Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is known for its valleys and unique rock formations shaped centuries ago by erupting volcanoes. Rose Valley with its pink-hued rocks which deepen as the sun descends; Pigeon Valley; Ihlara Valley and Goreme Valley home to the Open Air Museum. The beauty of the valleys can be appreciated in two ways, either by pulling on a sturdy pair of boots and hiking through them or by drifting, gently above them at sunrise during a hot-air balloon flight. Which would you choose?
Not many things will get me up at 5am – the prospect of a stunning sunrise, possibly. Flying off to a new destination, always. But on our second day in Goreme, when the alarm started screeching, I was out of bed like a rocket – I knew today, and our hot-air balloon flight over Goreme, would be one of the highlights of our Turkey trip – though it was a pity not to have had more time in our Fairy Chimney.
After a quick coffee, pastries, fruit and signing of forms at the Butterfly Balloon meeting point 16 of us set off in a minibus to a high plateau overlooking Goreme.
We arrived at the take-off area to the sight of dozens of hot air balloons, in various stages of inflation, and watched mesmerised as they lifted gently into the air and floated into the rising dawn.
Dwarfed by these giants, excitement growing by the second, we watched balloon after balloon gently tilt, lift from the ground and with a whoosh of ignited gas drift into the landscape.
Our balloon was one of the last to lift and the sight ahead of dozens of balloons in different colours, sizes and varying heights as they drifted into the pink dawn was spectacular.
As the ground sunk away we floated low, skimming the trees in the valley, as we rose higher we enjoyed a birds-eye view of the landscape which gave us a good orientation of the area – useful for hiking the next day.
Kaan, our pilot, was skilled to within an inch of clipping the tree tops with the guy ropes trailing from the balloon above us. We soared higher, the roar of flame cutting through the quiet. There was no breeze as we were travelling at the same speed as the wind; all was calm, peaceful and serene. Fairy chimneys loomed and passed by and the panorama below gave us plenty to muse over.
I could have stayed drifting in our hot-air balloon forever and walked on air for the rest of the day – but I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has greeted you with warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth.
— Anon, ‘The Balloonists Prayer,’