Cappadocian Balloons October 20th

Early start this morning. Kirsty loaded herself up the night before with antibiotics and imodium to create something of a lull with her situation and then set the alarm clock. At 5:45 church bells began chiming in our room, confusing me terribly. It was Kirsty's iphone waking us up. Outside the sky had that milky blue glow of dawn approaching. We dressed and attempted to navigate the rabbit warren of the inn to the outside. Our surroundings were pitch dark, with small staircases leading to passagways that could lead into a stone wall or a rocky precipice. At last we stepped onto the main patio and tripped over Panda, the dog of the inn. He had a habit of lying directly across the main staircase awaiting adoration and affection. How could we resist? Kirsty and I indulged him with a tummy rub and stepped over him.
Panda got up, followed us down the stairs and stayed with us at the gate. I swear to God he was making sure we got our ride alright. He wouldn't leave, even once he saw that we were going no farther than the gate, he just sat patiently with us.
Around 6:10 AM headlights were zooming up the hill. They stopped, reluctantly revealing the outline of a landrover and then turned around. Once again I was immensly confused (this often happens to me in the morning). But when the landrover screeched to a halt again, it all made sense. Kirsty and I got into the truck, Panda calmly following us despite Kirsty's entreaties to stay home. When we looked back at the quickly retreating inn, Panda was placidly rooting through the garbage for his breakfast.
Had I been more awake and alert my heart would have been racing, my breathing a bit shallow and laboured, and my eyes desperately trying not to cry with abject terror. This was the morning of our hot air balloon ride and all I could think of was that Heffe balloon being no more than a speck yesterday. I am so terrified of heights. And fire. With height it's not so much the physical distance between me and the ground, it's the paralysing thought of falling. As clumsy and ungainly as I am, there is an absolute certainty in my mind that I will trip on my own ankle and plummet to my death or disfigurment.
I expressed this to our German landlord yesterday and he assured me that, though he is afflicted with the same fear, he never felt any discomfort, and that to miss this opportunity would be a tragedy. He was right.
The young Turk driving the land rover zoomed over Goreme's cobblestone streets (making us, once again, thank our innate wisdom for not renting a car), picking up one other passenger and then dropping us off at a warehouse. Other tourists milled about in various states of somnambulism and strung with various gloves, scarves, hats, down coats and, of course, cameras. Tea, Nescafe and cookies were offered to prop us into some state of consciousness. Upon our arrival a jovial bright ray of sunshine named Kayla greeted us with a plummy British accent. She shook our hands with such warm energy I felt I was greeting a head girl from a British "public" school.
"Wonderful to have you here," she beamed. "Lars will be your pilot and he's tip top!"
"Great," we smiled, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes.
"If you just want to go next door and get yourselves a cuppa and biscuit and we'll give you a shout when it's time to leave. Not much longer now."
We milled about for half an hour, Kirsty letting me know that if I became too chilled she brought an extra fleece. I was just reminding her that we would be in a HOT air balloon when a voice, round and inflated with a Germanic accent called out "ALL THOSE IN LARS' TRUCK PLEASE COME THIS WAY!" Again, there was such energy and warmth in the words that it woke me up more than my two cups of bricklayers's tea. About ten of us piled into a van, sinking into the cushioned seats and a blonde haired man with ruddy cheeks and sparkling eyes popped his head in, doing a quick count. "Just counting my flock," he assured us, the syllables of his words inflecting ever so slightly upwards. "I'm Lars. I will be your pilot, see you shortly at the launch site." And with that he closed the van door and we began a long bumpy road through several villages, sandy roads (sand dunes, more like)and dried up river beds. Along the way we saw other balloons, red striped, orange and rainbow coloured in the process of inflation. They looked as sleepy as I felt, though my adrenaline was quickly changing that. In a very few short minutes I would be well above the ground with very little safety precautions. My hands started to shake.
At last we reached our launch site and Kayla and Lars, with their friendly Turks began spreading the silk and hooking up the cables. Kayla turned to us all and began the inflight safety presentation.
"We anticipate this to be a smooth ride," she began. "But there might be some wind that will carry the balloon even as it lands. If that happens, what Lars will have to do is deflate the balloon as its traveling over the land, but you'll still be moving forward and what can happen is the basket may start to tip onto its side. We call this a giggly landing."
At this point in Kayla's instructions my eyes were wide and I could not, for the life of me, fathom what might be funny about such a landing.
"What you're going to do, if that happens, is face the other direction, bend your knees a little bit and make sure your shoulders are within the basket. It's quite fun, you know." Kayla beamed at us. I looked at Kirsty, mentally telegraming her the question: what have you signed me up for?
"Right, so what's going to happen now is we're going to start inflating the balloons first with the fans and then with the hot air." With that she turned to another group and began the same instructions in flawless French. We would later learn that Kayla and Lars piloted balloons in France and Switzerland before hovering over Cappadoccia.
The sun was just beginning to rise, half its golden disk above the plateau across the valley from us, and only the most persistant stars were still twinkling. Needless to say everyone recognized a good photo op when they saw one. As they began inflating the balloons the yellow and blue striped silk expanded, rising like dragons awakening; fiery and magnificent, yet also quiet except for the blistering jets of flame unleashed intermittently. Slowly the balloons stood up, the baskets thumping onto the ground and Lars motioned for us to climbed in.
All told in our basket were two Japanese tourists, a family from New Zealand, a German couple, and Kirsty and myself. Lars counted his flock again and then blasted more hot air, searing my scalp, until the basket began to lift off the ground. The motion was so smooth, almost unnoticeable, that I didn't realize what was happening until I observed the Turks on the ground smiling and waving at us. "See you tomorrow!" they joked and then dashed for the jeeps to follow us as best they could.
Lars began to pilot the balloon and it was soon made clear that he is utterly devoted to providing quality flights. It turned out that he had been up since 3:00AM driving around the Cappadoccian landscape sussing out the wind currents that would form. Between that field work and consulting internet sites Lars was able to float us across the country side, hovering over his friends apartments to wake them up. In one valley Lars pointed out a cave church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
"This one has the most beautiful decorations, but unfortunately it's closed to the public because it's not safe." A gout of flame erupted above us. "Let me see if I can get us to the windows so you can look in."
We were almost able to reach into the church through its windows when we were slowly carried away.
"Hmm, seems the wind is going this way," Lars observed swiftly manuvering his cables so to rise above the fairy chimney that we were fast approaching.
Each movement of the balloon was so smooth, so quiet and so subtle that I never realized just how high Lars would take us until I noticed that the towering rock formation was now gliding under my feet. By changing our level of altitude Lars was able to manipulate which direction we sailed, all the while disparaging other balloon companies that were clearly in the game for money.
It would have been an utterly silent experience had it not been for the intermittent roar of flame and the singularly useless observations of the New Zealand boy on board with his parents.
"Why aren't we going higher?" he would ask his mother.
"Mummy," at another moment, pointing in the distance. "Look, there's a balloon!" So on and so forth for two hours. Sadly, all things do come to an end and sooner than I had hoped, our balloom was blowing in the direction of a bluff. Kayla was standing on the edge, shading her eyes and shouting observations to Lars, while he let us float right above her. Within minutes his landing crew tore up the hillside in the landrover, and Lars began to carefully lower us down, directly over the vehicle. It was only at the point of no return that I realized they planned to park us squarely on the trailer dragged behind the land rover. It took a lot of strength, and a lot of finesse, both of muscle and fire, but in the end our basket was situated on the trailer as though it had always been there.
We climbed out and chatted as the ground crew, Lars and Kayla prepared a post flight cocktail. When they called us to the table we saw to our astonishment the basket completely bedecked with flowers and a table with glasses filled with Cloud 9 (champagne and fruit juice). Lars popped the champagne cork and we watched the cork sail in a perfect ark to land on an American woman's head. She had been texting Happy Birthday to her mother on her crackberry and thus did not observe the projectile target.
By the time Kirsty and I got back in the van to go to our inn we were feeling, well, very happy. Keep in mind the only thing we had eaten were two cookies, and we are both somewhat slender. It was 9:00 in the morning, and we had been sipping a large beverage that was about 2/3rds champagne. Once in the van, Mustafa, a ground crew Turk poked his head in and handed us each a peony from the decorated balloon basket. We mumbled our thanks, half comatose as we were.
Kayla and Lars delivered us to the Fairy CHminey inn in time for breakfast, which we inhaled. Kayla had put the tempting thought of a "quick kip" or nap before doing anything more, but the fact that this was our last day in Goreme pressed heavily on our minds.
We showered, the hot water being completely absorbed by the red walls, and went in search of more adventure: Horse back riding.
Fruit and Vegetable servings: Does the fruit juice count? Otherwise, 1.... so far.


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