Despite a shaky start, one of our long-time International Traveller readers finally ticks off a bucket list item in Turkey.
Having taken ill with an inconveniently timed cold I have been limited in my zest for exploring Göreme on foot.
However, yesterday marked the occasion of the one thing I had promised myself to do whilst away on this solo journey – hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.
A long-time tradition, these balloons actually don’t take flight every day. Lots of tourists come to Turkey for one to two days and expect a hot-air balloon ride to happen, but unfortunately due to winds and bad weather they sometimes miss out. It’s best to book your balloon ride on your first full day because if it gets cancelled, you’re automatically bumped to the day after.
Almost two million tourists visit Cappadocia each year to watch the hot-air balloons and discover the history of this incredible destination. The first balloons were set off in the early ’90s and have now become a global phenomenon. Expect to reach heights of 1,500 feet while soaring through the Turkish skies.
The deep canyons and lush valleys is a once-in-a-lifetime view for those travelling to Göreme. Typically these rides cost several hundred euros, but you get a luxurious experience out of the whole thing. Normally, hotel pickups, snacks and desserts, champagne and who could forget that million-dollar view.
If you’re afraid of heights or don’t feel the need to splash that much cash, there are many tourist viewpoints in Cappadocia, as well as hotels, that you can visit to get that incredible photo of the balloons. Ortahisar Castle, Sunrise Point, the Carpet Shops in Göreme and Sultan Cave Suites Hotel are among some of the best spots to take a seat and steady your camera.
But alas, at 4 am I awoke telling myself I did not feel well enough to get up and go.
Apart from the fact that my head was feeling like a swollen, throbbing useless lump, I was also concerned by rumours I had heard regarding the dangers of hot air ballooning. After the haze of sleepiness had worn off a little I managed to push these negatives aside and soon I was on my way to our take-off point.
Gazing out the window, still hazy from the early hour, I was suddenly met by a sight that cleared all mental fogginess. A moonscape stretched out before me.
The ground, a powdery white, was littered with around 40 giant balloons slowly inflating. Some lay in shrivelled rivers of silky material, others took on the persona of some sort of expanding animal, whilst my favourite view was that of the ones almost ready to detach themselves from the earth.
Looking like giant bubbles they were soon to suddenly yet gently rise into the ether of dawn, fiery gas blasts glittering in the distance.
While we waited for the moment of no return, butterflies stirred in my stomach, precipitating that feeling of slight panic, similar to when you are about to descend on the downward incline of a rollercoaster.
Nevertheless, I leapt on with abandon and with a big blast, reminiscent of a whale’s spout, we had lift-off. Backed up against the central wall of the basket, I may as well have been clinging to the pilot like a cat avoiding a bath. Yet upon absorbing the sight before me, I soon found myself peering eagerly over the edge.
Multitudes of colourful balloons floated across the pink skyline whilst surrounding white peaks of volcanic rock were highlighted in stripes of first light, throwing dramatic shadows here and there. The air was pure and silent. Awed into a dumbfounded state, no one expelled an utterance, each consumed by his or her own dream reality.
We rotated slowly, a giant globular compass spinning circles under the clouds, surveying 180 degrees of a landscape barely imaginable in its beauty. We sunk gently down into the valleys lying prostrate below, floating so close to the towering castles of rock that one could graze them with fingertips.
Rising up again we cruised a little less silently over Love Valley, our group giggling at the phallic appearance of the rocky peaks below. The breeze played with my hair and I found myself wanting the ability to be suspended from the base of the basket. From there I would be tethered securely face down above the earth, gliding in an echo of a childhood dream.
The landing was surprisingly gentle; in fact, the pilot comfortably landed the basket within the boundaries of the waiting trailer. We climbed out rather reluctantly to celebrate our maiden voyage with champagne, local cakes and a flight certificate.
Heading back to my accommodation, sleepiness returning and closing my lids I was sad it was all over so soon.
However, the memory, still so fresh, rejoiced on in my thoughts.