Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Globos Fiesta of 2015

A colorful hot air balloon rises majestically against backdrop of Ajijic's mountains. The Globos Fiesta is one of the most popular events during Ajijic's annual Independencia celebration. Globos are balloons, and the ones launched during the fiesta are made of tissue paper and powered by hot air. While they don't carry passengers, they are most definitely exciting. This is not only because of their vivid colors and the fascinating variety of their shapes. The globos also have a reputation for catching fire that would give heart papitations to a north-of-the-border fire marshal. The Globos Fiesta is usually held on the Saturday afternoon of the weekend before September 15, Mexico's Independence Day.

The field of action

The bleachers of the local futbol (soccer) field were jammed with spectators. Unless you arrive early, there is little chance of finding a seat up there. However, many groups set up canopies and chairs around the perimeter of the field, and individuals often bring their own folding seats. The field itself is covered by hundreds of wandering spectators. The various teams prepping, inflating, and launching their globos are usually surrounded by scores of gawkers. In addition to spectators and team members, innumerable vendors roam about, selling cotton candy, toys, food, artisan wares, etc. Music blasts from loud speakers and the whole event is typically Mexican: colorful, noisy, and a little crazy.

Prepping the globo. The first step is to carefully unfold and spread out the globo. Even though some are quite large, they are still fairly fragile and must be handled gently. A fire is burning in the dark can in the center of the photo in order to generate the hot air needed for the initial inflation.

One team member fans hot air up into the opening while another ignites the flame inside. This is one of the most tricky moments. The globo's fragile skin could be torn by an overeager handler or a gust of wind blowing it against something sharp. It could also catch fire by coming in contact with the little stove on the ground, or during the delicate operation necessary to light its internal fire.

Success! The globo is up, up, and away! The large balloon rose gently as the the crowd cheered. It was one of the more successful entries and achieved an altitude of several thousand feet. Through the air hole in the bottom, you can see the blazing internal flame.

Some of the mechanics of getting them launched

This entry required a step ladder to prep it. The globos, as you will soon see, come in every imaginable shape and size. Some are only as big as an oversized beach ball. Others can be as tall as a house and require scaffolding to set up and launch. Although all are made of paper and powered by hot air, the resemblance among balloons ends there. Some are round, some square, others are multi-pointed stars, or long cylinders, or are shaped like animals or other objects.

A team effort. A large group was required to launch this globo. This photo gives you an idea of how big some of the balloons are, particularly when scaled against the people who are working on them. This one was only half-inflated.

Where'd it go? The Naranja Mechanica team squints into the sunlight, trying to keep their entry in sight. Some balloons are constructed and launched by individuals or family groups. In other cases local businesses field teams. An auto mechanic's shop fielded this team, complete with its own t-shirts. Sometimes a single team will construct multiple globos. A friend mentioned that someone he knew had brought 35 balloons to the event. I can believe it, because the Globos Fiesta always continues through the afternoon and into the evening. Throughout, at any one time, there are usually 5-10 globos in the air, while another 5-10 are under preparation or launching.

A view from the ground. I took this shot to show some of the basic elements of a typical design. The hole in the bottom keeps air flowing in to feed the flame. The fire itself is usually produced by lighting an oily rag in a small wire container suspended inside the balloon. In order to maintain the globo's stability in buffeting air currents, a water-filled plastic soda bottle has been suspended several feet below the balloon. This performs the same function as the tail on a kite. If the globo oscillates too much from side to side, the flame may come in contact with the skin, with disastrous results.

Globos come in all shapes, sizes, and themes

This weird looking figure is a popular character in Mexican children's cartoon shows. The balloon is probably about 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I have noticed that cylindrical shaped globos often don't fare well because they are especially prone to oscillations. However, this one did just fine.

On a stairway to heaven. Perhaps the shape of this one helped ensure its smooth launch and flawless performance as it rose through the clouds. Whatever works.

Love conquers all. Another globo with a theme that its creators felt couldn't lose. They were right. The heart flew on and on until we lost sight of it in the clouds.

And now for something completely different... A bright green rana (frog) rises graceflully into the sky. The crew had a difficult time getting the rana inflated, probably due to the multiple chambers that had to be filled. It was also very clumsy to launch. Once in the air, however, the happy creature soared aloft.

The Rise and Fall of "Just Chillin's" Globo

Just Chillin's penguin mascot was the theme for their entry. Just Chillin' is a wildly popular new restaurant located on the Carretera in west Ajijic. All the expats who eat there regularly were rooting for this entry. It was quite large, and had the problematic cylinder shape. I kept my fingers crossed.

Oh no! Disaster strikes! Sure enough, the penguin's shape caused it to oscillate soon after launch. Everyone held their breath. Then, black smoke appeared, the first sign of demise. As the oscillations increased, flames appeared and began consuming the side of the globo. The huge crowd groaned in sympathy as the ground crew watched helplessly.

The penguin disintegrates and begins to drop. Once a sizable portion of the walls of a balloon are consumed, the warm air inside dissipates and the balloon begins to drop, trailed by debris.

The flaming wreck of Just Chillin's entry plummets to the ground. Remember, the field below was swarming with people. Everyone scattered to avoid the crash. Any visiting fire marshals from up north probably had to be revived with smelling salts. Probably 40-50% of the launches go this way. Some of them get only a few feet off the ground before flaming out. I have many photos of such disasters, but I only chose one as a representative sample. Most land on the field, but others end up on rooftops, on the nearby highway, in the trees, or dangling from power lines. However, I have never seen any serious damage as a result and everyone treats it as great fun.

Some that made it...

A spectacular star-burst globo is hung with a sign while others float in the distance. The sign is titled "Miasthenia Gravis" and apparently the globo was intended to promote awareness about a muscle disease that generally affects women under 40 and men over 60.  If you look closely you can see three other globos in the photo. The most distant is only a white speck among the clouds in the upper right.

This completes my posting on the Globo Fiesta. If you ever visit Lake Chapala during the week of Independencia, this is one event you don't want to miss! I hope you enjoyed this posting. After last week's very serious analysis of the socio-economic basis of the War of Independence, I thought people might be ready for a bit of simple fun. If you have any questions of comments, please leave them in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Thank you for the pictures and story!! I am in the states and missed this event. I will see all my fellow hikers when I return in October

  2. How beautiful and creative these globos are. Of course, sad when one doesn't make it. But once again, thank you for your postings.

  3. I've always heard these referred to as Globos de Cantoya. There's a big festival in Paracho, Michoacán every summer, and I recently saw a note for one in Cheran. At the festival in Paracho this year, we took a class and each couple made one for $70 pesos. I also purchased a dozen or so for my birthday celebration. I invite families from my village and the kids participate in sending them from my patio. It's quite a big deal because most of these families won't have a chance to go to Paracho. As always, Jim, nice photos and informative write-up.

  4. Thanks for sharing these nice photos! It is my biggest dream to try to fly by air balloon! If would be fun!

  5. Great story as usual, Jim! What made me smile was your comment about the balloon in the shape of a 'popular character in Mexican children's cartoon shows' - you need to hang around kids more! :)

  6. Dear William,

    I stand corrected! The cartoon character depicted in the balloon is one of the "Minions" from the recently released American film of that same name. I always appreciate sharp-eyed blog viewers who can correct my errors.

    Thanks, Jim


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