Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cappadocia from Above

I'm afraid of heights. Planes terrify me. Cliffs terrify me. Second story windows frighten me. Roller coasters send me running for the hills (as long as those hills aren't very high and don't have any cliffs.)

So it was with great surprise that I found myself early one morning in Cappadocia, Turkey climbing into the basket of a hot air balloon.

How did I get here? What was I doing? What is the meaning of life? 

I don't know - but there I was...


The air is slightly chilly - it's a good thing we brought our jackets. The sun hasn't quite begun to come up, but in the blue-gray light we can see the silhouettes of Cappadocia's surreal cliffs around us.

The company men unpack the air balloon with expert efficiency. It's strange (unsettling?) to see this contraption that we'll soon be riding thousands of feet through the air in get pulled out of an over-sized duffel bag. 

While we wait for our balloon to inflate, we begin to see other balloons rising into the air. They glow red and orange against the pre-dawn sky. 

And then, after a few minutes, it's our turn.

You don't even feel the balloon leave the ground. It's nothing like a plane, with its obnoxiously loud noises and sudden acceleration. In this case, one moment you're motionless on the ground, the next moment you're steadily rising into the air. The only sound is the steady burst of flaming hot air into the balloon. The calmness of the whole process (no turbulence!) eases some of my fears. 

Soon we're several hundred feet in the air. We're above the level of the cliffs and canyons now. All around us, in every direction, we see other balloons - dozens of them.

The ground continues to recede. 

Our pilot (a friendly Portuguese man who previously did the same thing in Tanzania) helpfully announces our altitude on a regular basis. 

"300 meters."

(i'm not scared)

"500 meters."

(nope, not scared)

"750 meters."


"1000 meters."

(ok, yeah, I'm a little bit scared.)

I make the mistake of looking down - straight down. The ground is really far away. There's only a few inches of basket between our feet and... Nothing. Thousands of feet of nothing. A video plays in my head: I lose my balance, trip over something, and tumble out of the basket...

It's a long way down.
Spoiler: Nothing happens. It is in fact very calm up here. I'm still scared, but I'm starting to get over it. We're in the air for quite a while, and I begin to appreciate the beauty of the setting. Even the cliffs and canyons seem rather small and far away now.   

We go just a little bit higher, until it seems like we're the highest of all the balloons in the sky. The sun rises over the horizon.

Finally, it's time to go back down. 

The process of going down is just as painless as the process of going up. It doesn't even feel like you're moving - until you notice that the ground is much closer now. 

Then we spend a good 15-20 minutes kind of just skimming along the surface trying to find a suitable place to land. When you're in an air balloon, you're more or less completely at the mercy of the prevailing winds. 

And then with a thump we make touchdown. 

(hooray! i'm not dead!)


We've landed in a fairly isolated spot, so it takes a while for the company vans to reach us to take us back to our hotels. After being fully deflated, the balloon is put back inside its duffel bag.

We just flew in that flimsy piece of cloth.
The pilot celebrates our safe landing by serving wine (and juice for the teetotalers among us.) And I think: I just spent more than an hour floating in a balloon thousands of feet above the ground - and I survived! If that's not worth celebrating, what is? 


  1. You had some pretty amazing views! Balloon rides are awesome and worth every penny (especially if you go in the right place)!

  2. Feel like I was in the balloon with you. Interesting landscape with what appears to be very craggy sharp peaks. What a way to go sightseeing. Love all the pictures, especially the one showing the other balloons below you.

  3. What an unforgettable experience. I love your writing Tim! You give me a great desire to travel again very soon.