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heinrichwege, Gemünden/Wohra, 17 January 2013 06:37 pm
Up in a hot air balloon!
The meeting point was Lagos Aerodrome at 5.30 in the morning. We then travelled together to a clearing on the road between Alcalar and Monchique. Preparing the balloon for flight is an entertaining exercise in teamwork.
First, a powerful fan forces cold air into the mouth of the balloon, which rapidly gains shape. Then Helena lights the butane gas burners to heat the air and elevate the balloon into the air. Once up, she releases a small child’s balloon, full of helium, to confirm wind speed and direction at altitude. To be honest, no-one ever quite knows where the balloon will end up…
After a security briefing, we climb into the basket. Our lady pilot lights the burners once more, loosens the final cable - and the adventure begins. “Zephira”, as our balloon is called, rises swiftly and silently. We can see everything around us in glorious 360º splendour – the mountains, the sea, Ria da Alvor. At 1.000 feet up, the wind is blowing a strong 15 knots in the direction of Aljezur. Always chatty and in perfect control, Helena decides to descend and level out.
Down below, the pick-up jeep attempts to keep up with us. So, what does it all feel like? It’s as if you are riding on the wings of angels. And down below, life as it really is – a kind of realtime documentary. Animals don’t even notice us. Mid-flight, we cross an empty A22 motorway. We pass green valleys – no hurry, noiseless. The countryside is incredible. Now, we’re at a low altitude. A pair of earlybirds come to their door and wave to us. We wave back.
After 40 minutes of magic in the air, Helena decides it’s time to land. “Contrary to what happens in other countries, here people offer us coffee when we come down on their land”, she smiles. And the maneuvre is made effortlessly – not a hitch. Just as when we set out, we help pack up the balloon – and the morning ends with breakfast at Lagos Marina and a balloon flying certificate, signed by Portugal’s only female balloon pilot.
If you’re up for a similar experience (or would like to offer one as a gift), flights cost €195 per person on a regular flight, sharing the basket with other passengers – or €585 for an exclusive flight (2 people + pilot). In June, Helena Sá will be launching a hot air balloon for the first time from Monchique.