The sky was melting from morning black to dawn blue, while we were looking out over a field of hot hair balloons slowly billowing up like giant mushrooms, with bursts of fuel and flashes of light. It’s a dark early morning in Göreme, Cappadocia, and we stand shivering (of nerves and excitement and of freezing cold) waiting for someone to tell us to get in the basket, because we are finally doing it! Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia! Dreams do come true, bucket list adventures are possible.
Sixteen of us are arranged in the basket, buckled up, and given brief safety instructions (no selfie sticks!) – which I listen to with one ear because my other is still full of that beautiful sound of morning silence in the mountain-wilderness and gusts of hot air balloon fuel, while my eyes are darting across the landscape to those giant things already lifting to the sky, seemingly without sound or movement. THAT WILL BE US IN A MOMENT!!!
And then it happens.
That indescribable thing.
It happens both slowly and suddenly, the weight that shackled us to mother earth is dropped and we rise up without a fight, like it is in our nature , or like we were naturally meant to exist between earth and atmosphere. Actually, it feels more like the ground is folding out below us than it feels like we are lifting up. It happens so quietly and so gracefully, that it feels like we are standing still but also somehow we are now 1000s of feet above the ground.
Up and up and up and up we go along with the symphony of balloons filling the morning sky that has turned from that purple dawn to soft oranges and pinks and baby blues, and that keep transforming with every second we navigate the skies.
Then we all move where the wind takes us, over the incredible, unparalleled landscape of Cappadocia. We dip in and out between the fairy chimneys, cruise between the soft red rose valley, go up and up again for a vista of the entire landscape – the ochres of the earth and white of the ice and snow in the shadows of mountain creases. Back down to swoop across ancient and current cave homes and then a smooth sail into the warmth of the first rays of sun flaring out from the edge of the earth.
We happily warm up in the sunshine as we near the end of the journey over some open fields, the pilot in constant contact with the team on the ground over a walkie talkie. Then when we pass trees and move closer to earth so you can see the blades of grass, you suddenly become aware of the speed you were traveling with, and now we brace ourselves for the unknown sensation of a hot air balloon landing. The pick up truck is racing through fields and hills to line up with the balloon and we (sort of) slow down as we approach it, landing squarely on the back with a couple of thuds and a feeling of wanting to float back up again. We are all in our crouching landing positions while a handful of men tie the balloon down, which just wants to up and up to where it belongs, it seems. Then, when we feel sort of grounded, we get up, the giant red Turkish flag still bellowing above us, and hop out.
As per tradition, we pop champagne, and celebrate a mid-air engagement that happened in our basket about 30 minutes into our flight! We take turns posing in front of the mammoth balloon that is now starting to sag and droop across the field, and I walk around the frozen twigs and dirt just to make sure I am on earth again.
It is impossible to put words to this experience, but it has certainly been one of the most extraordinary things we have ever done, in one of the most beautiful corners of the world. My words fall short, as do my photos and videos, which cannot possibly contain the actual exhilaration and joy of the moments, but for what it’s worth: