Ballooning in Cappadocia – Photos!
Call me an optimist, if you will, but I only remember that I have vertigo as the alarm bursts into life at 4am to wake us for ballooning. Ballooning in Cappadocia!
Despite my best efforts, I am still phenomenally bad with heights.
And, you would think, ascending 500m with only a thin polyfibre canopy between you and a fiery death is a recipe for vertigo.
Göreme, Cappadocia, is famously one of the best places in the world to go hot air ballooning. The weather’s predictable, so flights are rarely cancelled.
And the rock formations… Well, the rock formations are just insane.
So watching teams inflate the balloons with giant burners in the predawn dark, all I felt was a childishly happy excitement.
Not as much childish excitement as my spawn, obviously.
Because this is one of the great things about travelling with kids. You get to share in their excitement, experience it vicariously, and, for that matter, get up close to folk going about their work and simply gawp.
While exclaiming repeatedly, “FINALLY! FINALLY! I get to go ballooning!”
Ballooning is about the only adventure activity where it is actually kinda cool to have lots of people doing the same thing that you’re doing.
There are few things as magical as a sunrise sky full of balloons.
And it’s even more magical if you’re up there among them.
I’ve never been in a hot air balloon. It’s something that, despite my vertigo, I’ve always wanted to do (and something I think everyone should do at least once in their life.)
Slowly, cautiously, our half-inflated balloon – the third biggest on the planet, fact fans! — tips to vertical.
The guys position the giant basket, and, one by one, we climb in, even as the balloons ahead of us begin to ascend, so close together that it looks, quite frankly, perilous.
And, at once, I feel a sense of real relief.
Firstly, the basket’s divided into sections, meaning it can’t become unbalanced. And, secondly, the nicely padded barrier tucks in well above waist height, closer to chest height, making it impossible to fall out, and impossible to envisage Zac falling out.
I’m just… Excited!
“Woooo! Ballooning!” says my spawn.
Even an ominous safety briefing on positions to adopt for landing fails to dent my general sense of zen. The burner roars. And roars some more.
Flame illuminates the canopy.
Then there’s a slight jerking feeling, a wobble that makes me giggle, rather than squeal, the cables are disengaged, and…
We’re ballooning in Cappadocia.
And, yes, sunrise over Cappadocia, in the plains behind Göreme and Uchisar, over canyons, and through valleys, is the place to experience ballooning.
It’s magical, it really is.
Both Zac and I have big, stupid grins on our faces.
Ballooning isn’t silent. In fact, I’m surprised by how not silent it is.
There’s the heat of the giant gas burner, its patchy roar.
Our pilot is on his radio. “Charlie Papa, this is Charlie Papa, am I clear above, over. Repeat, am I clear above?”
Oh god, we’re going up!
There is no steering mechanism for hot air balloons. Pilots ascend, descend and hover to catch the air currents that will take them where they want to go, guided, in this instance, only by a simple GPS and visuals.
Typically, the higher you go, the faster the currents. And, for something so big, at least at height, our balloon moves incredibly fast.
All of a sudden, we’re over the valley they call (for snigger-inducing reasons), Love Valley.
And we’re descending. We drop down so low, in fact, that we almost scrape the treetops.
Low enough that a tall man could reach out and grab a leaf or two.
There’s a pillar of rock ahead of us. The burners roar.
We rise, gradually, just enough to amble over the top of it.
And still no vertigo! I realise that I trust our pilot.
We’re over white canyons now, lined with the vanilla ice cream rivulets that for me will always make me think of Cappadocia.
The burner roars, a long, continuous burst, and all of a sudden we’re rising fast.
Oh Jesus, I think, aware all of a sudden that my hand is clutching the padded edge in a rictus grip. I squat down in the base of the wicker basket under the camouflage of changing camera lenses, then rise, position myself firmly against the edge and brace myself to look down.
We’re so high up! Great sweeps of Cappadocia open up before me, the cave-castle of Uchisar like a jagged tooth, broad canyons, the roads that meander across the rolling plains, little cave houses with orchards and vineyards, the flat expanse of Göreme.
It’s dazzling. I put my arm around Zac.
“Isn’t this amazing?” I say.
“Yep,” he says.
We drift a while, and then we slowly, elegantly, descend.
“Remember the landing drill,” our pilot says. “Knees bent, facing in the direction of travel. Small people in front of bigger people. And, this is the most important part, do not exit, or try and exit, the balloon until I say you can and the crew are here to help you.”
I look down. Below us, a grounded balloon is deflating gently amid the farmland.
D’oh! I think. Of course! You land wherever you can.
Radio chatter. “Can you bring the truck over? I want to try and land the balloon on the truck…”
The burners roar. We start to climb. “I’ve lost the wind, ascending, over.”
And then we have our spot. Below us, a flatbed truck is rolling into place.
“I should warn you,” says our pilot. “When the balloon deflates on landing it’s not uncommon for the canopy to fall on top of you. If that happens, do not panic. Do not try to extricate yourself: the crew will do it for you.”
We’re only a few feet above the ground now, the truck in position, two minibuses by it, constant chatter on the radio.
This is, I think, impressive flying. We drop a foot or so. The crew catch the ropes.
And, with a jolt, and a little bit of rocking, we’re earthbound, on the truck. And draped in the shockingly flimsy-feeling textile that has kept us airborne for over an hour.
Earthbound again, the crew pours Russian “champagne”. Zac makes puppy eyes at me. “Go on,” I say. “It’s not every day you fly in a balloon.”
I nod to the crewman who’s doing the honours. He pours my boy a glass.