Have you ever been on a hot-air balloon ride? Neither had I. That is until we arrived in the country of Turkey and the spectacular region of Cappadocia. I knew at some point in my life that I would probably get to experience the thrill of floating high in the sky in a hot-air balloon. But if you asked me a year ago where and when it would be, I would have never guessed it would occur this year, and absolutely never across the world in Turkey. But that’s exactly what Kevin and I did a few days ago.
We woke up very early on Sunday morning (5:30am!) to catch the first ride of the day (sunrise). When we arrived at the launch site, the excitement started; just in seeing the 10 – 15 incredibly massive balloons getting inflated in preparation for the morning’s first launch was a sight to be seen. The day couldn’t have been better for ballooning if hand-painted by a master artist herself – the sun was just starting to rise over the hilltops and blue sky engulfed us. We waited as our balloon was being inflated and several others launched before our eyes; the anxious passengers filling into the baskets and then the balloons slowly floating into the sky. Our balloon wasn’t even inflated yet and already my camera had taken nearly 100 photos. I couldn’t wait for our turn!
Finally, the 9 of us in our group were told to get in the basket, which was partitioned into 5 sections. Kevin and I climbed into one of those sections. Then, with the massive, fully inflated balloon dominating the sky above us, the pilots ignited the torches that sent our balloon aflight. The feeling as we left the earth and started to float is indescribable. It’s not a scary feeling – nothing like a roller coaster or other thrill-seeker’s adventure – but rather a peaceful and surreal feeling as you slowing float away into the sky. The view was incredible – the Cappadocia region in Turkey itself is uniquely beautiful – built upon incredible rock formations as far as the eye can see. The ancient people that settled in this land made shelters and homes out of the rock caves, which can be seen everywhere . In fact, even the hotels and hostels are mostly built within these ancient caves (including our hotel room!).
Floating in the sky gives you an incredible view of the caves and rock formations all throughout this region. And the feeling of being in a hot-air balloon is amazing – it is such a peaceful and romantic experience, with the occasional adrenalin rush. A few times the pilots descended us deep into a canyon made by the rock formations to get an up close and personal view of the caves and landscapes. This was an incredible feeling – the expertise that they needed to have in order to keep us floating deep in the canyons without hitting any of the rocks amazed me. (Isn’t at least some of the direction and speed we move based on the current wind pattern and out of the control of the pilots??). At any rate, Kevin and I agreed that the most exhilarating part of the ride was when we were descended deep into the canyons, and not, as I would have expected, when we were flying hundreds of feet into the air.
At one point when we were deep within a canyon, the pilots changed our direction to have us head toward a rock tower (or what they call cave chimneys since they are tall, long, and usually inhabit a cave within them that was used in ancient times for shelter). The view was great, and kept getting better as the pilots moved us in closer and closer. I kept thinking that they must be planning on turning us around soon. But we weren’t changing directions yet. And we were getting closer and closer to the point that if we didn’t turn around now, I thought for sure we would hit. So I peeled my head away from the chimney to look at our pilots – what were they thinking?? They just had this calm look on their face with a slight smile. I quickly looked back at where we were headed. We were definitely ascending now in an attempt to get above the chimney, but it was going to be close! Nearer and nearer to the chimney we got while we continued to ascend higher and higher, but not yet enough to clear the chimney. Now everyone in our basket was on the edge of their feet and starting to squirm – a few people called out worries. We saw the pilots staring intently ahead concentrating deeply on this maneuver. Finally, we had reached the chimney and ascended to the top of it, but all of the passengers held their breath (or closed their eyes) as we moved up over it, uncertain whether we would clear it. You could see all our heads (well those of us who kept our eyes open) lean over the basket (including our pilots!) to ensure that our basket cleared. It did! Whew…that was all the excitement I needed for the one flight. Everyone cheered and I found the pilots smiling, clearly proud of their efforts. I couldn’t help wondering how they practice these moves – it certainly leaves you no room for error!
After about an hour and 15 minutes of flying, we slowly descended to the ground. Our ride was over. And what a ride it was! We celebrated with glasses of champagne and were each issued certificates of our achievement. I wasn’t exactly sure what our achievement was, unless it was keeping our breakfast down while they succeeded in the trick moves. At any rate, Kevin and I were all smiles as we toasted each other to another amazing experience overseas. Hot Air Ballooning in Turkey? Who would have guessed (though I hear Luxor, Egypt has amazing hot-air ballooning...)!