It was buono fortuna that we ran into an old man and his two dogs at the abandoned house at the top of a hill. Even better was that he had a truck and was willing to give us a ride. I asked Paulo, "do you know him?" he said "no". So I got in. It didn't matter at this point of desperation. The strange man maneuvered through the divots in first gear with his truck, passing poor Meemo on foot pushing the tractor en route to retrieve the hot air balloon we had landed in a field, far from any accessible road.
Being funky with heights, when I awoke earlier that morning and was relieved to see a nice, calm day, and I hoped for a gentle ride in the hot air balloon. I wished for gentle winds, and, boy, did I get it. I was the poster person for the trite caution: "be careful what you wish for". Not as bad at too windy in a vessel dictated by wind, but not enough air was a close second.
It all began perfectly. We arrived at 6 am in the field in front of the cemetery of San Donnino church. Paolo and Meemo were unfurling the balloon. It seemed just a matter of minutes before Paolo said, "okay, get in!" In America we would have had to sign this paper and that waiver and take this safety course... but not in Italy. Just hop in, no credit card or signatures needed.
The flight was peaceful. Paolo gave the balloon some heat for some altitude to clear the mountains. He pointed "Carpienti castle is there.... and ceramico place is there..." We were up there for about one glorious hour. We sailed 5 kilometers east, traveling at about 1 knot, then there was a wind change, and we seemed to retrace our steps back west, traveling about 1 kilometer back, at a rate of 1/2 knot.
Then, nothing. We were absolutely stagnant.
"Oh, this is going to be difficult," Paulo said as he threw little ripped off pieces of tissue paper and watched as they floated to the ground. Absolutely straight. He was checking for any wind change if we descended now. Now?! He said he lands wherever, in any open field and does his best not to damage any crops. But he tries to land close to a road. We were no where near any passable road.
We held on to the "oh-shit-handles" on the basket and squatted to brace for impact. With a couple thuds, we were safely on the ground. Not bad.
This is where our adventure really began. Yeah, taking a hot air balloon has been on my bucket-list of experiences to have, and the events following will make it even more memorable.
Paulo walkie-talkied Meemo to give him our location. No street names, just landforms. Without Meemo there, Matthew did most of the grunt-work tying up the balloon with Paolo. I offered velcro ties. We left the basket and the balloon in the middle of the field on the hill and started walking. Uphill walking, dirt-crevased road, flies, heat, the smell of fresh dung... we kept walking- I mean hiking and hiking, hoping to run into Meemo with his tractor and taking off one layer of clothing at a time, stopping to catch my breath. It was a classic "we paid for this?" moment.
We didn't run into Meemo, but we did see a deer and an old man at a crumbling house. That is when we got in the car with him. He drove us to Meemo's truck and Paulo drove us back to our car, stopping for some water - his treat - at the local café and tabbacheria and then returned to help Meemo retrieve the balloon.
We tipped him and went home to nap. It was 9:50 a.m.