The Accidental Fiesta

Zozolcolco balloon launch

Someone wise once said:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need

That was Mick Jagger. I am not sure if he is really wise or not, but he is right. We went out of our way to be in Cuetzalan, Mexico, to see a weekend market and the voladores, but instead ended up traveling with a local family to Zozocolco for a fiesta. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Mexico, and totally unexpected.

Zozocolco Festival De Globos de Papel de China

The owners of our guesthouse, Rocio and David, invited us to travel to Veracruz to see the Festival de Globos de Papel de China. It is a festival in which people who evidently have way too much time on their hands make enormous balloons out of Chinese tissue paper and launch them in a small Mexican town. We knew nothing about it, but were unable to pass up an opportunity to go somewhere with locals.

We loaded up in a van with their 12-year old son and a stack of sombreros and drove down back roads, around hairpin turns and through lush farmland. We stopped at a small village to pick up David’s Abuela but she was at church. Abuela está en la iglesia. It brought back memories of Spanish class.

Zozocolco festival

David and I. I am not sure what he is doing in this photo.

Rocio suggested we have a cheeky mid-day beer at a local cantina while we waited for her. One thing I love about Mexicans is that they view time differently and don’t seem to be in such a hurry. As we drank our beers the 12-year-old took surreptitious sips from his mother’s glass. Eventually, Abuela showed up and we were off again.

Arriving in Zozocolco, we ate dinner at a local restaurant. Rocio ordered another beer. Abuela said she couldn’t drink because it made her sick, however she continuously took sips from Rocio’s bottle. David Jr. continued to take surreptitious sips as well. Rocio would examine her bottle curiously and wonder where it had gone, then she’d order another. Abuela also said she no longer ate tortillas cause they were making her fat. She ate about eight tortillas.

Arriving at the festival, following the assertive Rocio, we worked our way to the front of the crowd and watched as the balloons were launched. It was a strange festival in many ways. Between balloon launches, the crowd sat around in a state of boredom while crews hurriedly unfurled a giant yet delicate balloon and lit a fire to create hot air to inflate it. An obnoxious emcee made announcements and a band played joyful music, but the people seemed resigned to boredom, like passengers on public transportation.

As the balloons expanded, murmurs and oohs and aahs rippled through the crowd. Eventually, the massive balloons grew taller than the adjacent cathedral and flew away to the amazement of the onlookers, who settled back into their state of torpor as another crew rushed in to make a launch.

Zozolcolco balloon launch Zozocolco festival Zozolcolco globo Zozocolco balloon launch globo launch

All around the main launching event, there were dances, games, music and this being Mexico, vendors selling watery beer. Rocio bought a pair of small paper balloons and we launched them behind the church, with the help of several kids and strangers. On one occasion, a small balloon launched by a kid drifted into the air space of a competition balloon, threatening to catch it on fire and cause a major catastrophe, but luckily it narrowly missed. The crowd gasped and moaned in horror, I should add.

Looking around, one thing really struck me: everyone was dressed nicely. This was an event in a poor, rural area and yet most men had on collared shirts and nice jeans and many women had on dresses. I am from rural Oklahoma and spent most of my adult years in rural Alaska. Such an event back home would be the domain of men wearing wife-beaters, shirts with offensive sayings and the realm of women with cut-off jean shorts, tube tops and a proud display of muffin top. And there would be lots and lots of camouflage.

At dusk, an ominous wall of storm clouds began to roll in, kicking up a strong wind and putting an end to the balloon launches. As we hurried towards the car, we were constantly distracted by dancers and musicians. We knew that by stopping to watch we were risking being caught in a deluge, but how can you pass up stuff like this:

Zozocolco day of the dead dancers Zozocolco day of the dead dancers2

On the drive home, David stopped along the way and we all had a beer at a roadside shop, because, you know, Mexico. We pulled in to town in the midst of a violent downpour that lasted all through the day on Sunday. The voladores, as you might expect, did not perform during the storm so we missed seeing them. We didn’t get what we wanted; we got something even better.

Photo Gallery – Festival De Globos de Papel de China

Click any photo to open up a slideshow view


Have you ever had a spontaneous change of plans while traveling? 

That song is in your head now, isn’t it?


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39 Comments on “The Accidental Fiesta

  1. Very, very cool! Amazing artistry with tissue paper. I wonder how long it takes to make one of those balloons.

    • I heard that it takes about 3 months to make. I imagine it takes several people also to make it. They are really detailed and huge.

  2. I think I love this much better than those men jumping off from high poles! This is much more fun and festive and colorful. And as for the photo, I think you could pass off as a Mexican while Señor David “fawns” weirdly at you! 😛

    • Agreed. The people will still be jumping off poles in the futures, but this was a once in a lifetime chance. I need to die my beard black, get cowboy boots and I might pass!

  3. I’ve never been to a launching of paper balloons or lanterns, but I’ve often wondered … aren’t they afraid of setting the town on fire?
    … although it was helpful that a major downpour was scheduled for the same day 😉

  4. Yet another fascinating ‘discovery’ of a less traveled place in Mexico. I always love the anecdotes you put in your posts, Jeff, as well as your observation of people.

  5. OMG I love Mexico! Endless fiestas wherever you go.Thanks for sharing this. Those balloons are extraordinary and fabulous. The photo captioned “Crowd looks on is amazement” is a great capture. And the three boys lighting the candle under the balloon. Well lots of them are but for some reason I really liked those two. We’ve just been to an annual indigenous festival here in SMA. Amazing costumes as usual! I put some photos up on FB. Are we friends on FB? And if not why not? Are you on FB? I’m going to look for you 🙂
    Alison

    • Does your blog have a FB page? I found you and sent a friend request. Those photos you have are awesome – so colorful.

      That is the thing about Mexico that amazes me – in the US we have obliterated so much of our native culture but in Mexico it is in full display. Sadly, so many Americans only know of the beaches. There is so much to discover in this friendly, vibrant country.

      Thanks for the compliments on the photos. I like the shot of the boys lighting the balloon too. One of the boys is the kid we traveled with, so I just got down low and shot the photos and they tried to launch the balloon. It helped that I knew someone so I could totally invade their personal space.

  6. I’m such an idiot lol, of course we’re connected on FB. Well I follow your page anyway. I only have a profile. One of these days I’ll make a FB blog page. Send me a friend request.
    A.

  7. I sense that any American neighborhood attempting such an event would be on fire due to flaming balloons falling from the sky onto houses. Thank you for showing us the genteel traditions and mannerisms of others!

    • Agreed, I don’t think most places in America could survive such an event. Mexico isn’t a place that puts a high value on safety, for better or worse. In this case, it was good!

  8. Another great Planet Bell read, and humor and observation of oddity, but this was the best part for me, had to laugh: “Have you ever had a spontaneous change of plans while traveling?” Well, funny because that is precisely how I travel ALL the time!

    • I am jealous! I wish I could travel that way more. Truth be told, if I were still single I would, but I am married to a type A planner and that just wouldn’t happen now. I am sure my wife will read this comment someday and I can see her nodding in agreement.

      • OK, well, since we’re being honest here, I would have to admit that at this stage of life and traveling, I would absolutely LOVE to have a travel partner who would/could plan things out ahead.

      • This might be a business opportunity – we can match travelers together kind of like match.com. Type in what type of travel you are, who you are seeking in a partner, estimate how much booze you drink and swipe right.

      • Hahahahahah!!! THAT is a great idea, and way too funny. If I’d have had coffee in my mouth it would have sprayed all over my screen. And we could have various other categories to match up…like how many Bhat you spend on a room, or whether or not you eat candied cockroaches. And not only how much beer you drink, but how much (or if) you’re willing to haul in your bag. I like this idea!! We could make T-shirts like Abercrombie & Fitch: Bell & Badfish

      • Let’s get this started. Al we have to do is get a few thousand users and then Zuckerberg will buy it for 35 billion dollars and we will be set! You can have a whole harem of travelers.

      • I knew you’d be trouble!! Hey, I’m hitting Bangkok for 2 hours on my way to Myanmar.

  9. I am both a type-A planner and someone who loves a spontaneous change of plans. It’s too hard to go with no plan, but no fun to just stick with it once there! Loved your story.

    • We’d travel well together then. Planning is half the fun for me, but finding unexpected things are the best.

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