Repeating an experience, especially in exactly the same place, may seem an unnecessary indulgence. When the experience is a hot air balloon flight in the La Garrotxa region of the Catalan Pyrénées however, it is anything but a waste of time.
Every experience is different, even a repeated one, in infinite different ways, small details, which if observant enough enable travellers to discover the uniqueness of each experience.
A welcome change was the later start, probably due to short winter days, meaning catching dawn did not need waking before the cockerels. However, uncertain weather conditions, delayed the flight still further and we eventually took off around mid-morning. Once they decided to go however, they quickly inflated the giant, nylon ‘garlic bulb’, and were ready to float on the wind, a blast of hot flame, and we had lift off.
The later start meant missing out on the ever-changing hues of a Catalonian dawn, but the distant mountains of the Pyrénées, cloaked in their winter livery were spectacular. Floating high above a low-lying fluffy blanket of cloud in a clear blue sky, with occasional domes of long extinct volcanoes poking through white and grey candyfloss.
I’m certain our group literally had to catch our breath on several occasions, but then shadow of the balloon was reflected on the clouds. It was an especially impressive sight, a several hundred foot high mirror image of our floating chariot projected onto a huge cloud.
There was only one balloon flying this time, which was slightly unfortunate, as the best images from the last flight included our sister craft flying over a predawn volcanic landscape.
The group was also quite different, equally photogenic, but less stunned silence, and more animated, they provided ample Kodak moments. It seemed just as sensible to aim the lens at their antics, and try to record their reactions as the stunning scenery. At one point or Spanish videographer Diego, called his parents on Skype, it was cool to have them join us on our flight, his Mum in particular seemed almost as excited as us.
A breakfast of cava, and cake was one welcome similarity of the two flights, there is something special about toasting the morning above the clouds. The chink of champagne flutes, probably carries for miles and it was easy to imagine farmers, and shoppers hundreds of metres below out feet looking up, wondering where the sound originated from.
This was another welcome feature of this flight, the way sound carries for great distances, we were still able to hear the sounds of the world far below. Dogs barking, vehicles being started as people headed to work, or school, the world continuing to turn oblivious to the excited group drifting on the winds high above them. It felt slightly voyeuristic, as if we were eavesdropping on their daily routine, concealed from their view by a cotton wool like shroud.
All too soon the flight came to a bumpy end, on the last occasion our basket had seemed to ‘kiss’ the ground on landing, this time it basically rugby tackled it, almost crash landing, and bouncing half way across a handy empty field.
The nice guys at Vol de Coloms provided a typical Catalan lunch of crusty bread smothered in garlic and tomato, along with cured meats, sliced sausages and cheeses.
Another great experience, a wonderful new one, that I’m grateful to have been given a repeat performance.