Hot Air Balloon Adventure – Cappadocia, Turkey 2014
Hot Air Balloon Adventure – Cappadocia, Turkey 2014 by Sue Jergens
Yikes, what was I thinking! Ever since I suffered from vertigo as a young adult I’ve been terrified of heights and here I am about to go up, up and away in a hot air balloon above Cappadocia, Turkey. My heart is in my throat and I’m seriously thinking of aborting my voyage!
It’s very early in the morning, before 5 am, and it’s dark and cold outside. In the distance we can see a series of flares where the hot air balloon ground crews are readying the balloons for flight by heating the air in the balloons using a propane valve. Flare after flare dots the early morning horizon and it seems to go on for miles. As we get closer we can see the outline of the huge balloons and closer still we start to see the fantastical assortment of designs and colours. Our minivan stops beside our balloon and we wait in its shadow while the crew prepares it for flight.
To calm my jangling nerves I decide to do a technical analysis of the balloon, just to make sure it’s safe (as if I’d know!) The basket of the balloon looks sturdy enough. It’s divided into five sections and can hold up to 25 people. It’s made of wicker and looks exactly like a cartoon balloon basket, except a lot bigger. The centre of the basket holds the flight pilot and six lucky riders can ride in each of the four corner sections. I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to get up into the sky and then down again at our landing site but the balloon pilot looks like he knows what he’s doing.
One reason I’m apprehensive is that there is no steering on a hot air balloon. The pilot can make the balloon go up by using the propane valve to heat the temperature of the air inside the envelope and the pilot can make the balloon go down by using a valve at the top of the balloon to introduce cool air into the envelope. The prevailing winds will determine the direction that the balloon will travel. Wind directions vary at different altitudes so by moving the balloon up and we will theoretically travel in the direction of choice….
The next step, scrambling into the balloon basket. Not exactly a graceful entrance as I take the large leap from the top ‘step’ of the ladder attached to the basket and flop inside. I look for a safe position away from the edge. We get a safety lesson on how to position ourselves for a crash landing. My heart is beating wildly now, no one told me there could be a crash landing!
And then we start slowly rising into the sky. At first we go very high into the air, about 2,500 feet and start to float. The sun is rising and it’s extraordinarily beautiful. There are over 100 other balloons floating around us, and all the colours and patterns make an incredible patchwork against the dawn and the spectacular landscape. Some balloons are close enough that we could yell a conversation, others are floating far away.
As for the landscape, the Cappadocia region of Turkey is known for it’s tall cone-shaped rock formations known as fairy chimneys. (Over 2 million years ago lava flowed into this area from volcano eruptions creating a soft ‘tuff’ layer over 150 meters thick. This soft tuff layer was eroded by a combination of strong winds and water from flood waters and rivers into a fantastic assortment of bizarre shapes and structures.) We can’t see the minute details from this altitude but it’s strange and it’s lovely. We float along in the sky enjoying the view. It is quiet and very peaceful, except when the pilot fires up the propane. Most of us are too enthralled to chatter, we’ll do that when we get back on the ground. Scaredy cats like me have relaxed into the peace and the thrill of the ride.
We drop down to get a closer look at the fairy chimneys in an area called the Valley of Love. Imagine what it’s like to see a vast valley of phallic symbols of various shapes and sized dotted over the landscape. Other balloons are following the same route and we are in good company.
Then we move on to an area where the chimneys have been excavated to provide housing for an ancient civilization. There are elaborate walkways leading around the fairy chimney village and up to individual houses. Because it’s so early in the morning there are no signs of life on the ground but we know that later in the day it will be overrun with tourists. Neighbouring balloons keep a respectable distance to avoid collisions. These balloon collisions do happen and are known as ‘kissing’.
After more than an hour floating over this wonderful landscape, it is time to land the balloon. We head over a small hotel where guests on the balconies are waving to us in the air. We feel like celebrities! We are surprised that the pilot intends to land the balloon right on the back of a truck in order that the balloon can be taken back to home base. After either a change in wind direction or a slight miscalculation where we overshoot the truck we rise up and then come down perfectly on the back of the truck. Getting out of the balloon is slightly easier with the help of the balloon support crew.
And then we’re back on terra firma and I’m very grateful to be back on solid ground. We sip an icy glass of champagne and wait to be presented with certificates to validate our successful journey. What an incredible adventure!
And our pilot? He goes on to his day job as a hotel manager. He’ll be back again in the morning, weather permitting, to take another group on the journey of a lifetime.
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