ABQ Balloon Fiesta I -> First Impressions
It was early morning, and by early I mean the sky was still dark, as in pitch black I-can’t-see-a-bleeding-thing. It’s a time that belongs to bats and vampires, when normal people should be snoozing away in deep REM sleep in their cozy warm beds. Yet here we were, wide awake and buzzing on coffee.
And we were not alone.
Tens of thousands of other crazy people were here too, and they teemed around us on the moist grass, humming like bees in a giant hive, chatting, buzzing & moving in a colossal mass of human shadows against the dark. Many had spent the night sleeping on the ground, just to be here early enough to catch the first impressions. Others had come in at an inhumanly early hour, to beat the several hour-long traffic jams that were already forming on the interstate.
Everyone was ready for the show to begin.
“Bhhhhhrrrrr” A flash of flames bursts into the air, the explosion fast and furious. It’s 16 million BTU’s of pure fuel blazing a path through the night, like Thor’s hammer crashing down on earth, deep and rumbling. The fire lights a giant globe over 10 stories high sending a flash of neon pink into the crowds.
“Oooooooh, ahhhhhhh” respond the masses, as a thousand phones click a pic
“Brrrrhhhhh, rrrrroar” More flashes, more technicolor explosions.
The view becomes one of flames and color, the sounds of burners almost deafening the crowd. A row of globes flicker like giant Christmas decorations, creating a palette of light flashing in waves across the horizon. The speaker counts down and the globes all fire at once, burning colors so bright you keep seeing them even when they stop. Each burst sends electric currents of excitement through the crowds, winding up anticipation levels to a knife edge.
Finally it happens. A whistle blows and the crowds part, much like Moses parting the sea. Then slowly, beautifully, gracefully the first balloon rises, blasting and burning, a glowing orb of light departing into the night sky.
Imagine ten thousand people cheering, whooping and whistling and you’ve got an inkling of an idea of what it’s like. It’s like a rock concert and a mass chanting meditation mixed into one. The power of ten thousand voices crying in unison in the biggest celebration on earth. Raw, thunderous jubilation, released all at once. The experience is so moving, so deeply overwhelming that you can’t help but be moved with it. I cried, oh yes I did.
For hours afterwards the show continues, not quite as intense as that very first ascension but awe-inspiring nonetheless. The sky becomes a litter of balloons, the horizon an ever-changing picture as one balloon inflates and another takes off. You’re clicking pictures faster than your shutter-speed can keep up and every time you turn you see another shape or view that captures your eye. There’s an apartment-sized Frog, a ginormous Cow, a humongous Flying Pig, a massive Blue Whale, and even Darth Vader.
Welcome to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
Now lest you think I’m a fanatic, I should probably pause here to say that we’re not ballooners, nor have we ever really been into ballooning. I like the idea really I do, but for whatever reason it’s never really gripped me. You float up, you float down…and there you are. So, for that reason you’ve never really seen me talk about balloons on this blog. It’s just not something we do.
But this particular festival is entirely different. It’s the biggest balloon festival on earth with an estimated 550 balloons that attend each day. Also, it’s one of the only festivals where you’re allowed ON the field, right next to the balloons if you wish. Most other places separate spectators and balloonists, which seems rather sensible, but here at the BIGGEST of them all they allow everyone to mingle. It seems insane, especially given the massive scale of the event, but believe it or not it actually WORKS. The masses of people, flashes of propane burners and balloons so crowded they all seem to kiss create an experience that is simply unmatched anywhere else.
It’s a bucket list item folks, and it’s one EVERYONE should do at least once.
We’ve already been here almost a week and it’s been a total blast. Paul’s dad and stepmom joined us, plus a bunch of our RV buddies came out as well. We’ve attended morning events, evening events, RV parties and even crewed. Over the next 2 posts or so I’ll give you more practical details about the whole experience including tips on attending, things we’ve learned and what I recommend for newbies coming in (plus links to a few posts that inspired us).
But for this post, this first impression I just wanted to give you a taste of what it’s like. From that first ascension to the evening glow and the very last balloon that leaves, it’s a crazy awesome experience that’s so very hard to describe in words and pictures. You have to be here to fully appreciate the scale and intensity of it all, and even then it may not fully hit you until days later. I knew it would be good, but honestly I had no idea it’d be THIS good. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to share just a touch of what it’s like.
Fly on, fly well…and may the force be with you 🙂