Day 25 Part 1: Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia

Posted: August 11, 2014 in Cappadocia, Goreme, Travel, Turkey
Tags: , , , ,

It seemed like we’d just fallen asleep when the alarm jolted us awake at 3:45am… We quickly brushed our teeth, got dressed in the dark (to disturb Caitlin as little as possible) and then headed out to meet our 4:15am pickup for Turkiye Balloons (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g297983-d3581662-Reviews-Turkey_Hot_Air_Balloons-Goreme_Cappadocia.html#REVIEWS). They’re the number #1 rated activity in Goreme and the #1 rated hot air balloon company so we felt pretty confident accepting the hotel’s recommendation to book with them.

Our driver arrived right at 4:20 – sans van as the road was so blocked with other vehicles that he couldn’t make it up the road – so we hoofed it down the road a little ways and piled into the van for the 5 minute drive to their restaurant/booking office where they provide a buffet breakfast (typical Turkish breakfast fare) while taking care of the administrivia – which basically consists of typing your name, sex and age into their computer – there were no waivers or liability insurance or anything (I can’t imagine the paperwork that would be involved in doing this back in Canada).

Then you’re sorted into vans based on where your hotel is and driven to the launch site. When you arrive, the balloons are attached to the baskets and the ground crew is in the process of inflating the massive balloons with high powered gas fans… When the balloons are partially inflated they fire up (literally) the hot air part of the process and start firing huge jets of propane fuelled flame into the balloons… Once the balloon is upright, they start loading you into the baskets (24 to a basket) and once everyone is ready they release the ground lines and you rise slowly into the air. Just before you cast off, one of the ground crew climbs aboard to tell everyone that the pilot has no control over where the balloon goes and can only control up and down… Marie was not terribly impressed by this piece of news. There’s virtually no sensation of movement when you take off and, when the jets aren’t firing, the whole thing is almost silent… Marie was pretty nervous leading up to the take off but relaxed as soon as we were off the ground and moving as it’s so smooth and they stay pretty close to the ground to start…

Shortly after takeoff, though, we were skimming the ground at a stately pace and edging up the hills leading to the valley and the panoramic views of Cappadocia. It’s pretty magical as you rise slowly above the landscape (which is impressive in its own right) and on one side you’re seeing the sun “rise” against the hills and in front of you there are around 100 balloons of all shapes and sizes and colours spread out across the sky… It’s hard to know what to look at as your eyes are drawn to a particular balloon then to the colour of the sky then you realize you’re hundreds of feet above ground as you’re passing over one of the many valleys. The whole time our pilot, I’m sure, is showing off as he drops us perfectly into one valley after another and then perfectly gauges the ascent so we just skim over the land as we come back up… There were a few times we weren’t quite sure if we were going to clear the land but he gauged it perfectly each time.

The hour passes quickly in a blur of breathtaking vistas and the exhilaration of floating through the air… But then it’s time to get some altitude and the pilot fires up all four of the burners and we start rising fairly rapidly… 500 metres, 600 metres, 700 metres, 800 metres and we’re now above almost all the other balloons and can see the earth curving off in the distant blue haze…

Then you’re descending gently and heading for an open field as the ground crew chases the balloon with the vans and the support vehicles and the balloon pilot is gesturing this way and that predicting where the winds will bring the balloon… Although the pilot’s in perfect control of the balloon, it’s clear from his “yuck yuck yuck” that the wind is taking him someplace other than he’d like to go and at one point we literally skim the top of a tree (we could hear and feel the topmost branches brushing against the bottom of the basket as we passed over). Once past the tree and other obstacles, we all assume the landing position (knee bent, facing away from the direction of travel and braced against the frame of the basket) and touch down with a gentle thud in some farmer’s potato field as the pilot opens the top of the balloon and releases much of the hot air… As the balloon’s momentum threatens to tip the basket, the ground crew is there hanging on and pulling the balloon back down to the ground… There’s a final moment or two of struggle as the balloon tries to get airborne once more but the pull of the land (and a half dozen beefy guys) is too much and everything comes to a stop… The lines and halyards are disconnected and the balloon slowly deflates and lies flat on the ground while the elated passengers climb out and mill around talking excitedly amongst themselves.

The ground crew quickly sets up a table and starts pouring glasses of celebratory champagne (and grape juice for the kids) and they hand out commemorative certificates. Then it’s back in the van and back to the hotel by 7:30… just in time to download the pictures and type up this blog entry while Caitlin sleeps.

If you’re in Cappadocia, don’t even think about whether to do the hot air ballooning or not… Do it. You won’t regret it. It’s super expensive (€130 per person and that’s the discounted cash price) but there’s just no better way to see this amazing landscape and the ballooning experience itself is indescribable…. I don’t know what all the companies are like and with so many balloons up at any one time I’m sure there are some sketchy experiences but we found Turkiye Balloons to be very safe and very professional and our pilot made it all look effortless… Marie was pretty nervous (she didn’t sleep well at all) leading up to the flight but enjoyed it immensely… It’s nothing at all like any other form of flying and it feels incredibly safe…

All in all, it was a great way to start our last day in Goreme and a highlight of the trip… It’s too bad Caitlin wasn’t able to join us but she did enjoy the extra 4 hours of sleep…

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