Sunday, 1 December 2013

Ballooning over Cappadocia

I hadn't planned to go ballooning in Cappadocia.  Yes, I knew it was the thing to do and that there were dozens of ballooning companies operating in the area and therein lies the rub, up to 100 balloons can be in the air on any given day. Too many opportunities for collisions, I thought, and with recent publicity about a balloon fatality in the area, and a nervous friend telling me how scared she was when she took a flight there, I have to admit I was not particularly enthusiastic. In the end, though, I thought "What the hell" and signed up for a flight, with the rest of my group and, boy, am I glad I did. It was just the most wonderful, memorable, once in a lifetime, experience and certainly a highlight of my 3 weeks in Turkey.

Setting off, feeling slightly nervous

Ballooning always means a very early morning start so by 5am we were on the bus heading through the magical, surreal landscape, lights gleaming from the dwellings in the fairy chimney rock formations along the way.  We watched fascinated as our balloon was inflated with great bursts of gas and slowly rose up ready to fly.  Then it was all aboard ready for lift off.  Our balloon had a very large basket with four compartments each holding four people and with a central area for the pilot and the enormous gas bottles.  Take off happened almost imperceptibly as we rose slowly and silently into the air with just the occasional woosh when the pilot turned the gas jets on to keep the balloon inflated.

Goreme from the balloon

It was stunning floating over the amazing landscape, watching the sun rise, admiring the other 83 balloons which were up that day. Mustafa, our pilot, was excellent, he kept his distance from the other balloons and lowered us right down into the Pigeon Valley and then raised the balloon again to float over the town of Goreme. There was no feeling of fear, just absolute enchantment and our one hour flight passed all too quickly.

Relief and elation at the end of the flight, with Mustafa, our pilot
 Ballooning is a big money spinner for Cappadocia and there are dozens of ballooning companies.
Some are better than others so if you are planning to go ballooning, do your research. The company we flew with was Kapadokya Balloons and they run a very slick and professional operation. Some of the pilots are so skilled they even land the balloons right on the back of the trailer that transports them. Our pilot didn't because he was taking a second group up after us but I would suggest you make sure you are on an early flight, if possible, because watching the sun rise over the landscape is stunning. When we landed we were all thrilled, excited, relieved and fizzing as much as the sparkling wine waiting to greet us. I don't think I will ever do another balloon flight. I can't imagine any flight being as good as this one was nor any landscape quite so magical. A balloon flight over Cappadocia gets a big fat tick on my bucket list!