GUEST POST by Michele Hathaway
Like moths to flame, the crowd at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta surges toward the first blast of a hot-air burner on the field. A wave of heat washes over cold nipped noses. Clutching cups of coffee or hot chocolate, spectators breathe a collective sigh. Excitement is palpable as the night presses around us.
The Dawn Patrol Is On The Move
If the Dawn Patrol reports good conditions, the Mass Ascension will commence. If not, the disappointed crowd will go away with nothing for their short night’s sleep but a green chili breakfast burrito. Today the forecast is good, though. The wind is low and the sun is rising in a cloudless sky.
Balloons lined up for the Morning Glow pop up one after another, blinking on and off like a giant string of Christmas lights. Everyone grins. They can’t help it. Cameras and phones are ready, charged, with space to spare.
The Balloon Fiesta is an event to be experienced. Watching it on T.V. is like the difference between seeing a triple layer amaretto, espresso, or chocolate gateau and tasting one. Parking on the side of the road, while nice and convenient, won’t cut it, either.
On the field of Balloon Fiesta Park, one becomes part of another creature. Here spectators can wander around un-inflated balloons spread lifeless on the grass or partly filled billowing clouds of color. Here is the whirl of fans, the blast of burners, the cheering as yet another balloon lifts off. Here are the excited faces of passengers on their first flight.
Here is the wonder of children
who feel like they’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole.
Here is the Morning Glow,
the sky a wonderland of color.
The Balloon Fiesta is Truly International.
The Balloon Fiesta isn’t all about New Mexico and Breakfast Burritos, it is truly an international event. One year I met a group who are ethnically Thai but live in Germany and promote tourism to Thailand with their Hot Air Balloon. It was their first trip to the United States.
The Balloon Fiesta is nothing short of magical. Events last all day as well as all week. Check the website for schedules and other details: http://www.balloonfiesta.com/
Travel Tips for a Successful Fiesta:
• The Balloon Fiesta takes place between the first and second weekends in October. Book your lodgings early.
• Make sure your camera or phone is charged and there’s plenty of digital space. And for goodness sake, don’t forget it!
• Dress for cold. This may be New Mexico, but Albuquerque is a mile high. October can get cold at night–which makes it great for ballooning. Bring gloves, a hat, a scarf, and a jacket. Sometimes a light jacket will do. Other times, I’ve been grateful for my ski parka! I layer so I can peel things off as it gets warmer. Bring a bag to stuff things in if you warm up. If you forget your gloves, there are vendors who will sell you a pair. They love it when the weather is cold.
• You can take a shuttle from various places around the city. I’ve never done this, but many do, and it takes away the stress of driving, parking, and walking. Transportation is available for those who have trouble walking. Look for details on the website.
• Depending on where you stay, I’d recommend getting on the road by 5 a.m. You’ll hit the line of traffic farther away than you thought, but don’t panic. You’ll get there. Avoid the Crew Lane. Generally, good signs mark this lane.
• Budget $20 per person plus another $10 for parking if you drive. This covers admission and the breakfast burritos, coffee, or hot chocolate you’ll definitely want, plus a little extra in case you need batteries or, say, Krispy Kreme donuts.
• As soon as you enter the park, head for the burritos. No, seriously. Get them now to avoid the line later. Why spend your time in a line when you can be wandering in wonderland? Green chili is the best, by the way, unless you absolutely can’t handle chili. In which case, my condolences.
• Make your way toward the field, away from the crowd. Some people have brought lawn chairs. You didn’t, but then why would you want to saddle yourself with them? Picnic tables are available. Ask if you can sit at an empty space. This is a party; they won’t mind. Don’t sit on the grass, it’s wet. We don’t have much grass in Albuquerque and we water this patch. Or don’t sit. Walk further out on the field, where the crowd thins, where balloon crews are pulling in, leaning on trucks and trailers, sipping coffee from thermoses, waiting, waiting.
• You are welcome to get close, but…be careful not to step on any balloons on the ground. They can rip!
• Collect Cards! Most of the pilots have collectors’ cards. They are pleased as can be to give the cards to children—and children at heart.
BALLOONING IS NOT 100% SAFE: Accidents and deaths have occurred at the Fiesta. Balloon at your own risk. Having said that, the pilots are skilled professionals who have gone through rigorous training to get and keep their licenses. They do everything they can to make the event safe, but unforeseen circumstances occasionally occur.
Michele Hathaway is a freelance editor and children’s book writer. She has an M.A. in Social Anthropology and loves all things cultural. When she’s not traveling, she’s time traveling through the magic of historical fiction. She contributes regularly to www.madaboutmghistory.blogspot.com
Thank you, Michele. Maybe I can join you next year. The Morning Glow would be my favorite time and event. Although lighting the night is a beautiful scene, too.
What would be your favorite time of day for viewing this wonderland of color? Which balloon did you like best? Comment below.
Until next time…Travel Light,
© 2016 SuZan Klassen