We have a habit of basing our foreign adventures upon the most minimal of information. The main reason we went to South East Asia in 2010 was because I had a small obsession (now a big obsession) with the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Likewise we visited Peru because of the breathtaking city of Machu Picchu. Last year we headed much further south in Morocco than most people go just to visit the beach at Legzira Plage, with it’s cathedral like arches. All three were well worth the effort so this system is clearly perfect.
So, when our plan to go to South Korea evolved to include Turkey I remembered a photograph I had seen of hot air balloons flying over the geographical wonders of Cappadocia, in central Turkey. And thus this was to be our second destination in Turkey, a mere 1 hour flight from Istanbul, plus the obligatory minibus journey.
Cappadocia is famous for its scenery. The strange geological formations, columns of rock which tower above the ground, are referred to as fairy chimneys. But what is really weird is that thousands of them have been hollowed out and turned into houses and churches by residents past. The whole process goes back thousands of years. Some of them are still lived in, with doors, windows, electricity and running water. Our hotel was built around one such fairy chimney and some of the rooms were within.
But enough of the detail for now. First we had to take a hot air balloon fight. So after only four hours sleep we awoke at 3.45am and by 4.30am we were aboard another minibus. After a quick breakfast, which is not easy to stomach so early, we were bussed out into the middle of nowhere where we found our chosen balloon company preparing four balloons. On the way we had seen endless other balloons, some laying flat on the ground, others close to departure. This is part of the appeal of ballooning at Cappadocia. The sheer number of balloons have become a part of the spectacle.
Take off went smoothly. I don’t like heights but my confidence was buoyed by our pilot Kaan, who was wearing a pilot’s shirt complete with golden shoulder straps. They don’t give those out to just anybody you know! The other people in the basket were all Chinese. Which was strange as when we were eating breakfast the balloon company were clearly putting groups together based upon nationality. Not that this was a problem as our basket-mates showed themselves to be great fun and even more passionate about photography than the Japanese. They juggled multiple cameras and also pulled out their mobile phones to take endless “selfies”, asking us to join in a number of times. I also had to duck often as my immense frame (by Chinese standards at least) was blocking out huge amounts of scenery.
All the way Kaan checked to make sure everybody was happy, repeatedly joking that this was his first flight. We got to the see the sun rise too, something we only ever see when travelling.
My words can’t really do justice to the incredible views we experienced during our 1 hour flight. So instead please enjoy the photographs. Be sure to scroll to to the end though as the landing was rather exhilarating.
Anyway, enough of that. On to the landing. I remembered some years ago that my parents tried to do a hot air balloon flight in the UK but it was continually cancelled due to the wrong kind of weather. The wrong kind of weather for a hot air balloon is wind, and after a while it became evident that we were travelling quite some distance, with the other balloons moving in all directions depending upon their altitude. Kaan seemed happy with this and was checking in with the other balloons by walkie talkie. A couple of times he descended into the canyons and was so low that we could have jumped out. He clearly had some talent for ballooning.
So when we came in to land and I noted some urgency in his voice I realised the landing would be interesting. As we neared the ground we adopted the landing position we had all practised earlier. Crouched down inside the basket hanging on to the rope handles for dear life. Once in this position I couldn’t see out of the basket, but I did video the landing, by holding the camera up above my head.
“Landing Positions please!” Kaan shouted, this time with a lot of urgency. And then the balloon hit the ground hard. My head bashed against the basket and I dropped the camera. The balloon evidently lifted off again for a couple of second before striking the ground again. And again. And again. What was initially nervous giggling became screams, mostly from the Chinese.
The basket was still being dragged across the rough ground but was now starting to tip, backwards for us. Dust filled the basket and then basket fell completely on to its side and halted in a cloud of dust. All around us the ground crew were hanging onto the basket, in order to stop it taking off again.
As you can imagine, it is a nice sensation being in a crash along with 4 huge compressed gas cylinders and a flame thrower. But all was fine. No injuries and eventually we all laughed it off as great fun and exciting. Then we had some champagne and got certificates.
As we drank we saw another balloon “land” near us, crashing through a farmers olive trees before it was hauled to the ground by a panicking ground crew. Our ground crew were still trying to untangle our balloon from an olive tree at the time. They did this by ripping the olive tree into pieces with their bare hands.
Kaan chose not to unleash his wrath upon the tree, instead hanging around with the champagne (which I hasten to add he was not drinking) and being continually photographed like a celebrity. He had just delivered us to the ground, alive, exhilarated and entertained. So we grabbed a photo too.