Day 11: Balloons

Man what a crazy busy wonderful day. We did so much I have to break this into multiple parts.

The morning is dominated by the most expensive entertainment per minute I’ve ever spent going up in a hot air balloon with Jennifer over the Cappadocia. We get our 4am wakeup call and manage to drag ourselves out of bed, dressed and ready to go. We then were shuttled to Maccan Balloons at the outskirts of town and were served breakfast and settled up for the flight. We then got shuttled as a whole group out to Sword Valley outside of town. It was weird, one minute we’re just driving along and the next we’re pulling in like it’s some kind of race with twenty other cars down a dirt road with a whole mess of hot air balloons in various states of filling in front of us.

Our balloon is a light blue with gold lettering and a giant hawk on it. Some are classical mix and match of bright panels, and others still have big advertisements for various companies. Our basket is large, but fewer people that others seem to have. João, our pilot is from Portugal and has a great sense of humor. He goes through the landing routine with us, and we all get in the roomy basket. We have a Korean couple with us and an Italian family on the other side.

It’s still before sunrise but the light is creeping into the sky as we take off. It’s subtle, at first you can tell we’re only kinda on the ground as we feel light and the basket shifts an inch every so often, then we’re up and drifting. João adds more heat and it feels like scuba diving, the change in buoyancy takes a moment to take effect. We’re getting close to a large rock, but it’s all for show and we climb pretty quickly relative to our motion along the ground clearing the rock.

We’re now a couple hundred feet above the ground and all around us are balloons. It’s like a flock of birds frightened from the bushes as we all take off roughly around the same time spread from all around the valley, many out of view moments before. It’s strange seeing maybe 50 other balloons in the air, it’s not a sight I’m used to seeing.

Mostly the flight is quiet except for the bursts of the burners every so often. João asks if anyone wants to fly it and I shoot my hand up. He has me pull down a lever briefly to burn and that’s it. I’d love to be able to say I’ve flown a Hot Air Balloon as well as a plane and a glider, but all the cases are really me just getting the controls for various lengths of time when it was safe to.

At times the sky was so thick with balloons they had to call out to each other via handheld radios to see if they were clear of another balloon or not.

Apparently they have some control over the direction of the balloon when they change altitude by pull on roles to change the shape of the balloon. This also allows them to rotate the basket around as well. Mostly though we have to follow the wind.

The sun begins to rise over the hills and were treated to a pleasant one 1000ft off the ground, part of the reason we start so early, the other being that if we started too late there could be problematic winds. From here we get a great view of Uçhisar from the air all lit up by the morning sun. Uçhisar is a nearby town built up the edge of a peak with the top crowned by a complex of caves carved into homes.

By now we had float over to Love Valley, so named because of the shape of the rock formations. João joked he would tell us why but he didn’t want to blush. A number of balloons dropped into the canyon with us. It was a cool sensation as we dropped down past the lip of the canyon watching others do the same. A particular hoodoo in the shape of a camel is pointed out to us. Usually when someone says “that rock looks like a” it’s like yea I guess, but this one looked just a camel. Sometimes they’re able to follow the canyon for a ways when the winds are favorable, but today there was a bit too much cross wind and we had to rise back out. João of course takes us very close to the canyon edge for the show of it.

Our ride is nearing its end and João finds us a place to end. Below us every balloon company in the sky has two vehicles on the ground: a truck with a trailer for the balloon, and a van to take the passengers back to their hotels. All of these support vehicles are rushing down little roads every which way trying to beat their respective balloons to their landing spots. We dip through a little canyon and rise up just enough to make an easy landing on the top before it drops away into another canyon. But one of the passengers, the Italians isn’t following the directions we were given and is sitting incorrectly unbalancing the balloon, nor does he have his child secured between his legs as he’s supposed to. João tries to quickly correct him but the language barrier makes the process too slow and we abort the landing and he berates the Italian for not listening when he told us what to do on the ground, and not asking any questions then because he can’t both fly the balloon and give instruction. Our ride is going to be a bit longer.

We rise up quite a ways into the air, and float past Uçhisar looking for the new spot. We’re getting a bit longer of a flight than normal. I’m secretly happy the Italian father wasn’t listening. João once again selects a spot and we drop into the canyon before it, rotating the balloon to move into the right position and slipping between two trees. Then it’s landing positions again as we rise over the tip. This time we’re good and he tosses a line to his team below. They get the balloon under control and we’re allowed to stand up. They then position the trailer underneath the balloon and slowly lower it down onto the trailer to be tethered up. We have landed. Some more cords get pulled and the balloon’s canopy opens at the top letting hot air out and the balloon slowly deflates back to earth.

I guess its tradition to drink champagne after a flight because of the first hot air balloon flight in France when the first balloon pilots brought some along with them to placate irate farmers after they landed in their fields. Here there are no fields, but it’s a fun touch to a pretty unique experience. João pulls out a Turkish dagger and sabers the bottle open pouring us all glasses and toasts to a successful flight. While we drink he finds the cork and uses the wire cage to make a little balloon miniature. Cute.

It’s only been an hour but it feels like a serious chunk of the day as things wind down and we watch them pack up the balloon. We’re then loaded into the people mover and are off back to our hotel, just past 7 in the morning and time for our second breakfast with the hotel.

We have to think of what to do for the rest of the day. I know I want to see some of the canyons, and Jenn wants to go horseback riding all day. I however am not capable of sitting on a horse all day. A few hours sure, but I’ll pay for it the next day, and definitely not a full day. We ask the front desk about horseback riding options and they give us a name and a couple brochures for companies in the area, and we go back to our room to check out the companies on trip advisor to see if we can figure out if the horses are healthy or not. One in particular, the Dalton Brother’s Ranch stands out, the horses look well taken care of, and they offer 1h, 2h, 4h, and fullday trips. The front desk calls for us and says they can’t do any 4hr or fullday trips because there isn’t enough interest, but they could do two 2hr trips, one midmorning, and one at sunset. I’ll go hiking while Jenn does the first one, and join her for the second. They’ll be by in an hour to pick us up so it’s time to get ready!

More to come from Day 11 in another post.

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