Not much music this week, but something really fun …balloons, big ones.
As citizens of the US remembered 9-11, Mexicans launched the celebrations of Fiestas Patrias – the anniversary of Grito – the call to arms that led to the Mexican Revolution which eventually liberated it from Spain. Unlike the 4th of July which is one day – or a three-day weekend, Fiestas Patrias is 2 weeks of fun, music, parades, queens, fashion shows, food , and really big balloons.
These balloons, known as globos, are unique to Ajijic; the festival of the balloons is the Regatta de Globos, a friendly competition among teams. Everyone is a volunteer – and there is not much central planning. People just arrive and know what to do.
The teams have been together since the early 1990ss. Some are families, some are open to anyone, they are male and female, but it is mostly men who launch the balloons. Thirteen teams showed up, each bringing up to 30 balloons.
The party started at 3 pm in the Azul Field – an athletic field also used for soccer and big events. People began trickling in around 2 pm or so, some setting up taco kitchens and beer tents, others staking out shady places for folding chairs or grabbed seats in the stands. The teams have been there since morning, setting up tents, laying out banners, food tables, tools, and globos.
The globos are a wonder. Made of flammable tissue paper, glued together by hand and shellacked, they are the result of 6 months or more painstakingly assembling . Teams make as many as thirty balloons and the Regatta sees around 330 balloons launched between 3 pm and closing. The globos range in size from 8 or ten feet, up to 30-35 feet from tail to top. Many are in fanciful shapes, like rocket ships, tacos, or even SpongeBob Squarepants.
The globos are powered by open flames inside the balloon. While the team stretches the balloon out on the ground, a lighter sticks his body halfway inside the balloon with a gas-powered flamethrower and pumps in hot air. When the balloon nis full of hot air and inflates, another guy puts a flat charcoal cake on a wire frame inside the balloon and lights it up. The combo of the hot air and now the flame putting out more hot air, usually launches the globo.
So the globo rises, or catches fire, which happens to ten or so balloons during the day Many more catch fire in the air.
But if all goes well, the balloon launches and floats away – landing in someone’s, yard, phone lines, the lake, trees or the street, usually with the fires burned out. Some float for miles; others crash and burn in minutes.
OSHA would faint at the Regatta de Globs. No one wears gloves, safety glasses, or any kind of protective equipment. There are a few fire extinguishers and an ambulance is parked outside, in case someone gets badly burned, which I have never seen. But some balloons do catch fire on takeoff or land in trees and set them on fire, usually in a minor way.
One safety precaution is rain – the Regatta is in the rainy season ,and sure enough, it rained for about 10 minutes, giving us about a half-inch of water. Everyone scrambled for the tents and the trees crowded together like an office elevator at closing time. And then emerged as the rain passed and fired up the flame throwers
There was music. Someone brought a huge sound system and played Mexican pop and rock, but the cheers of the several thousand spectators drowned out the music unless you were near the end of the field where the speakers were. I wasn’t, so all I heard were the boom box drums.
All in all, Regatta de Globos was a great way to spend the afternoon, even if I couldn’t hear the music.
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