While traveling in Western Turkey this fall with a great group of friends from Vancouver I wrote a couple of posts that I did not put online. Not posting only reflects how engaged I was with the group and the fun that we had along the way. Here is an account of hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. It was definitely a highlight of our travels together. The morning was extraordinarily clear, a perfect day…..
Turkey is a land of infinitely varied geography with the region of Cappadocia being among the most unique and with incredible surreal topography. That being said, what better way to view the fairy chimneys, valleys and caves but from the air? A literal bird’s eye view.
We booked a sunrise hot air balloon ride for our group of adventuresome travellers. Most of us are ‘in’ on this optional component of our travels. Are we at our best at 5:30 a.m? Not really, but this is the appointed hour for the minibus to pick us up from our cave hotel and deliver us to the launch site.
On arrival four balloons are in the process of being inflated while the sun is still well below the horizon. Hot drinks and biscuits, our fees paid and soon we are being urged to climb into the basket of balloon #1. Our Turkish pilot, Ali, works for Sultan Balloons and before we know it all eleven of us are up, up and away. Sultan Balloons advertises ‘magic in the air’ and we are all keen to share in this promise. As we lift off the horizon is beginning to glow with the promise of this new day.
For those of us in the group who are keen photographers the next hour enchants with changing light on the landscape as the day unfolds. Each of us enjoys the immense calm of floating at times high above the land with long views of this remarkable topography and then the breath holding delight of feeling the basket brush the tops of the fruit trees as we float unbelievably close to the ground. At one point the balloon is casting it’s shadow onto a wall of tufa. We are not alone, even though there is a sense of solitude. As we crest a rise we encounter a sky full of other balloons dotting the sky like a merry convention of polka dots. Apparently, there are now close to 100 hot air balloons aloft on any given morning in Cappadocia.
Of course, all good things must end and it is the landing that is particularly memorable. We have been able to see the distinctive red chase vehicle as we start out descent. Our pilot chooses a sheltered ploughed field and the driver pulls the chase vehicle with it’s trailer flatbed for the basket onto a rutted track beside the field. There is not a breath of air as we descend. A helper on the ground throws a handful of earth into the air to test for the direction of the wind and it falls straight back to the earth. Lower and lower we descend and the next moment three men on the ground are muscling the balloon across the field as it hovers a meter off terra firma. They push all of us still in the basket onto the trailer flatbed and secure the basket there. Within the next few minutes the balloon is deflated and stowed and we all scramble out of the basket.
There is a toast with a local fizzy non-alcoholic juice (no champagne) but a tip of the hat to the tradition, followed by certificates presented with great humour by our pilot Ali. We are back at our cave hotel by 8:30 a.m. for a breakfast of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, warm bread and eggs. Super start to another day in Turkey. We will be hard pressed to top this start to the day here in Cappadocia.