|New Mexican Souvenir - digital photo - 2014, DS|
"Early unmanned hot air balloons were used in China. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, during the Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD) used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Kongming lanterns. There is also some speculation, from a demonstration directed by British modern hot air balloonist Julian Nott during the late 1970s and again in 2003 that hot air balloons could have been used as an aid for designing the famous Nazca ground figures and lines, which were created by the Nazca culture of Peru between 400 and 650 AD."
- Via the Wiki entry for Hot-air Balloon...
That weird, brightly-colored object above is a balloon-spinner; a sort of glorified pinwheel-like contraption that, once suspended, is meant to represent one of the awesome hot-air balloons Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for. The Fiesta itself doesn't occur till October, but, I bought it in a small shop in Albuquerque's Old Town - which sells balloon-related paraphernalia all year round - while I was visiting New Mexico earlier this month. I couldn't resist it. Hot air balloons, for whatever reason, have become a sort of totemic symbol for me in the past year... as New Mexico itself has been a sort of dream destination for ten years. But, I never knew about the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta till I was scheduling my flight.
I had my eye on a purple balloon-spinner as well, and couldn't make up my mind... but, in the end, the New Mexican flag spinner with it's "controversial" Zia sun-symbol won the day. The symbol is controversial, in that it was more or less stolen from the Pueblo of Zia, a Native American tribe, indigenous to New Mexico. The Zia People still live in reserved lands outside of Bernalillo... and they've requested royalties for the use of their sacred symbol. All things considered, who can blame them? On the other hand, there's a satisfying symmetry in all of this: the adoption of the Zia sun symbol as the New Mexican state symbol pretty much declares that New Mexico is the land of the People of the Pueblo of Zia.
Below is a time-lapse video of a past Balloon Fiesta, courtesy of the Roadtrippers. It almost looks like an animation; but, keep in mind, all those tiny balloons darting around are actually gas-filled giants, carrying groups of people in suspended baskets (or gondolas). It has to be pretty amazing, whether you're on the ground, or in the air...
As for my New Mexican adventure... well, it's yet to begin. My recent visit there was, essentially, just a day-trip... and pretty much the comedy of errors one might expect from someone who hasn't done much traveling in 20 years. But, basically, I was just trying to resolve an issue: does the "Land of Enchantment" hold any promise for an anomalous tribe - the Dia tribe - of one? ;-)
So, my real adventure begins next month when I more fully explore the Land of the Zia. In other words, with any luck, my next post will originate from the American Southwest, where the sun shines for over 300 days a year. (Can't beat that!)
Till then... adios, amigos!
Update: November 5, 2014
"Once the design is complete, the extremely laborious process of piecing the balloon together starts. The complex designs you see in the photos are not painted or drawn on the balloon: each swath of color is a hand-cut piece of paper. Each piece is cut and glued together in a process that takes months. It is a very ephemeral art. Indeed, most of the enjoyment of ballooning lays in the crafting itself. A team will work for months to create a balloon, and then only get to watch it for some thirty minutes before its shape becomes indistinguishable in the sky."
- from An Art of Air and Fire: Brazil’s Renegade Balloonists by Felipe Fernandes Cruz
Couldn't resist posting these links, found today. If there's a bigger thrill than hot-air balloons, it'd have to be hot-air balloons which shoot fireworks, like the one shown above... an example of the amazing balloons of Brazil.
Made of paper and propelled by torches created with the wax from church and graveyard candles, their pyrotechnical payloads are hung on long strings, and set to explode sequentially as the balloons drift higher and higher in the atmosphere. (No, these balloons do not carry human passengers.)
That being said, they are currently prohibited... and flying balloons of this nature is a criminal act in Brazil. And, yeah, looking at this video, they probably are a fire hazard... but... TOTALLY AWESOME! ;-)
(Hat tip to boingboing's Cory Doctorow!)