Truth be told, my interest in attending the annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Clark has waned after my hot air balloon ride in Melbourne. That doesn’t explain why on the morning of February 11, I was standing in a field inside the Clark Freeport Zone with some of the Lakbay Norte friends.
Maybe it’s because of stress, boredom or just wanting to see the group again (we’re actually meeting AGAIN later) or a mix of all three. Besides, who can resist impromptu plans to drive two hours out of Manila in the middle of the night?
For those who are planning to go there this weekend, my advise is to leave as earlier than 4am. Our plan was to leave Quezon City at 3:30am, but it was already 4am when we pulled out of McDonald’s Muñoz. There wasn’t much traffic yet, but there were a number of trucks lumbering along EDSA and the North Luzon Expressway. We slowed down somewhere in Bulacan (or was it Pampanga already? I can’t tell, it was dark), when one lane in the northbound lane was designated for vehicles going south. Other possible traffic spots would be the Angeles exit and the entrance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) grounds.
Tickets cost Php 150 per person and it’s good for one day. This lets you into the huge event ground. There are several booths selling all sorts of trinkets (most note even remotely connected to flight), exihibit of various light aircrafts, photo exhibit of the AFP, and of course, the huge open field where the balloons will inflate and take off, which will also be the site for other aerosport activities that will be held throughout the day (sky diving exhibition, ultralight flying, paragliding, kite flying, etc).
We entered the AFP grounds around 5:30am, and there were still no balloons in sight. Hot air ballooning is very dependent on the weather, so there is never any guarantee if the balloons will take flight on any given date. It was just past 6am when the first 4×4 entered the field, pulling balloon equipment. Soon, the field was abuzz with pilots and their crew, laying their balloons on the ground and setting up the baskets with the equipment.
A ripple of excitement passed through the crowd as one by one, the balloons started taking shape and slowly rose to the air. The event was formally opened with the Philippine Army Flag jump — a skydiver parachutes to the ground carrying a Philippine Flag as the Rondalla on Wheels play the national anthem.
One by one, the balloons take flight. Aside from the usual shapes, there are a couple of interestingly shaped balloons — a beer bottle, a sun, a barn and a turtle. By 7:30am, all the balloons are up in the air. After taking some more pictures, we started heading to the exit to get some breakfast before heading back to Manila. Everybody had the same idea, and there was a long line of cars waiting for their turn to exit the parking lot.
All in all, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was a pretty good experience. Of course, it’s the company that made the trip much more fun. If you’re going, make the most out of your trip by viewing the exhibits or seeing other sites within Pampanga. Otherwise, it can be quite frustrating as you stare wistfully at the balloon, wishing you’re taking in the views from inside the basket.