Monday, May 2, 2016

Ballooning Teotihuacan



A few weeks in advance, I'd gotten in touch with Sean and Diana at 'Flying Pictures' and booked a "sunrise" balloon flight over Teotihuacan for Monday, March 21st. Monday is a popular day to visit the pyramids, as most museums in the city are closed. I'd read that Teotihuacan gets crazy around the equinox, but figured that since it had technically fallen on Sunday this year - the 20th - the worst of the crush would be over. Sean had mentioned something about a balloon festival in his correspondence, but I figured that would be a fun little extra...

I set my alarm for 4:20 in the morning. Took a (cold and quick) shower and ordered an Uber at 5:00 AM. It was a nice car and the driver was nicely dressed - I tipped him $20. No one else seemed to be waiting at the Sheraton when I arrived. I was in need of cash so I asked the doorman if there was an ATM nearby, and there was - in the basement! But when I went downstairs, I realized I didn't have my credit card PIN hidden on me, as I usually do when I travel. I'd pared down my purse the night before and didn't have my debit card on me either. I called Bank of America, which was no help. Feeling like an idiot, I counted up my cash. I had $260 - about $15 USD - for the day.

The pick-up time of 5:45 came and went, so I called the number listed on the e-mail and got a lady who spoke no English. I was unable to get through to Diana's cell for some reason. I got the concierge to help me, and he explained that the first number was a hotel. (This made sense later - it was the Gran Teocali, where breakfast is served after the flight.) The second call went straight to voicemail. I was not feeling very positive about the likelihood of my balloon flight happening at all, but I went out to the front steps to wait. There was one other group waiting, and they seemed to be dressed casually enough for ballooning, but they also sounded local. I was summoning my courage to ask them in my terrible Spanish when a car pulled up. They all started to get in it and the driver asked, "Polly?" Thank goodness. Like in Brazil, my worrying ended up being much ado about nothing.

We drove through the dark, north out of the city. The sun was just starting to come up as we got to Teotihuacan and saw our first balloon. We all got excited, but the first rays of light also revealed the fact that it was going to be an extremely cloudy morning.  As we pulled into the Globopuerto, I realized that the balloon festival was no joke - hundreds of people filled the field, probably 95% Mexican, surrounded by about 20 balloons on the ground and in the air. After signing a waiver with a lady who spoke excellent English (who turned out to be Diana), we were given a business card with an image of our balloon.

 


We made our way over - me, the four friends who'd shared the car with me, and one other guy who'd joined us. I learned that the people I'd shared the car with were Costa Ricans visiting their cousin who lives in Mexico City. (The local cousin stayed on the ground and met us later for breakfast.) The other guy turned out to be from San Francisco and spoke maybe even less Spanish than I do. Our pilot introduced himself as "Super Mario" - he had the mustache to earn the moniker.

We watched as our balloon inflated, and soon it was time to get in. (Getting in was easier than I'd thought, though I managed to drop my cell phone climbing into the basket.)  Then, the six of us were in the balloon and rising above the crowds, closely followed by a mariachi balloon, a Mexican niña balloon, and a Calavera balloon. It was a little nerve-wracking, being close to some of the other balloons, but we soon sailed up and away from the pyramids. We had great views of the mountains despite the clouds - they, too, almost looked like pyramids. 



We drifted lower for a bit, and I thought we were starting to land after a short ride, but instead we sailed to the edge of the archaeological zone, then across the town to the early-morning sound of dogs barking. We landed gently in a field and had mimosas while the team packed the balloon into the truck. "Mario" made a balloon out of the Spumanti cork, which was fun. We returned to the Globopuerto for our certificate before being driven to a kitchsy restaurant for a buffet breakfast. The coffee was good and strong, and I finally got to try chilaquiles for breakfast. We waited around for our driver for-ev-er. Finally, he came back - one guy took the San Franciscan back to Mexico City and the other took the rest of us to the Pyramids


Cheers to Stephanie and Emma, for taking some of the great pictures I used in this post! (The third and the last two.)

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