Quito, Dec 9 (EFE).- A hot air balloon festival that kicked off Friday in the northern Ecuadorian Andes has brought splashes of color to the skies above the Monument to the Equator, a tourist attraction near this capital.
The inaugural edition of the Middle of the World International Balloon Festival brought together 21 balloons from Germany, France, Canada, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and host Ecuador, some of which briefly blocked the view of the 30-meter-tall (98-foot-tall) monument that marks the precise location of the equator.
A balloon in the shape of an owl was one of the highlights for the thousands of visitors who arrived Friday at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) – 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) north of Quito – for the festival, which was organized by the prefecture of Pichincha.
This marks “the first time an event like this has been held in South America,” said Pichincha Prefect Paola Pabon, who expressed hope that enough interest is generated to warrant making the festival an annual occurrence.
During the inauguration, oohs and ahhs were heard from the Quiteños and other visitors who had made the trip to see the balloons and helped increase the event’s exposure by sharing images of the dirigibles on social media.
“We hope the success of this festival can catapult us into the (hot air balloon) tourism circuit,” Pabon said.
The event also has the additional objective of stimulating Pichincha’s and Ecuador’s economy for the benefit of small businesses in particular, she added.
The festival runs through Sunday and figures to be a boon for the local economy in Ciudad Mitad del Mundo.
Although the giant dirigibles will only fly for two hours in the morning due to atmospheric conditions in the area, people can stay until nighttime and enjoy concerts and other shows on offer in the vicinity of the monument.
The area is home to museums and theaters, as well as a wide variety of restaurants and stores selling various handicrafts.
Some of the balloons, meanwhile, will be tethered next to the Monument to the Equator throughout the three-day festival to give people the chance to view them up close.
On the first day, one of the balloons became caught in electrical cables near that monument, a mishap organizers attributed in a statement to a strong gust of wind at lift-off.
No injuries were reported.
The changing atmospheric conditions in that Andes region offer a unique challenge for the balloons’ crew members, although participants like Germans Ludmila and Victor said that piloting these dirigibles represents a golden opportunity and a source of sheer joy.
“It’s all good,” Victor said of the heavy cloud cover in the area in the early morning hours, conditions that, as if by magic, gave way to clear skies later in the day.
“We’re flying,” Ludmila chimed in as the balloon’s burner unit was gasifying liquid propane and projecting that heated air into the already-inflated nylon envelope (the colorful part of the dirigible), causing it to lift off the ground. EFE