entire flight crew and flyers teamed together pulled so that the balloon would lie on the field in a straight line, remove all the hot air from the balloon by squeezing it from the bottom to the top, and the we helped carry the balloon back into its large carrying bag. To celebrate our safe landing and teamwork, we joined the crew for a champagne toast (and orange juice) and received a certificate of first time flying with courage, cold blood (direct translation) and bravery. After a beautful sunset to end the day, we head home ready for wonderful dreams of flying...

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