Balloon Fest’s Last Day

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While my wife and I lined up at the event’s entrance gate, I heard over the PA system that there would be some delay in the morning’s program. The wind that was supposed to make everything fly was the same wind that forced almost everything that flies grounded. The irony.

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Moments later a rewarding sight came–the static line jump pushed through. The view of rounded gray chutes dropping side by side from a military cargo plane reminded me of combat movies. Back in the days, this view either sent hope or fear depending on who are watching these soldiers descend.

There were several pauses again to wait for a tolerable wind speed and once the signal was given, the view overhead filled with colorful skydivers’ canopies.  A number of sorties were made. The crowd were clapping as skydivers flaired and landed one after the other. Since last year’s event, these skydivers especially from the military had my respect as I was under the impression then that most of the good ones are civilians due to budget constraints on the government side–my 1st and last skydive instructor is a Colonel. They proved me wrong when I saw them execute long freefalls and even stacking. I’ve never been so proud of the Philippine military.

What followed next are the aircraft exhibitions.  A helicopter and a couple of small planes sped past at low altitude and climbed at a dizzying rate. The planes completed a nauseating roll. In spite of my basic knowledge of aerodynamics (howstuffworks.com, anyone?) I still can’t help but ask what makes it fly, why and how it flies, and who flies it. I’m always green with envy when I shoot the who question.

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Short shadows=short temper.

As the shadows went shorter, I went multitasking. I was air traffic controller, weatherman and psychologist. I was reading the wind cone, checking the air temperature while reading my wife’s gestures.  It seems like there’s a direct link between the first two factors and my wife. She was cowering into the remaining shades and faking a sleep—a tell-tale sign of irritation and boredom. So just as any sane husband would, I asked her if she’d like a break from the event. The answer was clear.

Few minutes later we’re at SM Clark’s Cabalen restaurant eating a buffet lunch. Wifey at this point is now full and smiling. I didn’t regret doing so either. The tapang kalabaw is remarkably soft and tasted good.

Past 12 noon, we decided to check the hotel which I booked online. There I realized, that it seems like I have a knack of picking comfortable but nevertheless weird accommodations. This time I booked us in Swagman Resort Hotel for an overnight stay. Good thing we got an upgrade. Instead of the standard room, the hotel clerk gave us the deluxe family room still for Php 1400. Nice. High five.

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Waking up after a two-hour siesta in the hotel room, we hurried back to the balloon fest site. As I approached the parking lot, I saw that the balloon bursting contest is on-going. Little did I know that by the time we got settled near at the shady hangar, I won’t be seeing any of it anymore. What I saw outside was to be the last leg of the contest. Grrr. The price to pay for a siesta. I also didn’t know if we missed the synchronized kite flying and kite surfing too, but what I witnessed once again was Mr. Bill Wright’s aerobatics and several sets of skydiving exhibition. I’m hoping that next year they’d place a jumbo monitor for the crowd to witness videos of the freefalls.

Disappointed, I continued shooting videos of what’s going around the exhibition ground. Then an announcement came that made me interested once more. An awarding ceremony is going to happen at the event’s control center. And the names that were paged sounded familiar, so I left my wife at her post to see the ceremony.

In front of me was Peter (PFSG founder) who won 3rd place in the balloon bursting competition and Tonet (PFSG supremo). These are the guys I interact with online on Philskies.net–thanks to Mark who happens to be with me during last year’s event. (Mark gave me hangar access and I was able to see skydivers pack their canopies in front of us.) I was able to chat with Tonet who in person is just as articulate as he is in his blog. Frankly speaking, I was starstruck. Unknown to him, he is one of those who inspired me to have my own blog site.

When I got back to my wife at her spot in front of the hangar, I was thinking how to explain to her the lull in the exhibitions. No other reason but just the windy condition—not acceptable to the impatient. I tried convincing her to pose in front of the gun exhibits but to no avail. So we decided to stay still and entertain ourselves with whatever is ongoing.

Dusk came and the wind calmed down. One after the other, the hot air balloons inflated. Huge rounded canopies came into life. Around 20 different shapes and colors of balloons covered the horizon in front of us.  It was so massive that the last batch of skydivers and a lone Malaysian paraglider were dwarfed. And on cue everyone approached the fence to catch a glimpse of the spectacular sight. Every gadget that can capture pictures—from cell phone cameras to giant DSLRs—came out in unison to grab their own share of the scenic event.

Accomplished what we came here for, we headed back to our hotel together with the rest of the exiting crowd. It’s funny but I even find the sight of a hundred vehicles coming out of the parking lot on a very dusty trail a spectacle by itself.  The way going out of the area is so dusty that at some point there’s zero visibility and the only way to see the road again is to slow down in order to stay away from the vehicle in front until the dust settles down.

Once we reached the hotel, we parked (worriedly) Mary in their weird parking lot and then tried the resort’s restaurant. And just as weird as the parking lot, we found ourselves having dinner in front of women who seemed to be practicing a dance routine. Deep in my mind, they’ll likely be wearing at least a swim suit come past 10 PM to the delight especially of the American customers. But fairly, we find the food great and needless to say, so does does the beers. Cheers!

 

We Could Steal Cars

“Very nice…High Five…” – Borat Sagdiyev

Having planned a road trip with wifey for quite some time, even when we still have our trusty Kia Pride, the 12th PIHABF (Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta) came as the perfect moment. So I filed for a two-day vacation leave month ahead in anticipation of this event. And just like ants preparing for a rainy day, my wife and I went shopping a week ahead for clothing, food and storage–buying a Coleman cooler justified.

Feb 10. Past 3 AM. With the car’s boot filled with the stuffs we need, we set off. The early morning drive went well as expected. Traffic was light from Cavite to NLEX and in the back of my mind I began imagining picking a good parking spot and a good vantage point for us to witness the balloon flight before dawn. I fought the urge to floor the pedal. At some brief point the speedometer was at 120 yet the Honda City stayed stable despite it. Realizing the car’s capability, the temptation to go faster became stronger but sanity and the presence of the speed limits along the highway kept me from doing so.

In the middle of the trip, we decided to stop by Total gas station in San Simon and it was when the most unlikely thing happened. While waiting for the attendant to fill the tank to the brim, my wife and I decided to step out of the car. I grabbed some water in the boot while she picked something in the gas station’s store. Unconsciously, we both closed the doors with the car key still inside. A minute after I shut the boot door and while lazily stretching myself, I heard the car alarm’s beep followed by the sound of a latching door lock. Damn, for a moment I saw myself turned pale. I almost cried in despair. We got locked out!

After hopelessly trying to wake myself up from a bad dream, I started considering some options and eagerly asked help from the gas attendants and other people who also stopped for gas. The inputs ranged from the ridiculous yet the most direct–shattering the glass window, to the tiring and frustrating 60-kilometer public commute back going to Cavite to grab the spare key, and to the most viable yet costly option of hiring a locksmith to do the job. Also considered was taking chances if other Honda car keys will match. That one didn’t work, as expected. For the first time I hated Honda’s wave key and alarm feature.

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Always. Bring. Spare. Key.

The thought of missing the balloon fest and ruining our trip made me decide to seek the locksmith’s assistance so I called the guy referred by a gasoline attendant. I was greeted by a man sounding a bit irritated–I understand the feeling of being awakened early Sunday morning–yet he was kind enough to encourage me to keep on trying by opening it through the door handle using a stiffer wire to reach into the lock. The mixture of desperation, the thought of a Hazard Pay’s episode, a welding rod wire, and persuasion from my wife seemed to work together after the phone conversation.

After an hour of trial and error, the lock tab popped. To say I shouted for joy would be an understatement. Upon checking my watch, I learned that we’ve been locked out for almost two hours already.  Without wasting another minute more we continued our trip but only after giving a ride to the two gas boys who stayed with us until the end of their night — they were our cheering team during the whole ordeal. My wife and I exchanged congratulations several times on our way to Dau. We kidded ourselves as being able to be in cahoots as carjackers. Honda City owners beware.

We arrived in the Balloon fest area past 7 AM, tired but glad we still made it. Parking far from the entrance gate didn’t matter anymore. Just being at the site bustling with people to watch an event featuring everything that flies is satisfying enough.