The Ride of our Lives

Nestled safely in the balloon’s basket, the heat from the flame shooting high overhead is reminiscent of late summer nights around a camp fire. Fuel from this flame slowly sends the balloon rising, higher and higher, while tiny villages pass by quietly underfoot – slight stirrings signaling the start of a new day. Floating calmly amongst the other balloons, we are silently initiated into a private club. We have now all seen the world from a completely different perspective, and understand that conventional travel will never feel the same way again. As the sun finally breaks through mounds of fleecy white clouds, stinging our still waking eyes, it’s rays bathe the terrain in a warm shimmer of light. At this altitude it is impossible not to stare in amazement, mouth agape, at how incredibly beautiful the world truly is.

Balloon-6_miniThere are not enough hours in the day or adjectives in the English language to explain our first ride in a hot air balloon. It is by far one of my favorite travel moments.  Having hiked through Cappadocia’s famous valleys only the day before, up close to the mind bending rock formations and cave homes, the hot air balloon offered an extremely special and unique perspective of these same sights. Floating silently overhead – just a tiny speck in the air – the world unfolded before us and it was breathtaking.

Balloon-8_mini5:30 AM – Normally a time only reserved for sleep talking and (accidental) blanket stealing, our day got off to an early start as we were picked up from our guesthouse just after 5:30am. With so much anticipation for this experience, we hadn’t actually slept much the night before.

5:56 AM – After making the rounds to pick up the other participants that would join our balloon tour, we arrived at the main office. With a quick swipe of our credit card, there was no turning back and we grabbed a cup of tea to warm up while we waited to depart.

6:01 AM – It is finally time to get the show on the road! We board our designated minibus and make the short journey through Goreme to a field just outside of town. We can see a dozen of partially inflated balloons!

Balloon-2_mini6:10 AM – Watching the balloons inflate via huge intermittent bursts of flame is VERY cool.

6:13 AM – Our balloon pilot introduces himself as Mike and instructs us to climb into the basket. Divided into quarters, four people climb awkwardly into each section, making us a group of 16. Climbing into the basket wasn’t as difficult as I thought – getting out would later prove to be a different story.

Balloon-1_mini6:15 AM – From our position inside the basket, we can see other balloons rising overhead and cannot wait to join them!

6:17 AM – Mike runs through the basic safety information, including how to brace for a hard landing. We both think of our parents, glad they are busily going about their lives halfway around the world, unaware of what we are currently doing. As it turns out, safety tip #1 is to stay in the basket, who’d of thought?

Balloon-3_miniBalloon-4_mini6:20 AM – Our balloon gently lifts off the ground, only a few inches at first but we are officially flying!

6:30 AM – We join the other balloons suspended over Goreme. Everywhere we look more and more balloons are taking off to join us. Mike explains that due to poor weather over the past two days, many balloon trips were delayed until today. As a result, peak-season numbers of balloons will be flying this morning!

Balloon-5_mini6:35 AM – I have already taken what feels like a hundred pictures.

6:45 AM – We make our way over Cappadocia’s Open Air Museum and are treated to seeing this site, admission free, from the sky.

6:55 AM – Travis gently reminds me to put the camera down for a minute and enjoy the moment. The view all around us is breathtaking.

IMG_06217:10 AM – Our balloon is lifting higher and higher into the air.

7:15 AM – Over two kilometers above the ground below, we can make out some the small towns in this region, including Goreme, Ortahisar, and Uchisar.

Balloon-10_mini7:20 AM – Dropping in altitude, we make our way over the small town of Ortahisar. It’s impossible to miss the town’s  90m high rock fortress.

7:25 AM – While not the classic definition of beautiful, surrounded by small rock-cut homes, narrow streets, and dozens of hovering balloons, the fortress is completely mesmerizing.

Balloon-11_mini7:30 AM – A game of tag has begun between our balloon, still floating through the sky, and the trucks below, trying to anticipate where we will land.

7:32 AM – The trucks crisscross dirt roads and farmland to get into position for our landing. Mike informs us that, as the winds have just picked up, we will need to get into position for a hard landing.

Balloon-7_mini7:33 AM – We brace for landing as our balloon touches down in a field. Although a bit jerky, the basket doesn’t tip over and the landing is a success!

7:34 AM – A company truck and trailer pull alongside our balloon and we are directed to stay inside the basket. With a burst of hot air, Mike gently lifts the balloon onto the trailer while employees of the balloon company guide it into position – much easier than manually lifting the basket onto the trailer!

Balloon-12_mini7:35 AM – It’s time to “disembasket”; however, climbing out is much more awkward than climbing in.

7:36 AM – As graceless as we may have looked getting out of the basket, we didn’t fall and are counting that as a win.

7:38 AM – Cake is passed and champagne opened as we celebrate our successful flight! Mike hands out certificates of completion as the balloon is packed away.

7:47 AM – As the adrenalin pumping through our bodies slows, fatigue hits and we realize it isn’t even eight o’clock in the morning yet. We load into a minibus and head for our warm beds in Goreme.

7:59 AM – Being the first to be picked up in the morning finally pays off, and we are the first to be dropped back off!

8:00 AM – We crawl under the covers in our warm cave room – breakfast won’t be served for another 30 minutes!

Balloon-9_miniClearly each and every moment of our hot-air balloon adventure was wonderful, but we hope this provides a bit of insight into our adventure as it unfolded. While riding in a hot-air balloon anywhere would be amazing, Cappadocia’s surreal landscapes really added to our experience, making it all the more unique. Although this experience was expensive, especially for a couple of cheap budget-conscious travelers like ourselves, in the end it was more than worth it.

Logistics: Dozens of hot-air balloon operators are based in Cappadocia. Although your accommodation will likely recommend one or two operators that they work with, we suggest doing some research before signing up. In the end, we rode with Butterfly Balloons in part due to a recommendation from our hotel, as well as their glowing reviews online, good safety record, and small basket sizes (as they focus on individual bookings rather than large tour groups). Although a few dollars can be saved between operators, we wanted to ensure our trip would be memorable and were therefore willing to pay for a quality experience.    

A hot air balloon ride had been on our bucket list for a long time…is it on yours? Let us know in the comments!

We’ve taken a moment to share this post on the Sunday Traveler link up – a great place to share your own travel themed posts or read others for inspiration!

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