“Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got, Set them free at the break of dawn. ‘Til one by one they were gone.”
-Nena, “99 Luftballoons”
Every city has something annual that they’re known for (don’t research that), even if the event is only familiar to the locals. Albuquerque holds a yearly affair opened to international competitors, displayers, and tourists. It’s known as the Balloon Fiesta, and it’s a beautiful, yet bittersweet baker’s week (think baker’s dozen, I was trying to be clever). The clear blue sky becomes a colorful array of floating shapes that are amazing in person and more than adequate for a Facebook cover photo after a plethora of snapped memories are captured; many many memories from many many people.
That’s my Facebook cover photo by the way. The Fiesta brings a great deal of tourism to Albuquerque each year, and the popularity of the event continues to grow. There were a registered 550 balloons penciled in to partake in 2014 (Rayburn, 2014). In its inaugural 1972 launch, there were just 13 balloons floating away from the Coronado Mall parking lot (Rayburn, 2014). Now the participants take off from Balloon Fiesta Park, with 80 of the 360 acres dedicated to balloonists (Rayburn, 2014) and their huge inflatable contraptions.
It’s not only about these unusual operators and their hot air floating around, there are other attractions that draw people to the event: Chainsaw carving competitions even though fast-moving powered blades are probably the last thing someone wants around nylon fabric, educational presentations, activities for children (better tag those tots), concerts, fireworks, balloon rides, delicious food for way too high of a price, unfriendly locals, and volunteers that seemingly have no idea what they’re doing, but a smile and upbeat personality distracts the attendees just enough to hide the fact, and of course the balloon glows and the special shapes. Last year, an estimated 856,986 people (Rayburn, 2014) agreed: we spent a lot of money to see something up close.
New Mexico Autumns are one of the greatest seasons you could ask for. The temperature is a perfect mix of cold and mild and warm (couldn’t you just have said, ‘mild’?), the wind is usually calm, the rain is usually gone, the winter aromas of fireplaces and roasted chile fill the air, and warm New Mexican cuisine accompanied by dark and sweet local brews comforts even the pickiest of eaters. Yet, for some reason, half the early October week forces events to be cancelled. It’s either raining or too windy. Maybe it’s a ploy, a deal between the Duke City and Mother Nature, for tourists to stay longer because it seems to be the only event that generates revenue for the Land of Enchantment during the year. Whether or not that’s true (it obviously is), people seem to have a difficult time leaving, or more crowds filter in as others depart.
The commute to and from Balloon Fiesta Park should be a strong indicator of how many people actually attend the festival. The process seems disorganized, but sadly it’s the best option for drivers. What do you think they have been doing the last 42 years? Not developing a decent system on how to park one’s vehicle? As mentioned in Driving: An Unofficial Guide (you would know if you had purchased it; the link is below), the traffic created by tourism is frustrating to say the least. In addition, one of the busiest interchanges in Albuquerque is under construction. Colors fill the sky as orange clutters the ground. Sightseers park on the side of highways to take pictures, which is surprisingly better than tourists driving fifteen miles per hour under the speed limit and causing rear-end fender benders and delaying the stressed-out locals’ daily commutes because they’re staring at the sky and not the road.
Pedestrians tilt their heads upwards and completely disregard their location as they mosey into business’ parking lots, crosswalks, and yards belonging to grumpy old Mexicans. They don’t care though, and why should they? They just spent a large amount of money to come to a place they don’t know how to spell or even knew existed.
It’s madness. People lose all sense of safety to stare up in the sky; Albuquerque stuffs nearly double its population into city limits that can barely fit three-quarters of its current populace. Hotels are booked a year in advance and people flock to the Southwest and for what? A bunch of balloons? It’s much more than that though; it’s different, unique, quite extraordinary, and highly recommended. Even if you live here, through all the frustrations that the Balloon Fiesta brings to your daily routine, when you see the sky so colorful and the people so joyous, it’s worth losing common sense and becoming lost for a few days.
Rayburn, R. (2014, October 13). Breezing to a close. Albuquerque Journal. pp. A1-A2