Between the 22nd and 27th October, 2019, the town of Manacor hosted up the XXI European Hot Air Balloon Championship. Mallorca’s skyscape was transformed by hundreds of floating globes, an array of colours dotted across the skyline, resembling gumdrops as they gracefully travelled through the air- silent and serene. In the face of these giants of the air, as a spectator, I felt so small, craning my neck to see them rise above the treetops and float in blissful peace, dancing with the clouds and teasing the tops of the Tramuntana mountains.
As a biennial event, every other year since 1976 various European countries including France, Austria, Poland and Great Britain have held the event, but this was Mallorca’s first time playing host. Organised by the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale), the competition attracted a large interest from spectators and decorated the skies for one exquisitely beautiful week.
Interesting Fact: The second largest manufacturer of hot air balloons in the world is Ultramagic company, based in Spain, which produces from 80 to 120 balloons per year. Ultramagic can produce very large balloons, such as the N-500 that accommodates as many as 27 persons in the basket, and has also produced many balloons with special shapes, as well as cold-air inflatables.
The Atmosphere #
It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt standing in the airfield with hundreds of people, surrounded by a pure buzz of excitement and wonder. People from across the globe, and of all ages were gathered behind the famous Mallorquin restaurant ‘Es Cruce’ awaiting lift-off. Unlike many other festivities that I have attended on the island, this festival felt incredibly basic yet far more grand than anything I had ever been too. If we strip it bare, it was simply a group of people in a field awaiting a balloon flight; but, in actual fact, it was a bonding of communities, a thriving hub of team spirit and competitiveness and a shared sense of awe as we observed the beauty above us. Once I began watching the balloons, I almost forgot there was any competitive element to this contest at all, they all looked so graceful and content sharing the sky together.
The Unpredictable Weather #
Although what I am describing sounds idyllic and wonderful (and believe me it was) the competition was not without its fair share of setbacks. It was for its perfect meteorological conditions Mallorca was selected for this year's venue by the Championship' organizers, but Mother Nature decided to give everybody the cold shoulder, stepping in with some torrential wind and rain and inconveniencing several scheduled flights. In actual fact, all flights on Tuesday and Wednesday were cancelled, meaning that pilots who had travelled from across Europe were sent back to their respective hotels and apartments and left waiting for the storm to pass. The waiting game was rather intense, watching the skies change from black to blue, as the winds rustled through the trees and then became silently still. Nobody knew until the last second whether they would be able to take flight or not. At one point, the weather forecast looked so bleak, we thought the championships may be completely cancelled. I bumped into two competitors in the nearby seaside resort of Cala Millor who had travelled all the way from Germany and they described the conditions as ‘disastrous’, stating that the future of the competition was very ‘uncertain’ so for now they were ‘on holiday’ (why not).
The Organisers and Competitors #
With 23 countries and over 100 skilled pilots competing, this certainly was a large-scale event. Organisers calculated that almost 100,000 people attended the airfield to observe the flights (which is probably more people than Manacor[[LINK TO TOWN/VILLAGE PROFILE]] has ever seen) and that spectators came from all over the island and the world. I can imagine 'Es Cruce'[[LINK TO Manacor TOWN/VILLAGE PROFILE]] did a roaring trade in their excellent, traditional food. Friends of mine made the early journey from the north of the island to witness the last flight on Sunday at 8am, and said that ‘they wouldn’t have missed it for the world’; and I couldn’t agree more. For Mallorca’s tourism, and indeed profile in Europe this event has been monumental for our little island. For Affordable Mallorca, our regular updates on Instagram and Facebook were trending on the first listing of Google when people typed in “Es Cruce” and “European Balloon Festival” since we covered the festival daily. See more photos [[INSERT PHOTO MONTAGE]
The Challenges #
The pilots and their crews trained for months in advance. Challenges throughout the competition were based on speed, distance and precision (when navigating). A variety of targets were set out which pilots had to find in the quickest possible time; other challenges involved indicators being dropped and pilots had to land on them (or as close to them as they could) in orderBy to win. See how in that video kindly sent by Pablo:
The Champions #
Everyone’s a winner in my eyes, as the event was so well delivered and an honour to be a part of. Until the last few days, Spain’s team was in the lead. However, First Place was awarded to Stefan Zeberli of Switzerland. In second place Nicholas Schwarts of France and in third place Laurynas Komza of Lithuania.
The Experience #
The emotions I felt as I watched 100 hot air balloons rise into the sky, simply cannot be put into words. I spent two fabulous mornings, embracing the Mallorcan Sunrise and experiencing true beauty and serenity as I watched the balloons take off. To all those involved, I salute you for delivering a truly wonderful event, and for including not only the entirety of Mallorca, but Europe - all in the name of hot air balloons.
#Mallorca #Hotairballoons #Sky #Flight #Community #Spectacular #Wonder
Por Zoé Holmes
30 octubre, 2019