The alarm buzzed at 4:30 am. I hadn’t slept well. It was hot, the air-conditioner had drawn its last breath somewhere before midnight. The light bed sheet draped across my torso, felt like a fur coat. Even now, in the pre-dawn hours, the temperature was in the mid-twenties without a breeze to offer some relief. Today, however, the lack of wind was a welcome gift. We would be watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon drifting over the surreal landscape of Cappadocia. Perhaps it wasn’t the heat that caused me to sleep fitfully, perhaps it was excitement?
We waited in the lobby for the signal that the weather would co-operate and allow us to fly. At 5:30 am, the representative signaled the all-clear. We jumped in the van and raced off at a frantic pace to reach the launch site before the weather changed. Bend after bend, the van sped forward until we arrived in a field. Half a dozen balloons, tethered to wicker baskets, large enough to carry 15-20 people, where being prepared for flight.
An early morning gold covered the landscape, the first rays of dawn creeping over the ancient eroded landscape. Flames jet into balloons with a whoosh, inflating the enormous canvas, rising them slowing into the air. The baskets bounced in anticipation of their flight. Ropes grew taut, straining against the eagerness of the balloon to rise into the brightening sky. Eventually, we boarded the basket, our pilot giving a few tips in case of a rough landing. Then we were off. Weightless. Up into the sky.
We drifted over canyons formed by years of erosion. Rock spires and undulating folds of rocks caressed each other far below. Cappadocia is stunning from the ground, but it’s only from above can its true beauty be experienced. We dip low into the canyons, hanging in mid-air beside the tops of apricot trees. Our pilot, an incredibly friendly man, tells us stories of passengers reaching out to pluck the fruits when they in season. We rise slowly into the crowded sky. Dozens of balloons silently float in the wind. The silence is only broken by the whoosh-whoosh of jets of flame that sounds like waves crashing against an ocean of cloud.
Eventually it is time to land. We leave the symphony of balloons waltzing across the sky to begin our decent. The pilot pours water over the side of the basket. The stream turns to jewels of water sparking in the morning sun. He studies its movement to gauge the wind speed below and takes us lower. Far below, Landrovers scramble like ants on a picnic rug, the patchwork made up of fairy chimneys, gorges, and fields of parched grass. Pilot and driver continue their choreographed dance, drawing ever closer until we kiss the ground, bouncing up slightly. Men pull down on ropes and skillfully guide the basket onto the trailer of the Landrover. We come to a stop with a second kiss. Softer than the first. More gentle. Eternal. The kiss may last forever, but our ride was over.