Thursday, February 21, 2013

My First Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Experience

I love experiencing new things and visiting different places. In the past years, I've often wanted to go and be part of the annual hot air balloon festival in Clark, Pampanga but circumstances did not permit me to do so ... until this year. 

A few days ago, one of my editors asked me if I'd like to do a business-angled story (watch out for it in Manila Bulletin in the coming days) on UPS, the official logistics services provider of the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. I said yes after asking hubby's permission to go on an overnight trip. 

So I found myself in the company of two, very nice and energetic, young people who handle PR for UPS and off we went yesterday afternoon to Clark where we stayed overnight in a villa at the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino. The place is huge having three bedrooms with queen-sized beds and even a maid's quarter! It also has a spacious living room, a kitchen, and a dining table where we ate dinner. Since we were quite far from the hotel building, we didn't have WiFi access and, unfortunately, our phones' 3G connection (all of us had Globe lines) were useless. 

Later last night, we visited the UPS warehouse just in time to see men unloading packages from a Boeing 767. Mr. Nelson Agbing, Gateway Supervisor, told us they get deliveries twice a day. My companions and I noticed several jets bearing the Breitling name and were informed that those would be flying during the hot air balloon event the next day. I was excited to see what the pilots have in store for us.

Back at the villa past 12MN, we grabbed a few hours of sleep before proceeding to the Omni Aviation Complex early this morning where the balloons would be flying. Good thing we arrived there before the sun was up because it was a long walk going from the parking lot to the main gate. If you're going there this weekend and got a driver, have him drop you off under the flyover first before he parks your vehicle or else you'll be in for a lot of exercise. That's a good thing if you don't have kids with you as little ones would probably get tired from walking even before they arrive at the first gate.

Thanks to the Photo Passes that UPS provided us with, we got inside the VIP area where we could really go near, and even touch, the balloons! I bumped into several blogger friends and we had the time of our lives taking photos of each other beside the colorful balloons spread out around us. Lovely kites were also being flown in one area.

Before the balloon pilots and their crew started firing up the hot air, we first witnessed three skydivers jump from a plane and who gracefully floated down. One of them had a huge Philippine flag (the size of four cars, according to the emcee) tied on one leg. It fascinated me that he landed exactly when the last strains of the Philippine anthem ended. That was some feat!

Among the balloons, I'd have to say that the tulip bouquet design was my top favorite because it is soooo colorful and pretty. Too bad the strong wind prevented it from flying during opening day but I hope it would get its shot in the next coming days.

There were also other creatively-shaped balloons including AXE Philippines' spacecraft (they even brought along an astronaut and shapely AXE girls to promote their goal of sending the first Filipino to space), the Department of Tourism's sun balloon displaying the It's More Fun in the Philippines slogan (DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez was there to show his support), an upside-down boy who looked like it could be Humpty Dumpty, a pink elephant, and a firetruck that thankfully made it up in the air.

I think all the regularly-shaped balloons were able to fly though. It was glorious seeing all of them rise up to the sky one by one. 

Afterwards, we saw several exhibitions including some complicated maneuverings by skilled Filipino pilot Capt. Meynard Halili who flew in a light plane made of fabric and metal. In addition, seeing the seven Breitling jets fly in unison and then in different formations took our breaths away. I got  my wish to see them up in the air and it ... was ... fantastic! 

You still have time to catch the beautiful sights of the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. It runs until this weekend. Some tips and reminders though: 

1. Wear comfortable closed shoes so your feet won't get too dirty from all the dust that are stirred by the wind and the planes.
2. Bring sunglasses, umbrella, sunblock lotion, and water. There are few shaded areas near the field so you'll be at the mercy of the elements. The heat of the sun can get pretty scalding even before 10AM rolls around.
3. If you tend to feel itchy or sneezy because of too much dust, bring something to cover half of your face like a mask or bandanna. 

Entrance tickets are priced at P250 each. For other information that I wasn't able to provide, please visit the event's official Facebook page here.  

To see more photos I took during Opening Day, please view this Facebook album where there are more than 100 pictures.

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