It is 5:00 am and the streets of Yerevan are empty. The sun is still rising as the Skyball car travels to Garni. Upon arrival, the team lifts the 900+ pound balloon out of the car to start prepping for flight. Amongst this group is our volunteer, Aline Anuch Kalousdian, the first female hot air balloon pilot to take flight in Armenia.
She hails from a family of hot air balloon pilots. Her parents operate a hot air balloon company in Brazil while her twin brother works with ballooning in Germany. Anuch, 25, who is half Austrian and half Armenian, currently lives in Germany where she will soon complete her master’s degree in mechanical and process engineering. Her passion for flying is what brought her to Armenia but she didn’t imagine herself working with hot air balloons during her time volunteering. “I had recently discovered my Austrian roots and thought it would be the perfect time to explore my Armenian half,” she explains.
Her journey to self-discovery began when a picture of her hot air balloon with the Armenian flag flying proudly from it was posted online. That triggered Nairi, the founder of Skyball—the first ballooning company in Armenia—to see the image and contact Anuch, asking if she would be interested to help out in Armenia. After her curiosity for Armenia grew, she decided to join the Birthright Armenia program to intern in engineering, making her the first from her family to visit Armenia.
Anuch explains the hot air balloon community as a family, so after her arrival in Yerevan she reconnected with Nairi from Skyball. When she learned about the International Balloon Festival soon to take place in Gyumri and Yerevan on Armenia’s Independence Day, she just knew she had to be a part of it. “Flying in Armenia is a completely different environment than I’m used to. When you fly near mountains, the wind can take you in any direction, so it’s important to quickly guide the balloon upwards.” Anuch emphasizes how close she feels to nature while flying. Not only does the wind and sky control where the balloon goes, but she sees the world from an angle not visible when walking, with no barriers between her and the sky.
Anuch is a testament to not having to take a break from your dreams while volunteering, because you can reach for them even if they are sky high!