It has been a successful few weeks. I’ve attended balloon festivals in Malaysia and The Philippines.
I flew to The Philippines from Kuala Lumpur along with some other balloonists who had also attended the balloon festival in Putrajaya. We arrived in manila and were picked up by a van which had been arranged by the balloon festival organisers. On our way to San Fernando, which is around 1.5hrs from Manila, we had to pick up a couple of other balloonists from a place in Manila. It turned out to be an interesting detour driving down a lot of back streets.
Manila is a very busy place; around 12 million people live in the greater area. It is one of the most densely populated capital cities in the world. We watched Manila wake up as we drove around at 6.30am. It wasn’t without some excitement: On one street we went down, it seemed as if there was a mini riot, people were running towards us and a couple of guys were holding bricks. We weren’t sure what was going on. Our driver stopped for a minute, but thought it was safe to go through. The rest of us weren’t quite so keen. As it turned out, it was OK. Twenty minutes after that we got pulled over for running a red light. After some fast talking,the police officer let us go.
We made it safely to the hotel in San Fernando and checked in. It was a free day. I checked the city out and had dinner with some American balloonists.
We transferred to the balloon festival site, (complete with police escort) the following day, which had freshly built units for all the international balloonists and crew. It was impressive as the site where the festival was, was built in two months. Before that it was just fields with cows. In two months they had built thirty or more villas which had two units each. They had also built a wakeboarding course, an unsealed parking area and various infrastructure. We were all in awe that it could be built so quickly.
The opening dinner was that night. Unfortunately it poured with rain about an hour into the dinner, (it was outside) which meant no speeches were made.
We flew each morning for the following four days and we did two nightglows on the Friday and Saturday nights. The weather was perfect, slow winds in the morning and it often calmed down in the late afternoon also. I helped another balloon pilot to do an afternoon flight on the Saturday evening.
The area is full of rice paddies and a huge area of fish ponds. It is bordered by the South China Sea on one side and a mountain range on the other. Mt Pinatubo is not far away. It devastated the area when it erupted in 1991. You can still see where the lahars went, which they now mine for sand. A lot of people lost property, but there was a relatively low death toll: 847 people. Scientists successfully predicted the eruption and a huge evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people took place before the eruption.
It was nice to show the balloon to the locals, especially in the places where we landed. Some people hadn’t seen a balloon before. I landed in the same place on the last day as I had on the first. I was greeted by name when I landed the second time. A lot of people all ready knew what to do when we packed the balloon up. The Philippines has a very young population, it can certainly be seen by the number of kids around. They were all very happy and enthusiastic.
My four local ground crew were great, three being from the same family and all under the age of 15. My driver was only slightly older than me. They were my youngest crew ever and picked up ballooning quickly, especially as none of them had been close to a balloon before.
All 35 balloon crews had an enjoyable time at the festival. It was nice to fly the flag for UNICEF in The Philippines as they are still doing a lot of work in the southern city of Tacloban, where Typhoon Haiyan hit. They are helping with the aid effort, such as rebuilding schools and providing medical care. There is still a lot of work to do there.
After the festival I was invited by a local to stay at his house in San Fernando. His family have been very successful in processing and selling meat products, called ‘Pampanga’s Best’. He took me to their meat processing plant, which makes sausages among other meat products. They are sold locally and internationally. I was pleasantly surprised with the whole process. It wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. Every effort is made to stop contamination and everything is kept very clean due to strict hygiene regulations.
He showed me around San Fernando that evening and took me to dinner.
I left the next morning to go back to the balloon festival site. I did some paperwork for the shipping of the balloon back to Malaysia and made sure it was packed correctly.
I spoke with the Governor’s husband. He was also at the site as they had organised the festival. He is planning to build a 36 hole golf course and a theme park over the next year on that site.
He kindly offered his car and bodyguard to take me to another friend’s place about 45mins away. I spent the afternoon with them and caught the bus back to Manila. I checked into a hotel there and was very happy to be upgraded to a suite on the 28th floor. I met a friend for dinner and had a pleasant last night in The Philippines.
The flight back to Kuala Lumpur was uneventful, though I must say that Cebu Pacific Air must have the smallest leg room of all the airlines.
The truck arrived into Kuala Lumpur a few days after I arrived. A person from DB Schenker picked me up from where I was staying and took me to the yard where it was arriving and stayed with me the whole day to make sure everything was in order. They really go out of their way to provide good service.
My truck arrived on a much bigger truck a few minutes after we got to the yard. It arrived on a 40ft Flat Rack container. The guys took it off very efficiently with two forklifts. The company that DB Schenker contracted for the handling of my truck were specialised in super heavy loads. 120ton was normal for them and they had recently shifted a load of 860ton. The owner of the company took us out to lunch. We had an interesting conversation about shifting very large loads, especially me as I like big machines.
After lunch, they cleaned the truck and I drove it to the DB Schenker yard where it will be stored until I leave Kuala Lumpur.
I am staying at a friend’s apartment for the next few weeks. I am planning the next stage of the route through SE Asia. I am also refining my sponsorship proposal and approaching companies to sponsor the project. It is time consuming.
Now that the truck is here, I have to do a few things to it, such as fitting spotlights and rust proofing underneath.
Lastly, I am working with UNICEF Malaysia on doing a couple of more engagements while here. More news on that soon…..
If you would like to see more photos about recent events, please visit out Facebook page: www.facebook.com/flyinghighforkidsproject