There are several things that one must do when visiting Cappadocia, and going for a hot air balloon ride is definitely one of them. It is one of the best places in the world to do it, and it's an experience I won't likely forget so soon. Ok, so it's not cheap, and the rides are at sunrise so you must get up very, very early that day, but the views are magnificent and it is a once in a lifetime experience, after all.
This activity was pioneered by Lars and Kaili of Kapadokia Balloons more than twenty years ago, and has since turned into a blooming business. There are several ballooning companies working in this area these days, but we decided to go with the original company and it was an excellent choice.
We were picked up at 5:00 AM, and although quite sleepy we were very excited to go. At the office, everyone is served some tea and cookies, and separated into several vans that take us to the departure point. The departure point is not always the same, it varies according to the meteorological conditions, and Lars (the expert) invariably choses the best launching point and which will provide the most scenic rides.
When we get there, the sun is rising, and already some balloons are on the air. The setup takes some time and the temperature is quite chilly (9º C that morning) but finally we are separated into three different balloons, piloted by Lars and Kaili and Kaili's nephew Mike (who turned out to be our pilot).
Kaili gives us some safety instructions, particularly for the landing, but most times that won't be necessary.
We are up in the air in seconds, and wow, the view is just too impressive. The air is cold but that's actually good because it's so clear you can see quite far on the horizon (Kaili would say later that we had been lucky, because it was the best day they had since April). A. and I keep taking photos, I'm sure we were clicking every five seconds or so.
Mike expertly manoeuvres the balloon up and down (he even tries to pick up some quince from a tree in a canyon, but barely misses) and we ride through Pigeon Valley, Ortahisar, Goreme, and other canyons and places I can't remember the name right now. Although most of the flight is at altitude, he will usually bring the balloon down to show some interesting points. Sometimes we're so close to the rocks it seems we're going to collide, but then with a burst of flame we will rise again and go up in the air. The three pilots are in constant communication (and teasing each other) and from the air we can see the ground crew who are following us to our landing point.
There are more than twenty balloons up that day, including our three and two guests, belonging to Buddy Bombard's vip tours (Lars and Kaili's previous boss)
The ride takes about one hour and a half, but it feels too short, and I definitely could've stayed up there for much longer. Soon the pilots are looking for a landing point and Lars is the first one to land quite gracefully in the ground. Kaili manages to steer her balloon right on top of one of the trucks (it seems she's the expert on this) and Mike gives us a more bumpy landing (but much more fun, I must say !) further away and soon we're all back on the ground. We help out with the flattening of our balloon which is fun and hike back to join the rest of the group.
After such an amazing experience, the celebration feels appropriate. The crew decorates the basket with flowers, and open bottles of champagne which they serve mixed with some cherry juice. It's someone's birthday so we also get some cake and soon enough everyone is chatting away about how great it was.
It was only 8:30 AM but already we had experienced the best part of the day. I guess that's how it is in Cappadocia ...
(for all Cappadocia photos check here at Flickr)