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Fire, Frost & Floating Across Volcanoes – A Hot Air Balloon Ride in Spain

Hot Air Balloon mistA number of things are wrong. First, I’m standing in a field surrounded by darkness, my mind pulling the covers over its head and mumbling into its pillow. Second, I’m in Spain and it’s summer, yet frost dances along the grass and spiked yellow flames snarl into the air like crazed snake tongues at an all-night rave.

Third, and most significantly, I’m about to climb into an oversized picnic basket that’s going to whisk me hundreds of metres above the earth with not so much as a seatbelt, a lifejacket or a parachute on hand. There’s not even going to be a well-groomed semaphore routine pointing out the nearest emergency exit.

I’m about to step into a hot air balloon. And it pains me to tell you I feel nervous.

Hot Air Balloon Fire


Hot Air Balloon Flames

A man unfolds a giant tent, laying it in front of an industrial-sized hairdryer and we all wait. The fabric billows slowly off the ground, air easing into its edges and rippling through to its tip.

I’m surprised at how large it is. After only a few minutes, there’s space for men to walk inside, a chamber larger than a marquee that glows an eerie soft green.

I’ve dreamed about hot air ballooning for years. As a child, it seemed a great adventure, as a teenager a romantic hope and then in my twenties, a thrilling chance to see the world. Those years have passed, however, gathering along in their wake an appreciation of pain, of accidents, and of multi-faceted safety concerns.

I don’t believe in mystical karma. I really don’t, yet is there a whisper of unexplained uncertainty in my semiconscious, slumbering mind? I have tried and tried and tried to get to this stage before, in many different countries with many different alarm clocks. I’ve taken time off work, driven through darkness, stayed up late and monitored the wind, the thunder and the raindrops before enforced cancellations reminded me time and time again how impotent we all are in the great scheme of things. How utterly insignificant.

Inside Hot Air Balloon

After a while, I gave up trying. Perhaps some things are not meant to be. Then, a few months ago, the chance appeared again.

Then disappeared.

Maybe some things are not meant to be.

Now I stand in that field, mist curling around the trees like an 18th century painting. My breath hangs translucent in the air and I watch the tent take on the shape of a nuclear-powered lightbulb.

Maybe, maybe things aren’t meant to be. Maybe all that science means nothing. Perhaps never-ending near-misses really do mean that I should stay away, that the malevolence of the weather has protected me from danger and disaster in the sky.

I climb in.

Hot Air Balloon on Ground

I’m with friends and colleagues, a free-spirited crowd who don’t seem to have noticed the power-lines, the thin balloon fabric, the fire, and the insubstantial wicker basket.

Before I realise it, we’re gone. Not in a lurching, crushing, driving sense, but in a surreal, dreamlike flotation that teases us away from the earth.

The tyre tracks in the dew grow smaller and smaller. The second balloon fills my viewfinder before fading back into the field. On the horizon, the sun wins the race against the clouds and the slopes of the Pyrenees take shape, dressed in their finest British Racing Green.

The wicker feels stable and I can’t hear the wind.

We glide. Silently, weightlessly, floating through the sky.

Hot Air Balloon Takeoff

Sunlight spreads across the forested volcanoes, highlighting each rise and fall with the excitement and care of a new mother introducing her baby.

I lean over the edge of the basket with a smile I haven’t felt since childhood.

Hot Air Balloon CavaThis is the world we live in.

This is a brand new day.

And this, almost embarrassingly, is a dream come true.

I think about science, about superstition, about hope and dreams and joy and opportunity.

Earth, air, fire and water. That’s what ancient Greece believed to be the building blocks of the world. And from where I’m standing, only one of those is missing.

A friend taps me on the shoulder and passes me a glass. It’s cava rather than water, but I hope the Greeks won’t mind.

The bubbles sparkle as the sun strides onto the stage and the contours of Catalonia flow past below.

I know it’s not fashionable to say this, but I’m really, really happy.

Hot Air Balloon Pyrenees


Find more of my hot air balloon pictures here.

My first (successful) hot air balloon ride came courtesy of Visit Costa Brava. All views, however, are my own. Obviously.

I flew with Vol de Coloms, a local firm that organises hot air balloon rides complete with cava and a Catalan brunch afterwards. Great service, great fun, highly recommended.

Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? Or waited for years for the chance to do something?


43 Responses to Fire, Frost & Floating Across Volcanoes – A Hot Air Balloon Ride in Spain

  1. Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    This isn’t something I’ve always wanted to do, but you make it sound so wonderful. And that last photo is incredible!

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 12:55 am #

      One of the best things I’ve ever done…Wonderful!

  2. Federico October 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    For a few months I have had this in my mind…I hope to repeat your trip shortly!

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 12:56 am #

      If you’re in Spain, I’d really recommend this particular company. Fantastic service and great banter ;) Enjoy!

  3. Linda October 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    It’s been a dream of mine, and the way you describe it so beautifully is exactly how I imagine it to be. Gorgeous writing again.

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 12:57 am #

      Thank you…

  4. ayngelina October 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I would love love love to go on a hot air balloon ride, truly jealous :)

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 12:59 am #

      I would love to see hot air balloon bacon pics…;)

  5. DTravelsRound October 4, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    This is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read. So eloquent. I love this and love your telling of this hot air balloon experience.

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 1:01 am #

      And I love your comment! Thank you…:)

  6. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler October 5, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    Beautiful post. I have always wanted to go on a hot air balloon, but I’m not going to lie, I will probably have the same fears as you did before I step into the basket.

    • Abi October 9, 2011 at 1:05 am #

      Well, the adrenaline rush makes the dreamy part later on feel that much more rewarding ;)

  7. Dave and Deb October 5, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    This is very high on our list. Even more so after this read. Great article Abi. Thanks for bringing us with you!

    • Abi October 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks D&D…Very surprised to have found something you two haven’t done! I imagine you’ll absolutely love it…

  8. Erica October 5, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    I am always in love with the way that the world creeps up on the morning with the golden light filling everything slowly. *sigh* I wish I was a morning person.

    • Abi October 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Ha! Me too…It doesn’t come naturally…

  9. Margo October 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    It’s funny, I’ve been on several hot air balloon rides but they never make me that nervous…I think it’s because I have more confidence in science than in my own body as far as these things are concerned. The ones I have been on are always first thing in the morning… I hate getting up early – but must say I loved kidnapping my husband for a birthday once and driving in darkness without him having a clue and then watching the day dawn from high in the air… so peaceful.

    • Abi October 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

      Wow, what a lovely romantic plan…That gives me an idea…

  10. Katrina October 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I always wonder how they know where they’ll come down — and how they coordinate the pick-up!

    Beautiful photos, really lovely. I think I’ll have to do this sometime soon. ;)

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      It was fun watching the van drive around and around below as we tried to find a safe spot for landing…

  11. Raymond @ Man On The Lam October 8, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Like Ayngelina, I am very jealous of you right now. :)

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Well, if the weather plays nicely I may be back in a balloon next week!

  12. Camels & Chocolate October 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Lovely, Abi! I already saw your Facebook set, but I loved reading your experience play by play. I’ve gone sky diving before (in Spain actually) but hot air ballooning is still on the to-do list.

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:27 am #

      I loved both – but the hot air balloon ride was far more peaceful! Plus, you could tweet mid-air ;)

  13. Nomadic Samuel October 9, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    Like Ayng & Ray, I’m highly jealous! What an experience :)

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:33 am #


  14. Abby October 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    WOWOW. I need to give hot air balloons another chance. I hated it the one time I went. It was so cold I thought I was going to die, and the basket was so low that I thought I was going to fall right out. It was not like your trip at all!

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      What a shame! We were bundled up in scarves, hats and gloves…and I did give the edge of the basket a healthy amount of respect. It did look as though a rush of enthusiasm would have toppled me over the edge…

  15. Emily @ Maiden Voyage October 10, 2011 at 3:08 am #

    Oooh! I’ve never gone on a hot air balloon ride–the idea of it scares me a bit–but with those views, I think I just might have to. I want to skydive, but that is probably a much more rushed way to see things from above :) Glad you enjoyed it so much!

    • Abi October 19, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      W-e-lll, the parachute part of the skydive feels a little like being in a hot air balloon. But the freefall means no camera ;)

  16. Paula November 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Adore your blog! And thought this was such a beautifully written and photographed piece that I featured it on my blog’s Wayfarer Wednesday post this week. I think my readers would love to read about your fantastic travels!! I know I do! :)

    • Abi December 28, 2011 at 8:57 am #

      Thank you very much, Paula.

  17. Jenna January 10, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    I can’t blame you a bit for being nervous. I would be, too. I have not done this but think I should give it a try even though just thinking about it makes my head spin. Beautiful photos, by the way!

    • Abi April 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      It’s such a beautiful way to see the world – go for it!

  18. Maddycat January 18, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    Abi, your imagery and colours transported me right there. I too took my first hot air balloon flight, and blogged about it – it sure was a magical experience and I could really relate to your post!

    • Abi April 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Sarajevo February 8, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Amazing. This has been my long time dream to do :)

    • Abi April 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      I hope you get the chance to do it one day

  20. David Urmann May 12, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Great description and pictures. Hope to get back and see more of Spain.

    • Abi May 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      Thank you. There’s so much to see in Spain – so many different sides and so much more than sun and sandy beaches ;)

  21. Michael August 6, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    This is also done in Africa. A case in point, Maasai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti in Tanzania. They offer incredible wildlife safari experience especially during the Wildebeest Migratin

    • Abi King August 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

      Now, that would be a sight to see…

  22. Jennifer November 1, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    We have definitely waited years – 11to be exact! We were married in a hot air balloon in 2002, but it was too windy that day to even inflate the balloon for our photos. It’s high time we finally got our ride!