It’s 3:30am and we just got off at the Dau Bus Terminal, on our way to the last day of the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Still bleary eyed from lack of sleep, we hopped on a jeep bound for the gates of Clark and bargained with our driver for a direct ride to the Hot Air Balloon field.
We arrived just before 4am and were greeted by a long queue of people waiting for the gates to open. Oh man and I thought we were early!
The gates opened at around 5am and everything went to hell. The single line became an almost free for all; I guess the PIHAB admin should have deployed some staff to control the lines as heads tend to get hot in these instances especially those who had been waiting in line since midnight. This can easily spell trouble.
The venue quickly filled up and the trucks bearing the deflated balloons were soon at the field, firing off their flames into the darkness of the dawn. I was lucky enough to secure a photographer’s pass from Caltex and Digital Photographer Philippines and we were soon herded inside the balloon area. Without such, I can only shoot from behind the fence using a telephoto lens, inside I was able to use my ultrawide lens and get really close to the action.
Baskets were set up and deflated balloons laid down. Everyone was busy blowing air inside the balloons and filling it with hot air to raise it up into the waking morning. The expected glorious sunrise that was supposed to shine from the outline of Mt. Arayat however was nowhere to be found. The morning was blanketed by heavy gray clouds. Ugh, of all days!
Without really a choice, I made do with the flat light and photographed the colorful balloons as they lightly went up in the cold morning sky.
Besides the usual-shaped balloons, there was a cake, a panda, an ice cream cone, a car and my favorite, the massive sunflower balloon which was too big for its own good and was unable to take off. There were fewer varieties this year compared to my previous Hot Air Balloon Fiesta experience. Darth Vader was nowhere to be found, so were the turtle, the shaded sun, the beer bottle and the barn house.
The balloons were gone like a flash, it was much too soon. With the balloons steadily disappearing past the horizon, it breakfast time.
The first plan was to go back to Dau and find a good restaurant there but the sheer number of people going out was really too much and it was impossible to get a ride. With no choice, we went back and just ate at the numerous food stands inside. There were several food choices, the problem was the price was a bit steep, a regular meal cost Php85.00. It would have been wiser and more enjoyable if we brought our own food and had a picnic instead.
On to the dreaded mid-part of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta; yes there were paragliding exhibitions, aircraft flybys, helicopter exhibitions and other aerobatic demonstrations but most people really went here for the balloons and I guess the space in between the morning balloon flights and the late afternoon balloon glow was just too far in between and people tend to get bored.
The best way I think to remedy this is by anchoring the balloons on the ground instead of letting them fly off, I’m not sure if that’s possible but that would be infinitely better than any airshow. What we did to pass the time was roam the booths for food and knickknacks and catch up with our sleep by buying a mat being sold at the site for Php300.00. The overcast sky was to our advantage this time, it was not smoldering hot as the last time I went.
We were lying inside the hangar along with numerous others, making it look like some sort of makeshift camp. The sky was filled with colorful kites when we woke up. It was still cloudy and it was getting cold.
Finally after hours of waiting, it was time for the night glow. The balloons have now returned and their trucks were again all over the ground. Fiery flames were firing up all over the dusty brown fields of Clark as dusk started to settle.
There was no glorious sunset, but we have balloons; the blue hour is good enough for me. One after another, the deflated balloons are laid back down and fired upon. I saw three balloons inflate before the night glow was cancelled due to strong winds. Ouch.
Okay, we still got a few dramatic shots of the nightglow anyways and we still have the fireworks display to look forward to. Three famous giant Pampanga Christmas Lanterns were lit up and the crowd was mesmerized by their hypnotic colors before the fireworks began.
We were pretty close to the firing area and I was expecting gigantic blooms of color to light the night sky. I was a bit disappointed however. The fireworks was really not that impressive and I have seen better fireworks from a regular weekend pyrotechnic shows in a mall.
With the sheer number of visitors for this year’s Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, I was expecting a bit more from the people that organized this. I mean, the tickets at all SM Malls were sold out, we know you guys have the budget to make a better and more organized event.
I still hold the belief that the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is still one of the most beautiful festivals in the country, I only hope that the organizers do not rest on their laurels. Improvements can still be made to make it the best.