Tired of the Elephants: In New Mexico with Jose Cuervo, Jesus and a penguin

BalloonI found a wee scrap of diary from a trip to report on Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Hot Air Balloon Fiesta for The Irish Times a few years ago… It was one of my very first travel writing trips. It was pretty great; I looked at America from a train for two days, drank tequila and met an ex-clown.

Thursday…

I eventually escape a 36 hour commentary on the tractor industry of Illinois on the Southwest Chief train from Chicago, and reach New Mexico in time for the highlight of Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta – the Rodeo Glowdeo – an illuminated aerial rodeo of ludicrously shaped hot air balloons.

The demoted Route 66 stripes through town, shadows of Kerouac scored by the neon of the glowing twenty mile long 40s motel strip. I am soon happily ensconced in the most neon motel of all, where the desk muppet informs me with ominous eyebrows and a luminous marker, (both obviously kept for this specific purpose), which are the safe parts of town, effectively permitting me to saunter without fear from my room halfway to the pool and back to the tattoo dispenser.

Friday afternoon…

I seem to have made a fatal miscalculation of scale regarding Albuquerque, and am somewhat dismayed to discover that the Balloon Fiesta is fifteen miles from town. Public transport, e-mail facilities and the allegedly common State Bird, the Roadrunner, do not appear to be plentiful in New Mexico. As an ex-clown I encountered this morning informed me, Albuquerque sprawled in the wake of the automobile. The clown, when questioned about his demotion to ex-clown, replied thoughtfully, ‘After a while you just get tired of the elephants’.

Friday evening…

The first balloon I encounter, drunkenly flailing overhead, one hundred feet high, is a partially inflated Jose Cuervo bottle. In all directions, half breathing galloping cows, glowing monsters and gas-filled corporate identities lumber and reel to life. There’s a rumour that Jesus the Hot Air Balloon is making his debut this year. After a variety of cactus and tequila concoctions in the hospitality tent, I lurch across the desert floor, past a fifty foot hotdog, a looming bottle of Jim Beam, the globe, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and Noah’s Ark. Vast heads unfurl in slow-motion in the desert sun.

Lurking amidst Wilma Flintstone, a tilting dinosaur and a giant penguin, Jesus rises from mounds of white and purple canvas, surrounded by smiling minions decked in ‘He Is Lord’ T-shirts. With a flare of fire, his shoulders shrug, fingers flex as he inflates. The 200 foot Jesus soars above the rest of the varied congregation, ensconced on a purple cloud, arms outstretched in blessing over a cactus, a pumpkin, the Energiser Bunny and Mr Potato Head. Slowly, the penguin inches round to face Jesus, genuflects and then head butts him.

 

 

 

 

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