I can’t believe that I only posted yesterday. It seems about a week ago. I can’t remember a more eventful 24 hours.
We have flown from Istanbul to Cappadocia, arrived at a hotel we loathed, had one of the best experiences of my life in a hot air balloon, had a truly wonderful tour today, and now I am sitting propped up in bed in a lovely room in a different hotel.
The balloon ride! We set our alarms for 4.30 for a 5am pickup and arrived at the take-off area just before dawn. We chose the ballooning company Royal Balloons for the Trip Advisor comments about company safety. I was very nervous about the whole idea and so was Cally. Couldn't have chosen better.
There was a ground crew of 2 and the pilot who turned out to be an Englishman called Nigel. He had all the funny lines like ‘I’ve never done this before’. It was chilly in the pre-dawn light to climb into the basket. There was a compartment in the middle for the pilot and two smaller compartments on either side, each with 3 passengers. So 13 people altogether. I think some of the bigger balloons carry up to 20.
I was frightened. We lifted off gently and started to drift. Nigel explained, when he wasn’t firing the gas, that he has no control over the direction of the balloon - he can only ascend and descend, and turn the balloon around. Wind currents decide the direction. As he was speaking, I could see huge rocks coming closer and closer. It seemed definite to me that we would hit them. We couldn’t possibly climb over them. I debated asking him if he was aware of them but decided against it. Holding my breath, I shut my eyes.
The balloon ever so gently rose above them, almost seeming to graze them. The silence of the flight was simply magic, as we drifted over valleys and villages, plateaux and giant rocky outcrops. The only noise was the occasional roar of the flame whenever Nigel judged the need.
I breathed out and began to relax and enjoy the flight, with only a nagging concern about the landing, which I pushed to the back of my mind.
We flew high over the landscape and watched 100 other balloons drifting, rising and descending. We floated over farms so low that we could call hello to goat herders. We saw grape vines and olive trees growing in dry white gravel, vegetable patches and tethered horses. We drifted incredibly close to the huge fairy chimneys which dot the area. We could see straight into caves, and watched our shadow move eerily across valley walls. We saw water containers left close to tiny plots of grape vines for hand watering. I could almost have picked an apple from a tree.
And a video for you - I'm not sure of the quality. See how close we go to the ground???
Our landing was amazing. I had almost relaxed by then. The crew were waiting where Nigel intended to land, and as we descended he must have thrown out a rope, because when I looked down I could see one man holding on to us and guiding us to land on the back of the trailer, a perfect touchdown. Cally asked Nigel if he was going to do a head count before we left the balloon. ‘You Australians!’ he laughed.
Later when we were celebrating over a glass of Turkish bubbly, we asked Nigel how he can arrive where he wants to, when he has no power over the horizontal direction of the balloon. He said that he studies the meteorological charts the day before, he floated a helium balloon before we arrived, he spends a long time preparing. And then while he is flying, he watches the other balloons at their different heights. When he sees one going in the direction he wants to go, he goes to that height. He is constantly monitoring everyone else in the sky. He’s been ballooning for more than 20 years.
This is one of my fellow balloonists - his English name is Wayne.
We flew for an hour and a half. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did it. Cally loved it as much as I did. Every time I thought of it today, I felt a stab of joy. An experience of a lifetime.
Lots more to tell you about today's tour, but I'll leave that for tomorrow.
cheers to you!