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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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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