Up in the sky: It’s a cake! It’s a car! It’s a balloon!-A A +A
Saturday, February 11, 2012
EARLY morning Saturday, a group of yuppies aboard a pick-up truck were craning their necks upwards, howling and cheering: “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a cake! No, it’s a car! Oh, it’s an ice cream cone!”
Laughing and raising high fives, the young urban professionals who motored all the way from their Ortigas enclaves were actually watching in delight some of the first of 27 unique balloons from the US, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Sweden, and the Asian countries of Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea who took off for the early morning “glide in the sky” as part the 17th edition of the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
Cheska Sia, a marketing lass and leader of the adventurers, told Sun.Star Pampanga that it was their first time --- despite having heard, seen on TV and read on newspapers about the festival --- to actually witness “and be here for this spectacle of a weekend of everything that flies.”
“So much to see, from kites to planes. But we really are excited about the balloons and we’re just rearing to take a ride in one of those beautiful balloons,” Cheska giggled.
She and her gang, including youthful banker Raymond Garchiterona, said they didn’t really mind shelling out $200 or about P8,450 each for the ride of a lifetime: “That’s okay. We’ve saved for it way ahead. Besides, we got it on the hot air balloon website that the fee or contribution they call it, will go to scholarships for aviation students and wannabe pilots. That is fun and CSR in one! Great!”
Indeed, it is the spirit beyond the balloon festival. A check with the festival’s organizer Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Foundation, Inc., said the contribution and P200-whole day stay-in fee at the Clark Aviation Center grounds send poor high school graduates wishing to take aviation in college. Parts of the fees also fund major activities of the balloon fest.
Cheska, Raymond and their gang of six could not have hit the tone better as the festival, which took first flight in 1994 as initiated by then Department of Tourism chief Mina Gabor, together with Filipino balloon pilot Joy Roa, and South Korean balloonist Sung Kee Paik and British Airways executive John Emery, was actually meant to give relief to the devastated spirits of Kapampangans after Mount Pinatubo erupted.
Despite some controversies in the next few years, the February balloon fiesta became one of the most awaited tourism shown in the world where about 100,000 tourists flock to the Freeport for the sky extravaganza, this one ending its four-day lifts today Sunday.
And as Cheska her friend Gail wait for their balloon of choice’s 45-minute inflation, she quips: “This is going to be like OMG, I’ll fly in a balloon like in the movies and then able to help a poor guy who wants to fly someday, too. Just great!”
Lifting slowly towards heaven, she waves and cheers “Up, up and away!”
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on February 12, 2012.