Wrapped in a rainbow poncho, I peered over the side of the giant airborne picnic basket. Gliding in a hot-air balloon over the moon-like landscape of Cappadocia was surreal. With its predictable wind currents and static landscape, Cappadocia, located southeast of Istanbul in Turkey’s central Anatolia, is one of the best places in the world for hot-air ballooning.
At 230 Euros, Kapadokya Balloons’ Classic Deluxe program certainly isn’t cheap but, as I discovered, this one hour and 50 minute ride is once-in-a-life time opportunity worth the splurge.
The shuttle picked me up at my hostel at 5:30 am and drove me to balloon headquarters for a quick snack of tea of biscuits. After a short drive to the take-off site, our group of twelve watched the crew inflate the blue and yellow striped balloon with a high-powered fan and propane gasoline fuelled flames.
Once we were given the go-ahead, we hopped into the basket and listened attentively as Kaili, pilot and Kapadokya Balloons co-owner, gave us a rundown of safety precautions and landing positions.
She sparked a giant flame and pulled the parachute lines. We levitated a few inches above ground before smoothly ascending some 3000 feet. Quietly gliding, vertigo-free over ancient cave dwellings, carved rock faces and chimney-like outcrops, we found ourselves at “Viagara Valley”. Formed millions of years ago through volcanic eruptions and erosion, the giant mushroom capped rocks provided tons of phallic fun. Even the most mature couldn’t resist cracking jokes about these penile formations.
In the soft light of early morning, a bird’s-eye view of this strange landscape was ideal for photos. Flying with a partner balloon, we brushed trees tops, crept up on rock peaks and descended to ground level. According to Kaili, Kapadokya Balloons is one of the only operators selling contour flying in tandem.
As Kaili plunked the basket down in a farmer’s prickly field, us passengers squatted in our learned landing position and held on tightly to the provided handles. The small crew ran full-sped towards the balloon. Though there was some unexpected turbulence, we landed safely. We hopped out, applauded the Kapadokya team and gathered around for a post-flight mingle. We celebrated our ‘first time’ with new friends and a glass of chilled, champagne-infused cherry juice.
-Though there are several companies offering hot-air balloon rides in Goreme, it’s important to book with one that is safe and credible. After all, it is aviation and cheap companies equal cut corners. Visit www.kapadokyaballoons.com for more information on their services.