Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Oh, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. With 600 hot air balloons, it's the largest balloon festival in the world, and photographing this event has been on my Life List for ages. Imagine the awesome photos you could take at an event like this! And what incredible luck that the annual fiesta just happened to be occurring the weekend after Larry's business trip to New Mexico.
Unfortunately, that is where my luck ended. The Balloon Fiesta may have been the biggest travel disappointment of my life. But let me start from the beginning:
We woke up at 3:45 am to drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Yes, 3:45 am. Evidently I am even more dedicated to sacrificing my sleep and mental well-being for hot air balloons than for sunrises. (Though, bonus - I got to see the sunrise, too. Spoiler alert: that's pretty much all I got to see.) Once in Albuquerque, we waited in the dark in a mega line to get tickets and for the shuttle bus to take us to the fiesta grounds.
The shuttle bus was a school bus. Haven't ridden one of those in almost 20 years! Not only was it a school bus, but it was a school bus full of teenage girls wearing sweatpants and giggling. Flashback to high school, except Larry and I felt like the uncool parents. Yikes.
We arrived at the fiesta grounds and it was packed. Pitch black out and I've never seen so many people in my life. By 6 am, the midway was packed with 100,000 people eating breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls. It was like attending a carnival in the middle of the night. So bizarre.
We arrived in the middle of the night so we could see the Morning Glow (the balloons inflate and light up while sitting on the ground) and the Mass Ascension (all the balloon take flight!). We wandered the grounds as the crews prepped their balloons and the sun came up and I tried to scope out the best location for taking photos. It was looking to be a beautiful day with perfect weather - clear skies, the slightest of breezes, the sun shining...
But progress was slow. There seemed to be a delay that was preventing the balloons from inflating for the Morning Glow. The sun came up and not much was happening. But then finally, finally, some balloons started to inflate. Starting with the scary clown balloon. Happy Mardi Gras/sweet dreams:
Aaaaaannnd, that was as far as they got. Yup, that was it. After several weather delay announcements and waiting for hours, the Mass Ascension was cancelled. Yes, cancelled. What seemed like perfect weather to me was evidently just enough wind to make it dangerous for the balloons to take flight. Obviously, safety is the most important thing, but after getting up in the middle of the night to photograph something I'd been wanting to experience for years, it was a major disappointment. About half the balloons had inflated and sat on the ground so the hundreds of thousands of disappointed people would have something to look at, but then they started to deflate and shut the whole thing down. Such a bummer. Luckily enough time has passed at this point, that it's just a semi-funny story, but at the time I felt like a kid who woke up on Christmas only to find that Santa hadn't come.
We quickly grabbed a few pics of our favorite balloons (Yoda and Elvis) to prove that we were there:
And yes, we could've come back for the evening's activities and hoped that the weather conditions would change and the balloons would be able to ascend later in the day. But that was hours away and would've involved either finding somewhere to sit around in Albuquerque for ten hours, or driving back and forth to Santa Fe (an hour away), trying to find parking again, paying for parking/tickets/shuttle service again, etc - all without the guarantee that they would be able to take off. (Turns out the weather did clear up and they did ascend that night. And yes, I did experience slight rage when I checked out all the photos on Instagram of hundreds of balloons taking flight.) But at the time, it didn't seem worth the risk or the time commitment, so we decided to cut our loses and try to recover what we could of the rest of the day...