“Here we take off with the sun and these awesome balloons – slowly filling the sky, one by one – definitely put the rise in sunrise.” – Everything Mundylicious
From the very first glimpse as the airport shuttle was approaching its destination we were already transfixed with the surreal beauty of the landscape around us. Everything in sight has that unique rustic impression. The rock formations by the main road – posed as a major giveaway to the entire region’s ambience – seem to scream of their history as they appear to have preserved their ancient natural form, untainted by modernity. Any traveler would feel like they’ve turned back in time – like a movie scene shot in the stone age or even beyond. It just makes one wonder in awe as to the richness and diversity of Turkey’s natural wealth – its history and culture besides.
Goreme is a town in the ancient region of Turkey collectively called Cappadocia (‘Kapadokya‘ in Turkish) – a historical region in Central Anatolia – a familiar destination for travelers. Goreme is home to a number of historical spots that form the Goreme National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Part of the Turkish Heritage Travel package is a visit to the different museums and the enchanted valleys, among others in the national park. One of the most exciting part of this travel bouquet is the Goreme Hot Air Balloon Rides for which Cappadocia is famous the world over.
The hotel where we stayed took care of the arrangements for the balloon flight with the company Butterfly Balloons – one of about thirty balloon companies in Cappadocia. The standard balloon flight lasts from 1 hour (minimum) to 1 hour 20 minutes with 12 to 16 people inside the ‘wicker basket’ gondola attached underneath the balloon. For 175 Euros (30 Euros less in winter plus 10 Euros discount for cash payments) my flight mates and myself had the most amazing experience of a lifetime.
Goreme balloon flights are all early morning flights. On the day of our hot air balloon adventure the hotel wake up call was set at 4.30 am. At a wickedly cold glacial weather of -1 degree Celsius we had to get up early and wait for the shuttle service at the hotel lobby. At exactly 4.50 am – an hour before sunrise – the coach arrives to collect us and takes us to the balloon company’s headquarters where an open buffet breakfast was waiting at the restaurant.
After breakfast we were grouped according to our would-be pilots and then driven out to the take off site. The schedule is set early because flights need to start just before or during sunrise. The balloons had to be prepared around this time when wind speed is still at its minimum.
Our group was assigned to Pilot Fatih and off we went to the take off site. We were told the take off site changes location everyday as they have to consider wind speed and direction. On some unavoidable circumstances flights may need to be cancelled – during heavy rains or heavy fog or if the speed of ground wind is above 10 knots (not very familiar with this unit, sorry). Fortunately for us it was a lovely clear autumn day.
Once at the take-off site while the crew members were busy preparing the balloon we had the opportunity to witness how it is being inflated and prepped for flight.
When all the prepping was completed, with the help of the crew the flight guests were – one by one – hoisted up and into the basket. Once everyone was on board our charming pilot named Fatih gave a final debrief before take off – highlighting on the most important aspect of safety in hot air balloon flights – the landing position. (He mentioned ‘landing position’ probably 20 times. How’s that for emphasis!)
And he has good reason to as occasionally, landing can get quite bumpy when the wind speed increases at the time of descent. This could lead to a bump and the basket could get yanked onto the landing field until it comes to a natural halt. So everyone has to assume a squatting position while pulling hard on the rope handles positioned in front of each flyer in the basket. (And all electronic devices should be turned off too… LOL). The pilot also schooled his team that the balloon will be moving depending on wind direction and will be traveling over the region to as far as 20 km. ‘I will also try to get this balloon to as high as 1000 metres if the wind behaves calmly,’ he adds to our amusement (or not?).
Then, we were ready for take off – to the thrill of a lifetime experience.
Other balloons as seen from a distance have also started taking off.
And the fun begins at 50 metres above ground with this selfie shot by the basket occupants.
The thrill of taking in – at every meter of ascent as we follow the wind – the spectacular views of the ‘otherworldly’ beauty of the valleys, and the charming hills, the impressive rock formations from volcanic eruptions of some 2 million years ago. (A trivia shared to me by the Manager at the hotel where we stayed in Goreme – Sultan Cave Suites)
Then there it was I closed my eyes for a second and breathed deeply as I took in this whole overwhelming experience. Drifting through the valleys, caves, the ‘fairy chimneys’, and the ravines and ascending through to 1000 meters plus the awe-inspiring view of all the other balloons in flight – the entire experience- was all just too much for everyone in the flight to take.
After an hour and about twenty minutes of hovering in the sky our balloon finally touched down on Cappadocia ground lightly and without the need for going into the requisite landing position. Thanks to the calm wind and the able hands of the charmingly funny pilot.
A celebratory table was waiting for our posse on the ground alongside our welcoming crew who helped us alight from the gondola. As we have all literally jumped out of the basket the crew started to deflate the balloon and we proceeded with the obligatory champagne toast. We all had a glass (or two.. in my case three glasses) of Anatolian champagne and shared in the cakes and strawberries served by the balloon company. Yes the toast is traditional. We had to celebrate the fact that we all came back to ground in one piece! And of course to toast for everyone for having completed a successful first flight too!
While enjoying their drinks, everyone had the chance to socialize and get to know the people in the flight. The group included some Americans, Australians, Koreans, British, Filipino, Chinese, and Kiwi. Soon after the pilot started his congratulatory and thank you speech and proceeded to handing out the well-deserved flight certificates to all fourteen flyers.
And the rest of the day that started in a magical fashion carried on as the balloon flight guests were all shuttled back into their respective hotels.
Following are some more snaps from the hot air balloon experience – something we can now categorically consider as one of the most wonderful things that can ever happen in one’s journey through life. We share with you these breathtaking views from 1 t0 1000 metres above ground and hope you become as enthralled as we were about this beauty that is the spanning Cappadocia landscape.
Tip: Be sure to take a good camera with you. The view of the balloons during the golden hour is priceless and you do not want to miss capturing that.
(Photos: author’s own)