Flying in a hot air balloon has been on my list of things to try for a while (blame those awe-inspiring pictures of Cappadocia everywhere). A few months ago, I discovered you can go ballooning in Extremadura and it was a matter of time before I found an excuse to book a trip.
Any place looks different from above, but flying over a Unesco World Heritage city such as Mérida is something amazing and special.
Let me tell you more about this fantastic experience.
Booking on Extremadura en Globo was very easy. You can buy a ticket for one of the next trips scheduled or a gift voucher which is valid for a year. In my case, I bought tickets for flying over Mérida on a specific date. Flying depends entirely on the weather, and the date of our trip had to be postponed a few days because of the wind.
Before the flight
Our day started before sunrise. We arrived at Mérida’s fairgrounds and parked our car just after seven in the morning, but was still dark. After living in the UK, Ireland and the Baltics, I realize how late sunrises are in Spain. Instructor José Miguel and his assistant Domingo arrived only a few minutes afterwards. Apart from José Miguel, our travel companions were a middle-aged couple from Mérida and their identical twin young daughters. We were all new to hot air balloons and visibly excited about the whole thing.
If you too have never been in a hot air balloon, this is how it works: the basket lies on its side on the floor and the envelope (that’s how the actual balloon is called) is spread out on the floor and is then blown up with the help a super-powerful fan. A burner located at the top of the basket heats up the air inside the balloon. And that’s pretty much it. Once the balloon is filled with enough hot air, the basket is set back in position, you jump in, and off you go!
During the flight
For some reason, I expected the ride to be bumpy, but it isn’t at all. It’s like contemplating the city down below from a balcony, that’s how it is. The balloon went up quickly, but so softly that you wouldn’t even notice it, if it wasn’t because the excitement makes you keep your eyes on the ground down below.
Not knowing where the wind will take you is a scary, but exciting thing. We were lucky enough to see Mérida’s bridges on the way up and fly over the main Roman sights: the Milagros aqueduct, the Diana Temple, the Roman Theatre and Amphitheatre, the Roman Circus… From above (we were flying at over 600 m high) we could also spot the football stadium, the Arab fortress and the riverside.
It was interesting to fly over the residential areas, too. Houses, parks and roads looked like tiny little squares and lines of beautiful symmetry.
After a while, we left Mérida behind and headed for a clear area in the outskirts to land. It wasn’t an easy task, as most private properties were fenced or there were trees or not enough room for the balloon. Even though we were still flying high, animals spotted that big colourful thing in the sky. Horses were looking up and started to walk towards us. Dogs would run around the plots in circles barking like mad. Chicken wouldn’t even know where to run and hares would run and hide.
Flights usually last one hour, but ours was longer, because we had to land twice. The first time, we asked a woman for permission to land, only to find out the assistant couldn’t access the property by car to pick us up (dirt road closed). We flew a bit further away from the city over a dry yellow-brown landscape and over hundreds of solar panels, which were quite an unusual sight.
The first time the balloon landed gently on the surface, while the second landing was a bit bumpier, but far gentler than many low-cost airline landings, so don’t panic.
After the flight
The trip finished in the best possible way. After a final group selfie, we had a 100% Extremeño picnic. There was a cured meats and cheese board, a big box of locally-made sweets and biscuits from Montijo (José Miguel’s hometown) and we toasted with some cava from Almendralejo that would put your best Prosecco to shame. To top it all off, José Miguel produced our very own Certificates of Flying Experts, something we celebrated with some more cava, of course!
I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. Extremadura en Globo organises trips mainly in Mérida, Cáceres and Badajoz, although other places are also available.
|Trip booked with Extremadura en Globo
Phone: (+34) 606 975 676 (José Miguel)