DATE:17 March 2016 (Thursday)
The alarm clock went off at 4 am again. Today was colder than yesterday morning, -6°C. Tourists are crazy people, willing to wake up very early or stay up into the wee hours just to go for some adventure. And, on that morning I felt like one of those crazy people. It was not even 5 am when we were picked up from the hotel. On the way to the Universal Balloon office, in the dim light, we saw many pick-up trucks carrying the balloon baskets making their way, I presume these vehicle are heading to the launch sites.
While having breakfast, the staff of the hot air balloon operator collect payments for the ride. And, to our relief, one of the guys confirms the ride is on. Yesterday, the launch was cancelled due to wind speed exceeding 10 km/hour. By 5.40 am we had arrived at the launching site. Most operators were in the process of inflating their huge and colourful balloons. The part that gets inflated is called the envelope. Ours was a red, beige, yellow & orange one.
We were called to climb into the wicker basket. A stepladder was put into position close by the basket. The basket was divided into 4 sections and, each section accommodates 4 persons. Thus, including the pilot, 17 persons will fly in each balloon. Our pilot, Koghan, briefed us on the position we were to take prior to landing, the squatting position with our backs leaning on the basket. He also told us that he could control the balloon up & down, while the lateral movement is done by the wind. Then the ropes holding the balloons (they were tied to the pick-up truck) were released. Slowly and gently the balloon rose into the air. We ARE floating. I had anticipated a moment of exhilaration once we are airborne, but that emotion was somewhat absent. It must have floated away as we rise into the morning sky.
I could see the sun peeked over the horizon. Scores of balloons were floating in the sky above the valleys of Cappadocia. The first rays of sunlight threw shadows across the hills and valleys. Our pilot took the balloon up to 500 metres. By now, my feet and hands were numb and they felt very cold. From 500 metres the pilot elevated us to 600 metres. I thought I would be scared of the height, but the enthralling views around me must have evaporated off all my fears. Then we hovered just a few metres off the ground. Throughout the one hour flight the scenery below was that of a spectacular shadow play by the sun on the fascinating landscape. Located in the valleys of Goreme, the landscape of Cappadocia is indeed a unique one and unlike anything that can be seen elsewhere on earth. It consists of rocky formations of conical shapes, pillars and caves. In some places the rocks form layers of various hues. Koghan pointed out Rose Valley, Goreme Open Air Museum and a few other places. I was however, too engrossed in taking photographs and did not even look in his direction.
Our two nieces ages 11 and 9 years were soon bored. Our balloon came close to another one and to avoid collision, the other pilot lowered his balloon. A few minutes later our pilot positioned our balloon very close to yet another balloon till they touched. “The balloons kissing moment,” said Koghan.
Here’s a short video Nik recorded from the balloon,
It was almost an hour later and looking down we could see white vans on the road making their way to our landing site. One balloon has landed and our company’s pick-up truck was already parked nearby. Our pilot told us we need not get into the landing position since there was little wind. Our balloon landed softly on the carrier at the back of the pick-up truck. It was a perfect touch down.The process of deflating the big balloon then started. A rope was used to pull the envelope to one side and slowly the balloon loses its shape and became a piece of flat nylon on the ground. A small table was set up and glasses were laid down together with a bottle of champagne, cherry juice and slices of cakes. We climbed out one by one, our numbed feet longing to touch the ground. Koghan shook and then popped the cork of the champagne bottle and poured the drink for the Koreans and another couple. The Nik (our) family and the Singaporean couple had cherry juice. Koghan then thanked us for flying with Universal Balloon and put a medal around each of our necks.
Flying in the hot air balloon was the most adventurous activity that Nik and myself had accomplished so far. In fact, it was the highlight of our tour of Turkey. Most of all, I could not believe we did it without butterflies in our stomachs. And, for 100 euros (per person), the rare opportunity was well worth it.