Monday, May 12, 2008

Up, up and away.

t was just before sunrise. There was a slight chill in the air and it was a bit overcast. I was hoping it wasn't going to rain. Lei and I piled into a minivan along with a few other people. We were on our way to the launch site, very near the Göreme Open Air Museum, for our hot air balloon ride. This is a day we've been excited about for months so I couldn't wait to get going.

A very short ride later - probably less than 2km - we arrived. There was a table set up with coffee, tea and breakfast food. On the ground nearby was the deflated balloon and a wicker basket, large enough to hold 20 people, lying on its side. With the help of a very large fan and hot air, the balloon was inflated and the basket brought upright. Everyone headed towards the basket to board. Just as I was getting ready to hoist on board, one of the balloon attendants whispered to me to not board because I was going on another balloon. Okay, I thought. So I stood back. He whispered the same words to Lei but she was a bit confused about what was going on. I told her that there was probably not enough space in this balloon to accomodate for us so we had to go on another one. As the main balloon got ready to lift off, we watched as ours was prepped.

That's our pilot, Mustafa Turgut, releasing the blast valves to fire the flames inside the semi-inflated balloon. What a noise the blasting flame made - sounded like a small jet engine taking off!

It took a few minutes but eventually, the balloon inflated to the point where Mustafa could easily walk inside it.

Lei could not resist the photo op.

We watched the other balloon take off - gently lifting off the ground. In the distance, balloons from other companies were also making their way up into the sky. One by one, they appeared in view. It was like watching jellyfish float to the surface of the water. Even against the backdrop of a cloudy sky, it was a very colorful sight indeed!

Soon, our balloon was inflated to the point that the wicker basket began to upgright. We climbed on board and it was just Mustafa, Lei and I - in a four person balloon. I don't know we lucked out but we went from a 20 person ballon to a 4 person balloon and we had our own pilot!! I didn't complain as I realized I didn't have to jostle with anyone to catch view of the surrounding scenery! The downside was that we only had 2 (or 3?) tanks of gas with us so we could neither go very high nor very far.

Mustafa controlled the blast valves and we gently lifted off.

By this time, the sky was peppered with balloons. Specks of color everywhere you looked.

We floated over the Göreme Open Air Museum and followed our larger counterpart down the valley.

As we floated higher and higher, conversation came to an end as we began to focus on appreciating the grandeur of Cappadocia's landscape from above. What a fantastic view of this unique land!

As Lei and I began snapping photos, Mustafa gently reminded us that we needed to maintain our positions in the balloon so we would not tip the basket over. Simple physics that we forgot in our excitement!

The wind was gently blowing and we were following in its path. With each release of the blast valves, we continued to float upwards. It was a very tranquil time and I relished every bit of it.

Mustafa was using a combination of releasing the blast valves and pulling on the rip line to pilot the balloon up and down - we seemed to follow the outline of the landscape.

At one point, we descended so low that we actually skimmed tree tops! Floating at this level, we could appreciate the rocky landscape from a very different vantage point. We continued to float up and down.

....and before the tanks ran out, Mustafa began to pilot the balloon back towards our launch point. Mustafa got on the radio and began to coordinate with his colleagues who were waiting on the ground for us to land. Mustafa instructed us to put away our cameras and to brace ourselves for what could be a bumpy landed. As we continued to descend, Mustafa spotted a field for landing and as we touched down, his two colleagues grabbed hold of the wicker basket to try and stop it from moving any further. It was a very gentle landing.

After a brief celebration, with champagne toast included, we were each handed a certificate acknowledging we completed the ride. We then piled into a truck for a short ride back to the launch point and then from there, Mustafa gave us a ride in his car back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, we grabbed breakfast and then we had a couple hours to kill before our next activity - a horse back ride through nearby valleys.

A hot air ballon ride over Cappadocia....what a great way to start the day! An absolute must do if you ever come to this part of the world for there's really no better way to appreciate this vast, unique landscape but from high above!!