We rose in the dark and snuck out of the hotel into a waiting van. It’s not often I willingly get up in the dark, but to see the sun rise over Cappadocia (“Land of the Beautiful Horses” in Turkish, referring to the wild horses here written about during the Persian Kingdom of Cappadocia in 332-322 BCE) from a hot air balloon seemed like a good enough reason.
We watched our balloon fill as other balloons already floated above us.
We climbed into the basket and our pilot exercised us in the crouched landing position. I was willing to give over my life to a youthful stranger to float away but I worried vaguely about the possibility of a bumpy landing.
We rose above the ground and as we climbed more and more of the incredible landscape unfolded beneath us.
The sun rose just as we reached altitude.
All was silent except for the periodic release of a hiss of fire to keep us floating. If you sail, you’ll be familiar with the silence – like leaving a harbour with the motor running then turning off the engine, the flapping sails filling with wind and the wind taking over, gently, quietly, pushing the boat along. Still, there was the constant click of our cameras because it was impossible to stop taking photos. The scenery was amazing. There was plenty of evidence of these seemingly impenetrable cones once inhabited, often in multiple-storey homes. The pilot turned us so everyone got to appreciate and photograph every view. It was magic.
We floated for 45 minutes to an hour and then the ground came up towards us. I was following our path and kept choosing the soft spot where I thought the pilot was aiming, but he kept passing the spots. He came in so low that we grazed the top of an olive tree, taking a couple of small branches with us. He started hollering instructions to the crew who had followed us by truck on the ground and was coming to meet us. A few of us got into the crouch position and the pilot said, no, no, not now. The truck came into view in front of us, and the pilot landed us perfectly – on the trailer, which was only a foot or two bigger than the basket all round. We all looked at him and one another in disbelief. By all accounts, it was the most perfect landing ever seen. The pilot chuckled and hopped out of the basket.
The crew had laid out bubbly and picked wildflowers to decorate the table and add to our pose for a group photograph. The pilot sprayed us lightly with the champagne, a rite of passage, apparently.
We returned to the hotel in time for breakfast and headed out for a day of on the ground exploring of this beautiful country.