Three-forty five in the morning after going to sleep at midnight was not the easiest thing that I have ever done, but I was amazed how easy it was to wake up for the hot air ballooning. I was picked up in front of the hotel at four-ten and headed down to the Cappadocia “International airport???, an empty field just outside of town.
I took a balloon from the Cappadocia Balloon Company; these guys are a well-oiled operation. The cost of the ticket is about $200 and they say that the flight lasts about an hour depending on the wind patterns and where we are able to take off. The launch location is chosen by sending up a black balloon and watching how it floats up into the air. As it floats away it starts moving with the wind in a certain direction and based on their knowledge and experience, they know exactly where they are going to be leaving. It is my experience that they are 100% sure where they are leaving from and 0% on where they are going to land.
I think it was about twelve years ago when I last took a hot air ride, I was with my girlfriend at the time Kathleen and we went for my birthday. I can remember everything about that day, everything from the colors of the craft to then name on the side. It was called the “Zephyr??? and we left from a small hotel in Del Mar.
I hope that this voyage is impregnated into my memory in the same way that my first flight has continued to keep me smiling a decade later.
It takes about twenty minutes to unpack and inflate the balloon. I am going to be taking this journey with about nine other souls. After a quick lesson on how to brace for a crash landing, the pilot primes the pump and out silent bird begins to take off. We realize after the lesson that we are about twenty feet in the air and the trees are rapidly approaching. With a quick pump of the propane, we rise and just scrape the bottom of the basket on the leaves. The pilot then tells us that if we see that we are going to crash, to please let him know before it happens again.
I am not going to even try and describe the experience because it is one of those things that words cannot begin to articulate. Think orgasm and try to explain it to someone who has never experienced one. Not as easy as you would think.
For those of you who know me, you know that I will talk to just about anyone and why should the unsuspecting pilot be any different? I asked him how long it took to qualify for a pilot’s license? 40 Hours. How long it takes to be come commercially rated? 70 more hours. How high does this balloon go? Maximum is 10,000 feet. How heavy are the four propane tanks? About 250 kilograms. How much does one cost? 150,000 Euros, but companies like Kia and Mercedes sponsor the cost to have their images in the sky. The crafts are made just north of Barcelona Spain and take about two months for delivery. A typical balloon will fly for about a thousand hours, and it takes two years in Cappadocia to reach a thousand flight hours. In the EU, about five years because the balloons are just not used as much – less days of good weather.
We were airborne for just over an hour, the flight was perfect and the landing was as graceful as an eagle coming to nest. There was a tiny jolt and then the guys on the ground rushed to tie us down, and we were once again on Terra Firma. A glass of champagne and a commemorative pin later I was back on the bus heading towards the Otel.
After breakfast I opted to go on a three hour, five-mile nature hike into some of the most unadulterated and most beautiful trails that I have ever seen.
I went to an underground city that the Turks have been using for centuries as a way to protect themselves from invaders. This entire city was constructed underground by carving away at the softer volcanic rock. This city was able to accommodate about five thousand inhabitants at any one time. They had fresh water, fresh air, eight separate levels, multiple entrances and exits and it was completely hidden from view. They even had a way of dealing with the smoke from cooking by dispersing it though dozens of chimneys so that the signs were not seen from one location for the enemy to track.
I don’t really have much more to add other than the clarity of the landscape, the taste of the food and the warmth of the people is like nothing that I have experienced before.