May the Wind welcome you with softness
May the Sun bless you with warm hands
May you fly so high and so well
that God joins you in laughter
and may He sit you gently back again
into the loving arms of Mother Earth!
Words from the Balloonist’s Irish Blessing that our pilot Bill recited to us, as we enjoyed a champagne toast after landing from our lovely hot air balloon ride, over the rolling hills of Rancho Santa Fe.
Hot Air Ballooning was not only on my 50 Weeks list, but also on my youngest sister Roselma’s wish list. She had recently turned 40, so my other sister Liza and I decided the balloon ride would be the perfect present. Along with our sister from another mother Sharon, we made up a fun foursome for the sunset ride.
We first meet the rest of the group in a Del Mar shopping center, and were directed to find the silver van at the side of the bank. Once there, our contact Jamie informed us that because of the incoming clouds, there was a slight possibility that the flight may not happen. Safety first he said, which was okay by us. Falling from the sky while in a hot air balloon was not on my 50 Weeks list.
Once we get the a-ok, a dozen of us pile into the van (we should of had one of these during our Little League days) to head to our takeoff spot. Us four get the back row of the van, which Jamie tells us means we are the VIPs. But considering how tight it was to get seated in the back seat, I wonder how we’ll be in the balloon.
There are three other hot air balloons at the takeoff spot in Rancho Santa Fe, which I honestly can’t remember where it was. A couple of the balloons were already getting filled up, and once we were there, the ground crew started prepping our balloon. And since the balloon is about 10 stories high, it takes a while. The basket, where all of us will squeeze on to, starts off on its side, and once the balloon is full of hot air, the basket is turned upright. We are then to climb over the side of the basket using the cut out foot holes. Boy, it’s a good thing we wore sneakers.
You can not only see the flames heat up the air for the balloon, but you can definitely feel it. Before you know it, the balloon is filled with hot air and is ready for boarding. I get to climb in first, then my sisters with Sharon following. It’s a somewhat clumsy feeling going over the basket side, as you basically fall into the huge woven basket. I felt like I was a little birdie being dropped into a nest. And being so short, the basket sides are high enough that there’s no way I would accidentally fall over mid air.
Soon enough, the rest of the passengers are in, Bill gives a quick spiel on safety, and that he will be continuing to add hot air to the balloon throughout the ride and that it’s very loud — which it is and I was right under it. Next thing you know, I happen to look down and we’re already up in the air. Up we go, floating higher and higher, enjoying the views of the ocean and estate dotted hillsides.
Boy, Bill did a fabulous job of piloting the balloon up and down, and around so smoothly. You couldn’t even tell when we were rising or falling; movements were seamless. The ride was peaceful, yes very peaceful. Looking at the beautiful landscape of San Diego’s rolling hills and ocean vistas was calming. And the estates of Rancho Santa Fe put you in a dreamlike state. You think, okay one day I will have a house like that, or oh I like that home’s style better than that other one. Or I will also put in a vineyard or rows of fruit trees on my estate. Or I like the shape of that infinity pool. Ahh, one day.
Bill also pointed out homes of various celebs such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Phil Mickelson, and Bill Gates. We saw burnt hillsides that creeped up close to homes. Then there was the deer sighting in one of the canyons, I never even knew there was wild deer in our areas. And I especially loved that people who lived below would come out of their homes and wave to us. People are so friendly.
Other balloons were flying too and we all followed the same general path, making sure to communicate via walkie talkie with each other so as not to knock one over. The clouds were slowly dissipating, making way for the brilliant sunset colors that San Diego gifts us.
I could have fallen asleep if I wasn’t so entranced by the vistas. Maybe this is why we will pay a premium for homes, or hotel rooms with a view. It’s very relaxing to sit and look. I start to think, wouldn’t it be great to have a dinner party up in a balloon? I wonder if they make passenger baskets with clear sides? Although, that might be a little scarier for my dinner guests, we wouldn’t want them losing their dinner.
Before I get a chance to nod off, Bill informs us that we will be landing soon and yes indeed we are headed towards a vacant construction lot. That past hour went by very smoothly. But, apparently we may have a bumpy landing, so we are told to hang on and bend our legs to lessen the impact. And since my sisters and I were short in the first place, we couldn’t see over the basket sides, and right as we landed…the ground crew popped up right in front of us to help hold the basket down. The sudden appearance of their faces spooked us and you would have thought we were on a haunted trail. The scariest part of the ride.
The basket did slide quite a bit, but the landing wasn’t that bad. We slowly wait our turn to clumsily again climb over the basket onto terra firma. The ground crew quickly pushes out the air to flatten the balloon. We then realize that it actually is quite windy on the ground. Up in the air, we didn’t notice at all.
We gather under the orange red sunset skies, while Bill recites the Irish Blessing. As we raise up our champagne plastic cups, we toast the very successful and gorgeous flight.
Hot air ballooning is a luxury well worth enjoying. No life lessons to be learned this week. Only the acknowledgment that every now and then, we all deserve to do something special for ourselves.
Panorama Balloon Tours, www.gohotair.com. They offer hot air balloon rides in Del Mar (sunset), Temecula (sunrise), Palm Springs, and Albuquerque. The Del Mar sunset rides are $270 weekdays, and $299 weekends per person. Look for regular Internet discounts and Groupon deals — ours was $270 for two.
The first manned hot air flight was in Ireland on January 19, 1785. A good website to find info on hot air ballooning is www.irishballooning.com.
Several areas have hot air balloon festivals such as the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival in late May, www.tvwbf.com; the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year on October 4 – 12, www.balloonfiesta.com; and the Irish Hot Air Balloon Meet on September 21 – 26 in County Waterford.