In years past, Sam and I have traded “excursions” as birthday gifts. She got me a parasailing trip. I got her a plane flying lesson. And so on.
For her birthday this year I wanted to give her something I knew she had on her bucket list but we couldn’t fit into our Europe trip: hot air ballooning.
We were supposed to have a sunset balloon ride on the weekend of her birthday back in May, but the company cancelled the flight because the wind wasn’t right. Since we were leaving for Europe we had to reschedule the flight for June. When that day came they said the other guests didn’t show up (not sure how that’s our fault, why don’t they charge the no-shows and give us a private ride?), so they called us and rescheduled again.
If they asked us to reschedule this third time we were going to throw our hands up and demand a refund. To our surprise they said “come on down!” We hopped in the car and drove the 3+ hours south to Del Mar. We stopped on the way to eat at the Packing House, a hidden foodie gem that a friend took us to after not snorkeling at Shaw’s Cove a few weeks ago (waves were way too high to go in the water). That time we ate at Black Sheep, which is great if you love grilled cheese and tomato soup (and who doesn’t?!). This time we went downstairs for a sit-down meal at Kettlebar, enticed by a handwritten sign in the front proclaiming Jambalaya!
Turns out Kettlebar has a great selection of Cajun favorites, which is something Sam and I always strive to find more of (and is surprisingly lacking in Los Angeles).
After filling ourselves with seafood, rice, and rolls we inched our way down the PCH to Rancho Santa Fe. The balloon flight took off in a little field next to the horse race track below the ridge with all the ritzy gated communities (our pilot made sure to point out Bill Gates’ house).
The most striking thing about the ride was the smoothness. From start to finish the only bumps came from a very slow touchdown. When up in the air it’s almost as if you’re standing still, albeit at 3,000 feet up. The only noise is the intermittent burn of the flame heating the air in the balloon that keeps the basket aloft. We drifted only four miles in an hour, twirling more than anything else so everyone could see the mountains in the north, the beach to the west and the low hills of Tijuana to the south. The almost-sunset view was great, although it probably would have been more impressive if we’d seen it before paragliding over the Swiss alps, as we’d originally planned. To our surprise we saw powered paragliders joining us in the sky and a glider plane even circled our balloon. I didn’t know either of those things happened down here… maybe a good idea for a future birthday?
We touched down in a field of little green and red shrubs. The shrubs were covered with snails. Millions of snails. We couldn’t walk anywhere without murdering underfoot. But murder we would, as there were two bottles of champagne waiting for us at the back of the van. So we got a little tipsy watching the sun plummet over the Pacific.
(don’t worry, we had the ride in the van back to our car in Del Mar to sober up before the long drive home)
Behold the video evidence: