We sat around wooden tables shivering. The hot coffee did little to warm us. Each time someone opened the door the stinging chill of the morning rushed in. It was  cruel to have to get out of bed and breakfast at 5 am.  A little after half past five, a not so young yet not too old guy stepped into the lounge.

“The wind changed direction three times in the last half hour and that is why  there was a delay in choosing our take off site”, he said in way of an apology. “But I hope you enjoyed the complimentary breakfast”.

Shortly we were driven to the take off site. There were about half a dozen balloons already there being prepped for takeoff.

Our balloon was at the far corner of the field. A five man crew used  a portable fan to blow air into the limp ball of nylon spread on the ground. Next to us a chequered balloon sprung to life, while ahead of us from between the gap in the characteristic Cappadocian rock formation a balloon slowly peeked out and rose higher and higher till it joined others in flight.

Our pilot, Kaan had only two rules. The first was to stay in the balloon at all times and the second was to resist any urge to jump! It didn’t seem too hard (at least when we were on the ground).

We were the last to take off from the sight. We waited till all other balloons were safely in the air before Kaan threw an empty gas cylinder out of the basket. Simultaneously the crew let go of the ropes which held us down and without any further ado we were  up and on our way. I waved and shouted an inaudible ‘thank you’ to the crew below. Oh Boy! Did they  look a wee bit worried?

The cover of very first edition of the Lonely Planet India magazine had hot air balloons flying over Cappadoccia. That was the first time I heard of the land of the fairy chimneys.I always thought it was in Greece. But today above the ground and floating through a surreal landscape, I knew without a shadow of doubt that it was in Turkey.

things to do in cappadocia - hot air balloon ride

There were a hundred balloons in flight; a riot of colours that contrasted with the brown rock formations stretching as far as the eye could see.

Hot air ballooning is a serene experience.  It follows the basic laws of physics. Hot air being lighter than cooler air it rises up. You cannot really chart a course. You just travel as the wind blows. There is no hurry and you cannot rush the balloon. The pilot uses propane burners to feed hot air into the balloon and ropes  to control the vacuum inside the balloon. All you can do is control speed and altitude and then pray to the gods of the wind that they blow in the right direction.

There was silence in our basket as we floated over the valleys of Cappadocia. Everyone was taking in the moment. Suddenly there was a crackle in the radio followed by an urgent ” Kaan,right, right, right”.

Too late! We went straight at a tree that suddenly sprang up from nowhere.

“Sorry tree”, Kaan apologized to a broken branch that stuck to our basket. ” My first time!”

Maria and I exchanged a worried look. First time crashing into a tree or first time flying a balloon? We didn’t have time to dwell more deeply into the alternatives because very soon, the radio was alive with more urgent voices ” Kaan, up, up up!”

We scraped our way up along side a pigeon house in a not so smooth fashion and made our way up into  open space  filled with balloons.

“Alright Kaan you are good now. You have caught a strong current. Stay with it”.

” Hot air ballooning does not depend on only the skill of the pilot but also on the eyes of all the other pilots in the sky”, Kaan educated us his face still red from the last adrenaline rush.  As if in testimony to his statement the radio crackled again, “Mike, am I clear?”

” Mustafa, can’t see you. You must be directly below me. Kaan, is he clear?”
” A little left and you are fine.”
” Thank guys!”

The next leg of our journey was uneventful. We did not crash into any tree tops or upset any pigeons resting on the pointed rock edges. We just watched the shadows of the balloons get longer and longer the higher the sun rose.  Below us a few of the balloons were landing, the baskets coming to rest on the trailer of the parked van while the crew ran around securing the balloon with ropes.

“Guys I am calling it a day. Mustafa, you start your descent after me. Kaan, you wait till he is on the ground. But don’t delay, the wind is changing.”

We watched as Mustafa brought his balloon down. With a bump the basket hit the trailer.

“That’s a great landing”, Kaan said. That did not look great to me. If only I knew what was in store for us! “Alright folks we are starting our descent. Remember your landing positions.”

Below us our five man crew was waiting. Did they look anxious again?

We slowly made our descent onto a open field. The lower we went the more clearer we could see the tracks on the ground made by the vans. We were about 4 feet from the ground when we got caught in a strong current. The current dragged us further west than we should have gone. Kaan worked the ropes frantically. Below the head crewman ran back into the van and revved the engine and followed our balloon up a hilly slope. The rest of the crew just ran after our shadow.

Fortunately none of us knew about of the science of hot air ballooning to partake in the frenzy that seemed to have gripped the crew. As far as I was concerned I was getting my money’s worth from the trip.

“Landing position NOW”, Kaan yelled out of the blue.

We bent our knees and tucked our heads down while our basket came to rest on top of a knoll with much aplomb. Our trailer van was stuck in the mud below and our basket was balancing precariously at the top of a hill. A few inches west and we would have landed in a vineyard.

“At least I spared a farmer from unhappiness “, Kaan said, peering over the edge at the vineyard.

Much later after the crew had lifted the basket onto the trailer   we gathered around to celebrate our flight.

“Please forgive me, this is my first flight” and with that Kaan  popped the champagne.

Oh I could forgive him. He was drop dead handsome!


Lisa spends all her vacation days traveling to different corners of the world, seeking out adventures and finding stories waiting to be told. When not on vacation she is either planning for one or recouping from one.

Marie – who has written posts on WAH Blog.