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ALBUQUERQUE MYSTICAL Dazzling Hot Air Balloon Festival!

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I have heard about this festival in the past but never thought of adding it to my travel bucket list. However, once the seed was planted in my mind, the thought of taking to the skies in a hot air balloon started fueling my excitement – Rosalyn Pham

I love flying, or at least the idea of being able to fly. I often dream of floating in the air, feeling as light as a feather. If there was a next life, I would love to be reborn as a bird. The sensation of standing in a hot air balloon, ascending into the sky along with the sunrise, traveling in silence with the wind, contemplating the landscape and cityscape rolling by underneath, would be as wonderful as dreaming with my eyes open.

This was the first year the festival reopened after the height of Covid. Much to my disappointment, they totally sold out all the tickets to ride on the balloons. And so were the tickets for the opening ceremony. Thus began my rush to grab tickets. Any tickets to any events. Fortunately, I was able to buy the Gondola Club packages for two events.

These packages gave me private parking, a private viewing area, breakfast, and dinner, and private bathrooms (which were more important for a “senior citizen” than any other amenities). My first event started at 4pm on Saturday afternoon. It was an experience that will be forever imprinted in my memory. I learned that they flew the balloons only in the morning and the evening session was just for viewing on the ground. To preserve the surprise, I had intentionally refrained myself from looking at the pictures on the internet beforehand. And surprised, I was! What I witnessed exceeded my wildest imagination.

As the balloons took shape one by one and grew like giant mushrooms sprouting from the field, I was utterly amazed, captivated, fascinated, mesmerized, and hypnotized! No longer able to stand still in the club viewing area, my friends and I took to the field. My camera snapped hurriedly, eager to capture everything before the lights extinguished. However, as dazzling as they are, the pictures couldn’t do justice to the feelings I experienced. Only when walking among the balloons did I appreciate the size and power of these formidable flying machines. I was going wild, running back and forth, jumping up and down like a kid in a giant toy store. My eyes couldn’t shift fast enough to take in all the colors and patterns competing for my attention. A cacophony of sounds filled my ears. The countdown from the speaker. The roaring of the flames. People’s shouting and laughter. They applauded when the balloons were lit up in unison. It was a mind bending and happy chaos.

As the sun set and yielded to the moon, the balloons shone like lanterns against the fading landscape. As I walked into the magic of the night, I caught my shadow dancing with the balloons, hugging friends to seek refuge from the chilly air, bathing in the euphoria of our friendship. The second event took place the following Monday morning. I had to get up early to watch the launch of the balloons at 6 am. I had formed different visions of this event in my mind, and again this was where fantasy couldn’t level with reality. One had to see it to believe it! As the balloons slowly took off into the sky, their beautiful colors radiating against the early morning light, my heart and mind were also lifted into the most mystical and dazzling height. At one point, while I was running around to snap pictures, I was invited to walk into a half-inflated balloon. In a few short minutes, I had the chance to admire the immensity of the balloon from inside and take a group picture with my friends to mark this momentous opportunity. If one’s heart could burst from too much excitement, mine would be in pieces by then.

The balloon festival was a spectacular show. It brought out the kid in all of us, a group of high-school friends who had known each other since childhood, who had seen countless ups and downs over decades, who are now more mindful than ever of the years biting on in our life and determined to check off the items on our long bucket list. This is one item that should have been on top of my list years ago. Not sure why I didn’t go earlier, but so glad I did last year.

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