3.20am, and the Muslim call to prayer woke me, from my not so many hours of sleep in my Cave in Goreme. Though I was thankful for this, it was like my natural alarm clock.
Early mornings have been somewhat of a theme during my trip to Turkey, but this early morning wasn’t in order to get to an airport, or on a day tour somewhere, but was to experience watching the sunrise from a Hot Air Balloon.
This activity is something that is highly rated in Cappadocia, and there are about 100 different balloon flight companies (the local council had to cap it at this, to allow for safety measures).
Although I am the adventurous type, I had never considered getting in a hot air balloon. Mainly because of the safety aspect. Whilst living in New Zealand, a hot air balloon crashed into a power cable, and all on board died. There is also the issue of standing in a wicker basket, with a giant piece of fabric, and nothing but the wind and fire guiding it. Recipe for disaster you would think.
However, Cappadocia has more hot air balloon rides take off, than anywhere else in the World, and all are relatively safe. Accidents happen yes, but can also do on your own doorstep. (So y’know – YOLO and all that).
After seeing photos of this activity online, I knew it was something I wanted to do.
I was picked up at 3.40am and driven to the office of Air Kapadokya, where I was given a coloured sticker, to categorise me into what balloon team I would be in; I was in the orange team. We signed our details in, of our name, age, nationality and hotel, then were treated to breakfast of various breads (editors note: again with the bread Turkey, I need a detox soon), cakes and copious amounts of tea.
We were given a safety briefing, and the loaded into various mini vans, and driven the 10 or minutes out of Goreme to the middle of a field.
It was still dark when I got out of the van, but the sky was getting pink. As I stood in the field, I suddenly noticed various huge objects around me; it was the hot air balloons being prepared – they were huge up close.
We watched as they were being filled with air and fire, and tipped up onto their baskets, for us to get into.
I met Cemal, our pilot, who is also the owner of Air Kapadokya – a lovely and very experienced pilot, and I jumped in the basket.
The baskets were much bigger than I thought, holding up to 25 people (some deluxe flights hold just 10 people). The basket was sectioned off into four areas, each holding up to 5 people. My section had 4 people in it (myself included).
We were given another safety briefing and practiced the landing position, which was holding onto the little handles and squatting down to the bottom of the basket.
The hard working crew on the crew then unhooked the ropes from the trailer, and with a puff of fire, we were up up and away.
We were about the second Balloon in the air, and it didn’t take long for us to climb higher above the town.
We watched as other Balloons on the ground were being prepared and lifted off also. Initially we floated quite high for sometime, then returned to a lower altitude, so as to not waste the gas and allow us to see the sun rising.
I watched with intent, as it started to get lighter and lighter (which is when I realised I had my jacket on inside out – getting dressed in the dark is clearly not a skill I hold).
Up we went again to chase the sun rising. We were floating high above the sleepy town of Goreme, and all the rock structures.
We all then watched as the orange ball of light appeared before us. With the backdrop of the rock formations, and other hot air balloons, it was magical.
Once it was fully light, we continued to cruise around, getting higher and lower in various places, to avoid certain rocks.
Cemal was great at pointing out sites around Cappadocia, and telling us of their history, as well as recommending places to visit later.
After an hour in the sky, it was time to float down to earth again.
The team at Air Kapadoyka had been driving in vans, and following us around during the whole trip – what legends.
Our landing was nothing short of perfect, as Cemal managed to position it directly back on the trailer, ready for it to be transported back to its base. The landing was so smooth, that we didn’t need to get into our landing position. I had envisaged a massive thud back on the ground, but it wasn’t like this at all.
After climbing out (which is harder than it looks), we continued to watch as the other balloons slowly floated back to the ground.
We were then treated to a Champagne finishing, as is customary with all hot air balloon flights. This was done during the first ever flight in September 1783, as they were unsure whether their mission would be successful. So it is continued to this day.
We were presented with celebratory certificates, and driven back to our respective caves.
I then took another short nap, and woke a few hours later, wondering if what I had experienced was real. It was a wonderful experience, and if you are in Cappadocia, don’t miss out on this.
Tips for a hot air balloon flight
- Choose a reputable company – I highly recommend Air Kapadoyka. Their crew and pilots are highly skilled, professional and organised. A great company to deal with for my first flight (yes, I would do it again)
- Bring a jacket – it is a bit chilly at 4am
- Don’t bring a selfie stick – I had a bunch of Korean tourists continuously shoving one in my face, as I was just trying to peacefully watch the sunrise
- Bring money to tip the ground crew – they work so hard in maintaining the safe take off and landing also, as well as preparing the balloon and packing it away.
Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia start from 120 Euro (£85 or US $130).
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
Leonardo Da Vinci