Globos de Cantoya (Cantoya's Balloons)
Named for mid-19th century Mexican aeronaut Joaquin de la Cantolla y Rico, these delicate, handmade, tissue paper balloons are the centerpiece of Pátzcuaro, Mexico's annual CantoyaFest.
Over the course of three days, 250 large-scale, unmanned balloons (plus untold thousands of smaller, personal ones) are launched, filling the skies of this welcoming Purepechan/Tarascan colonial town.
Torso-sized, car-sized, house-sized: Make 'em any size. Being handmade, balloons are limited only by one's creativity, skill and budget. And physics, of course.
Linn and I attended a workshop and made a five-sided, five-sheet lantern (similar to Elmo, below), which took us about 45 minutes to construct.
For the sake of size comparison, an Elmo-sized lantern trails behind as the bottom cube in this triptych of balloons.
...and larger, still. Balloons can be easily three or more stories tall.
Materials needed to make a Cantoya balloon:
• Tissue Paper
• White Glue
• Box Cutter
• Pliable Wire (for aperture, positioning the fuel)
• Paraffin-soaked cloth
Contest Day: Teams of three to five people had 8 hours to construct and launch what would be judged as the most elaborate balloon. Each team was given the same quantity of materials and had to assemble everything on site. The winning team was awarded a cash prize.
The intricacies of design and construction can be appreciated upon close inspection.
Patterns begin to emerge in both positive and negative spaces.
Of course, bringing delicate tissue paper in close proximity to fire is a recipe for disaster. Wrangling the balloon while trying to get it aloft is inherently stressful for crew members and viewers alike.
An errant gust of wind during inflation or lift-off can create instant chaos, turning a stunning globo...
into a Hindenburg-sized calamity in mere seconds.
Rumor has it that this particular balloon's crew worked for three, long months assembling their balloon, only to see it fail spectacular on the launch pad.
And because of that high-risk of fire, event organizers have wisely scheduled the festival during Michoacán's rainy season. Sure, the weather may force unscheduled rain-delays, but launching an unmanned, fire-fueled balloon out into the countryside during the dry season is just irresponsible.
During a rain break, a gendarme recruit trots out his falcon.
Festival organizers invite balloon makers from all over the world to participate. This year, masterful artists from France, Colombia, El Salvador, Portugal and Brazil attended.
Those Brazilians were particularly enthused about coming to Mexico this year, because their government has outlawed all balloon construction within their country. (Balloons are frequent vehicles for launching airborne fireworks.)
Brazilian artists design and fabricate their balloons at home in large sections, smuggle the segments out of the country, and then assemble the wedges once they've arrived in Mexico.
Imagine trying to explain to the TSA why you've got a giant Jesus in your carry-on.
This doll launched successfully but caught fire shortly after take-off. It landed on a nearby tile roof and fire crews rushed to extinguish the flames.
(Note the drone, taking aerial video and trying desperately not to puncture the balloon with its rotors.)
In order to stabilize the "mother balloon" and prevent it from tipping (and igniting itself), many balloons use a counter-balance or tail. This massive banner, also made entirely from tissue paper, hung below the balloon from Pátzcuaro.
Balloons come in all shapes and designs as well. From the simple...
...to the graphic...
...to the pointy...
...to the wildly complex.
Advanced designers use architectural CAD software to help them piece together madcap designs.
Luckily, there are strong wranglers to get those mammoth balloons launched. These larger balloons have been known to travel up to 20-25 miles downwind.
Come nightfall, balloons take on a magical, etherial glow.
Many balloons launched at night are adorned with colored votive candles which have been draped over their tops in concentric rings.
And the effect is stunning.
Unfortunately, this Beauty needed a lot more oomph to get it launched. Aloft for only a minute or two...
...her lace veil of candles snagged on a tile roof, and her end came quickly in a fiery blast.
What makes CantoyaFest magical for me is the juxtaposition of balloons and the town of Pátzcuaro, its architecture and inhabitants.
Kids are always having a great time.
While daily life in town continues unabated.
..to holy places.
Also in my Scrapbook: Photos from CantoyaFest 2014 in Paracho
All Photos © Rob Fleming, 2017