A Motley Sky


Excelencias Turísticas del caribe y las Américas - - A Cielo Abierto / Open Skies -

Over the past ten years, a four-day event co­mes around every No­vem­ber: the In­ter­na­tio­nal Balloon Fes­ti­val (FIG is the Spa­nish acronym). In the cour­se of that event, day­breaks are dif­fe­rent on the sho­res of a man­ma­de la­ke ca­lled Pre­sa del Pa­pa­lo­te (The Ki­te Dam) at the Me­tro­po­li­tan Eco­lo­gi­cal Park, right in the Me­xi­can city of Leon.

Little by little, a mul­ti­co­lor mo­saic be­gins to re­flect in the crys­tal-clear wa­ters of the la­ke, sha­ping up a lands­ca­pe that will ha­ve the sky as the back­drop of choi­ce as hours tick by. And then it's ti­me to look up and feast eyes on a one-and-only ex­pe­rien­ce for tho­se who are in at­ten­dan­ce ready to sta­re at a grand po­pu­lar show that has tur­ned the ca­pi­tal of the sta­te of Gua­na­jua­to in­to a man­da­tory re­fe­ren­ce among air balloon ent­hu­siasts.

A grand to­tal of 27 ba­lloons took flight du­ring the inau­gu­ral edi­tion back in 2002, qui­te a hum­ble num­ber if stac­ked up against the 200 ba­lloons from 23 coun­tries that took part in the la­test fes­ti­val of the heights.

The fi­gu­res bear out wit­hout the sligh­test doubt why Leon's is by far the num­ber-one air balloon event held in La­tin Ame­ri­ca, and why it has be­co­me the world's third-lar­gest des­ti­na­tion for this mo­da­lity, just trai­ling behind the ones or­ga­ni­zed in Al­bu­quer­que (U.S.) and the Fes­ti­val Châ­teau d'Oex in Swit­zer­land.

With a tur­nout of little more than half a mi­llion spec­ta­tors, the 2017 edi­tion brought along so­me 3.5 mi­llion lo­cal and fo­reign visitors du­ring the first 16 years, in which as many as 1,800 air ba­lloons of dif­fe­rent de­signs and si­zes ha­ve lif­ted up.

Ac­cor­ding to sta­tis­tics re­vea­led by the or­ga­ni­zers, FIG 2017 and its co­lla­te­ral ac­ti­vi­ties chur­ned out so­me 700 mi­llion Me­xi­can pe­sos worth of re­ve­nues for the lo­cal eco­nomy, a fi­gu­re lar­ge enough for a re­gion that has put its smart mo­ney on tra­vel as one of its top in­co­me sour­ces.

But, what ma­kes this pla­ce such a co­ve­ted lo­ca­tion for air balloon ent­hu­siasts? Tho­se who are in the know say that tra­di­tion does count. As far back as in the year 1842, Don Benito Leon de Acosta –a fo­re­run­ner of air ba­lloo­ning in Mexico- was the first man ever to fly over this re­gion in a balloon. So­me peo­ple point to the lo­vely lands­ca­pes that can be ma­de out from the heights and to peer­less at­mosp­he­ric con­di­tions of Leon, with very soft airs­treams at cer­tain ti­mes of the day that even crea­te so­me sort of “wind box” with down­drafts that let this pe­cu­liar means of trans­por­ta­tion touch down smoothly on its star­ting point.

Ho­we­ver, the fa­mi­liar am­bience is what has really gi­ven FIG one of the most an­ti­ci­pa­ting de­tails among par­ti­ci­pants. In ad­di­tion to ex­pe­rien­cing an in­com­pa­ra­ble fee­ling, FIG of­fers a pro­gram of cul­tu­ral and sport ac­ti­vi­ties that com­pri­ses cour­ses, ex­hi­bi­tions, con­tests and gas­tro­no­mic fairs.

In re­cent years, the most ama­zing air ba­lloons ha­ve be­gun to ta­ke flight in Ar­gen­ti­na, Co­lom­bia and Chi­le, and even more events of this kind ha­ve pop­ped up in ot­her parts of Mexico


Aun­que al­gu­nos es­tu­dios re­cien­tes se­ña­lan que en 1709 el sa­cer­do­te bra­si­le­ño Bar­to­lo­meu de Gus­mao fue el pri­me­ro en rea­li­zar una de­mos­tra­ción de ascensión aé­rea en glo­bo de ai­re ca­lien­te no tri­pu­la­do an­te la cor­te del Rey Juan V de Por­tu­gal, la ver­sión más acep­ta­da ad­ju­di­ca tal pri­vi­le­gio a los her­ma­nos fran­ce­ses Jac­ques Étien­ne y Jo­seph Mi­chel De Mont­gol­fi­re. Su pri­me­ra de­mos­tra­ción pú­bli­ca ha si­do ubi­ca­da en ju­nio de 1882, cuan­do lo­gra­ron que un glo­bo es­fé­ri­co de 10 m de diá­me­tro y 226 kg de pe­so, he­cho de pa­pel bar­ni­za­do y te­la, se ele­va­ra so­bre los 1 800 m y re­co­rrie­ra 2 km.

Un año más tar­de los tam­bién ga­los Jean Francois Pi­la­tre de Ro­zier y Francois Lau­rent, se im­pu­sie­ron co­mo los pri­me­ros tri­pu­lan­tes de es­ta cla­se de ae­ro­na­ve, al des­pe­gar des­de el par­que La Muet­te, en las cer­ca­nías de Pa­rís, as­cen­der unos 1 000 m du­ran­te un vue­lo de 25 min y avan­zar cer­ca de 10 km.

Des­de en­ton­ces se fue dan­do una cons­tan­te evo­lu­ción que ha per­mi­ti­do al ser hu­mano cum­plir uno de sus gran­des an­he­los: dar la vuel­ta al pla­ne­ta so­bre un glo­bo ae­ros­tá­ti­co. Su­ce­dió el 20 de mar­zo de 1999, cuan­do el sui­zo Ber­trand Pic­card y el in­glés Brian Jo­nes, a bor­do del Brietling Or­bi­ter 3, ate­rri­za­ron en Egip­to des­pués de des­an­dar com­ple­ta­men­te el pla­ne­ta. Ha­bían des­pe­ga­do en Sui­za, y du­ran­te 20 días vo­la­ron 46 759 km sin es­ca­las.


Even though so­me re­cent stu­dies in­di­ca­te that Bra­zi­lian priest Bar­to­lo­meu de Gus­mao was the first man ever to ri­de in an air balloon back in 1709, right be­fo­re the court of King Juan V of Por­tu­gal, the most ac­cep­ted ver­sion points to French brot­hers Jac­ques Étien­ne and Jo­seph Mi­chel De Mont­gol­fi­re as the true pio­neers in this res­pect.

Their first pu­blic de­mons­tra­tion is da­ted in Ju­ne 1882, when they stee­red a 10-me­ter-round balloon of 226 ki­lo­grams, ma­de of var­nis­hed pa­per and cloth, up 1,800 me­ters over a couple of ki­lo­me­ters.

A year la­ter, Fran­ce’s Jean Francois Pi­la­tre de Ro­zier and Francois Lau­rent we­re re­gis­te­red as the first air balloon crew mem­bers as they took off from La Muet­te Park in the vi­ci­nity of Pa­ris and lif­ted 1,000 me­ters du­ring a 25-mi­nu­te flight that lan­ded so­me 10 ki­lo­me­ters fart­her.

Sin­ce then, the evo­lu­tion of this mo­da­lity has been nons­top, giving hu­man beings the op­por­tu­nity to ma­ke one of their grea­test dreams come true: tou­ring around the planet in an air balloon. That hap­pe­ned on March 20, 1999, when

Ber­trand Pic­card from Swit­zer­land and Brian Jo­nes from the UK, aboard the Brietling Or­bi­ter 3, tou­ched down in Egypt following a grand tour around the planet. They had ta­ken off in Swit­zer­land and flew nons­top for a stag­ge­ring 46,759 km in the span of 20 days.

For that and ot­her rea­sons, se­ve­ral coun­tries in the re­gion are now ta­king baby steps in the or­ga­ni­za­tion of their own fes­ti­vals. In fact, in re­cent years the most ama­zing air ba­lloons ha­ve be­gun to ta­ke flight in Ar­gen­ti­na, Co­lom­bia and Chi­le, and even more events of this kind ha­ve pop­ped up in ot­her parts of Mexico.

And ma­ke no mis­ta­kes about it; more and more des­ti­na­tions will be in the mix to ta­ke ad­van­ta­ge of all the po­ten­tials air ba­lloons ha­ve to of­fer, so­met­hing that brings de­light to both the ones who fly in them, ea­ger to ta­ke a glim­pse at li­fe from a dif­fe­rent pers­pec­ti­ve, and tho­se on the ground that ga­ze at them as they lift up in the air and paint the sky with co­lors ot­her than blue.


En la ac­tua­li­dad, la cons­truc­ción de glo­bos se ha per­fec­cio­na­do. La ma­yo­ría se ele­va gra­cias al ai­re que ca­lien­tan los que­ma­do­res de pro­pano ins­ta­la­dos en la bo­ca. La en­vol­tu­ra, o cu­bier­ta, es­tá ela­bo­ra­da con un te­ji­do sin­té­ti­co tra­ta­do con po­liu­re­tano pa­ra mi­ni­mi­zar las fu­gas. De la cu­bier­ta cuel­ga una bar­qui­lla, o ces­to, que trans­por­ta al pi­lo­to y los pa­sa­je­ros.

Una vez que ha des­pe­ga­do, se pue­de ha­cer as­cen­der ac­cio­nan­do los que­ma­do­res y aña­dien­do así más ai­re ca­lien­te. Pa­ra des­cen­der tan so­lo de­be es­pe­rar a que es­te se en­fríe o abrir una vál­vu­la si­tua­da en la par­te su­pe­rior, la cual lo li­be­ra.


To­day, the cons­truc­tion of air ba­lloons is more sop­his­ti­ca­ted. Most of them lift up thanks to the hot air gi­ven out by the pro­pa­ne bur­ners at­ta­ched to the ope­ning. The co­ve­ring or wrap­ping is ma­de of synt­he­tic fa­bric trea­ted with pol­yu­ret­ha­ne in a bid to mi­ni­mi­ze leaks. A bas­ket hangs from the balloon, carrying the pi­lot and the pas­sen­gers.

On­ce it’s up in the air, the balloon can soar hig­her by let­ting more hot air out of the bur­ners. For co­ming down, the pi­lot should eit­her wait for the hot air to co­ol down or just open a val­ve on the up­per si­de, which even­tually re­lea­ses the hot air.

Cuen­tan los her­mo­sos pai­sa­jes que se pue­den di­vi­sar des­de el cie­lo. / So­me peo­ple point to the lo­vely lands­ca­pes that can be ma­de out from the heights.

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