7 October 2022
It’s calm but cloudy. No stars. Wind 1 mph out of north. 46° with rain expected about 2pm. In this arid land I don’t expect much. Vans can be heard zipping about the streets.
Will we launch?
This morning we pick up 16 passengers and head north into the valley toward Cavusin and the fairy chimneys of Pasaba Valley. The road is filled with vans and trucks towing baskets and rolled up balloons eager to expand and fly. The valley is twinkling with the lights of the distant cities and also of all the vans and their cargo.
I see a few stars above but it is still cloudy; the ambient lights of Göreme can be seen over the mesa to the south. Slowly my eyes adjust and I can see we are part of a huge circle of dozens of balloons. I cannot hear the Call to Prayer but it exists and a faithful follower is earning his credits at the back of the bus. Prayer for Allah or for a safe landing?
Out come the snack bags but no coffee. The local dog, and in general they all look alike, isn’t interested in my muffin. Temperature is a brisk 50°. The first small test balloon goes up with its red blinking light indicating the direction of wind. It heads west.
Generators are fired up. It’s a go!
Balloons begin to fill with hot air and slowly lift off the dirt. I can see at least 50 balloons within close proximity to mine. I will float over the valley in Flower Balloons. It’s 6am and the first balloon comes to life, rolling, billowing, reaching for freedom. The staff quickly load 16 people into the basket, we receive crash instructions, cameras are ready.
At 6:13 we lift into the air with at least 60 other balloons. As we rise, I can see scores of balloons in the process of flight. A few sad cousins remain limp on the ground as we drift over the mesas in the general direction of Göreme. I can see its minaret. As we reach a top ceiling of 700 meters, we are in the clouds, the ground below indistinct, balloons all around us, some higher, some lower.
Google Maps tells me we are floating over Love Valley, Göreme is off in the distance. A hint of sunrise can be seen in the east. The fairy chimneys materialize out of the cloud cover as we descend several hundred feet. Their unique shapes can be appreciated from the air, looking down on them from just a few feet. Skimming over and around the chimneys, our pilot tries to entertain us with close passes. But he is in total control and knows his limits. We don’t knock any caps from the chimneys. The roar of burners can be heard over the valley.
I see a few lucky basket-travelers floating closer over the city but for the most part the balloons floated from Pasaba Valley southwest over Love Valley. I see hundreds of people on the ridge above Love Valley and our chase cars gathering below, indicating the landing area.
We gently touch down on top of the flatbed wagon. Awkwardly, we climb out of our basket, the balloon deflates and settles to the ground, sunrise has come. A little bubbly, sans alcohol, and my ride is done.
Anything remaining of my day will be anticlimactic.
Returning to my hotel, I ascend to the terrace for breakfast. The sun is emerging and rain just doesn’t seem to be in the future. I live dangerously this morning and accept the French fries.
I decide to wear off the fries-calories and hike up to the Yusuf Koç Church. The panorama is spectacular. I can see Uçhisar Castle and all along the ridge to Balon Seyir Terrace down to the multitudes of fairy chimneys. In the distance is a huge red and sand mesa. Beneath all is Göreme. Absolutely beautiful.
Not another person is in sight or at least any closer than at the top of the terrace. I am alone except for a horse. The Call to Prayer floats over the city as I slowly walk back in search of a draft.
I find the Moziak Restaurant. I enjoy a cold Efes amid the sounds of Dino singing “That’s Amore.” Life sometimes can be so unreal. Something about this view is special as I look out over the war memorial, a giant Turkish flag, sandstone bluffs and listen to great music of the 60s and 70s. Good as any way to spend an afternoon in Turkey.