The shuttle rolls up to our hotel doorstep at 5:30 in the morning, bang on the dot of our scheduled pick up time. Punctuality is a virtue to me, especially when it concerns the first step towards a bucket list experience; when you couple that with the fact that it’s EARLY, and I’m not always a morning person…I already like your operation when you swoop me up at precisely the agreed upon minute.
We’re going up in a hot air balloon today, and the butterflies in my stomach have begun to spread throughout the rest of my body. By the time we reach the Voyager Balloon offices on the opposite side of the tiny tourist enclave of Göreme, I’m buzzing so hard that the Turkish coffee I quaff down hardly registers on my radar.
The flight experience begins with a buffet breakfast and coffee at the Voyager offices, at which point we’re briefed about weather conditions and procedure for the launch point. The Turkish Aviation Authority enforces strict regulation on the hot air balloon industry, ensuring that the meteorological conditions and number of balloons in the sky at any given time and place are appropriate – its for one of these reasons that we’re here this morning, instead of last week; the winds were too strong on the morning of our original departure date so no one got to fly that day.
The launch point is a short drive from the Voyager offices, and it’s where the real action starts. The first hint of light creeps out of the cold as a cornucopia of balloons sit in various phases of inflation. The launch site is surrounded by fairy chimneys, the mushroom shaped rock formations that mirror the form of the balloons scattered in their midst.
We follow the flight team to our balloon, at which point a fleet of cameras are produced to snap away as our pilot starts to fire up the balloon. We have about a dozen passengers today; the balloon has capacity for 16 total, but it’s the low season now, so we all have a little more wiggle room. We’re escorted over the side and into the balloon and given an executive briefing of flight dynamics and safety procedures.
And then, it’s 3…2…1
Hot Air Balloons have a gracefulness and mobility that is unrivaled by other manned flight craft; you can hover so close to an apricot tree that one is able to pluck a fruit off the branches, and then jettison up to 4500 feet before you’ve gotten to the pit. And in terms of carbon neutrality, no charter or chopper comes close to the emissions quota of these natural gas burning balloons. Balloons are the sailboats of the sky, and soaring above Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscape is perhaps the finest place in the world to enjoy this marvel of human ingenuity.
The most climactic moment of our flight comes when our pilot demonstrates his technical proficiency in flying the craft; we float through a canyon, so low to the ground that one could high five a friend standing jealously outside the balloon on solid ground. As the canyon edge approaches, we gradually ascend in closer and closer proximity to it, until no one is actually sure if the balloon or it’s pilot can safely pull off this trick– indeed, we emerge unscathed from the edge of the canyon and are soon staring down at the scene from several thousand feet up.
Our flight lasts about an hour and a half – a premium upgrade that was made when the initial landing sight was deemed unfit. We settled down onto the bed of a trailer, and were helped off the balloon one by one. The last hurrah comes with a champagne toast; our pilot explains that this is a tradition that began with the first hot air balloon flight in France in 1783, and continues in it’s bubbly elegance until today.
The law of gravity says ‘What comes up, must come down’ – Newton probably wasn’t thinking about balloon flights when he postulated this, however, or else he would have included a clause about the spirit remaining indefinitely high after an experience like this.