Floating above a Fairytale Landscape
20.05.2012 14 °C
With excitement and a little anxiety we looked forward to our hot air balloon ride. After doing a couple of hours of research the day before on what balloon company to go with, we were confident with our choice. With a dozen companies to choose from it was a task to separate the promotion from the facts. Some companies advertise on their website as having brand new equipment but through traveller reviews these same companies we discovered had less experienced pilots. All a little intimidating considering we will be floating to heights of 1500 feet and the only thing keeping us in the air is some hot air and a wicker basket. Yikes!! come on Brad, buck up this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience!
A mini van from the Butterfly balloon company picked the four of us up at 5 am from our hotel. Wayne informs us he has not slept at all. His mind was working overtime thinking about the what ifs. We hear for the first time that he has a slight fear of heights and is mildly claustrophobic. Great Wayne, not a frigging good combination when 12 people will be in a small confined space for over an hour, at dizzing heights and the basket edge comes up only to your waist with no seatbelt included. I'm thinking will he cause panic amongst all the other passengers and bring all of us down in a firey crash. Wayne's nervousness makes Heather a little more edgy. Heather faced her fear of heights last year in Kauai when she soared in a 2 seater powered hang glider. Wow, what are we getting into this morning. Is this a bucket list item that will be a trip of a lifetime or a damn foolish choice that we will regret as soon as we climb in that oversized wicker basket.
We were dropped off for a light breakfast at the Butterfly Balloons head office, before being shuttled to the balloon launch site. It was then that we realized the scope of this thrill ride operation. About another 100 people had been collected from hotels and deposited here by shuttle vans. We were one of about 12 companies, each sending up multiple ballooons assuming weather conditions are right. Hot air balloons are launched first thing in the morning when the wind is calm and everyone can watch the sunrise. Perhaps 30 to 40 balloons would be floating at the same time as our balloon. You could feel the reserved excitement of the participants. Next we were assigned our pilot. We were hoping for an experienced one that could speak some english and a smaller group. Some balloons would take up 20 at a time but we lucked out and got assigned to a pilot and ballloon that took only 12. We would meet our pilot, Mehmet at the launch site.
After a 15 minute drive we arrived at the luanch site. We were awed by the size of the balloons as the grounds people hurried to get the 5 massive balloons filled with hot air.
We met our pilot Mehmet, and he informed us in broken English that weather conditions were perfect.
That made us all feel a tad better. Then it was count down to launch time. Mehmet called our group over and told us to climb into the basket. Two grounds people helped us sramble over the edge of the basket; 3 people in 4 separate sections. The fifth spot was for the 5 large propane tanks. Our eyes darted everywhere taking in the beehive of activity. We looked off into the horizon and saw that some of the other balloon companies had already taken off;I was hoping we would be the first of our 5 balloons to launch. Then we were stunned to see Mehmet throw the largest propane tank out of the basket to the ground crew. What the hell----I think we may need that if the other 4 tanks run out! I was so naive. I looked around and saw other propane tanks being thrown overboard. This left a whole in the centre of the basket, room for our pilot. That was a good thing!
Heather and I held hands in anticipation as the basket shifted below our feet. Mehmet turned on all 4 burners to full blast for about 5 seconds. When we looked up, a flame some 20 feet high burst upwards into the centre of the balloon. We could feel the intense heat on our faces. Then it happened - lift off!
The ground was quickly moving away from us. There was silence in the basket as we all were amazed that we were airborne. Then Mehmet said, "We are in trouble" as he pointed to a place about 50 metres from the balloon. We were only about 150 feet off the ground. He said in broken english, "Iceberg straight ahead, Titanic". Sure enough, there was a 300 foot rock pinnacle and we were headed straight for it.
Then he started laughing and all of our tension was released. He gave a couple of quick blasts of the burners and we sailed so close to the rock, it felt like we could reach out and touch it. Mehmet was showing off his skills as a pilot. This helped my confidence surge upwards.
The sun started to rise over the horizon, the land below took on an orange glow. A peaceful, tranquil feeling came over me. This seemed surreal! I looked around and there was a grin of satisfaction on the passengers faces,---we were flying, floating like a bird. Now we were upt o 500 feet on the altimeter. And the scenery below was breathtaking. Everywhere I looked there were canyons and the famous the fairy tale chimneys.
Fairy chimneys are what the Cappadoccia area are famous for. Imagine conical shaped rock formations about 20 meters high with doors and windows in them. Yes these also double as ancient cave houses, as old as time. Some people still live in them.
Our balloon changed altitude and direction with ease. Mehmet our pilot took us up to 1500 feet and as low as 20 feet where it felt like we would touch the canyon floor and walls. I looked across the horizon and could see over 40 balloons in flight, all brightly colored with their logos prominently displayed.
Our hour was drawing to a close and we could see that we were approaching our landing area. The trucks and trailers were driving quickly, trying to anticipate where we would be landing. Soon the ground grew hopped out of the truck and were racing towards our balloon. Mehmet told us to all get into the landing position - squatting and holding on to the rope handles in the basket. We barely needed to brace ourselves at all as Mehmet did such a gentle touch down. The crew grabbed the ropes and steadied us. The truck and trailer pulled up beside our basket and Mehmet slowly raised us up and on to the trailer - what skill.
We celebrated our journey with a champagne toast and were given a certificate to commemorate the flight. This is something I will never forget. Another amazing adventure that hopefully others will have the opportunity to experience.