I turned off the alarm clock on my phone before it even rang.
It was not 4am yet but my eyes were wide open. I couldn’t sleep at all that night, I was too excited. In a few hours, I would be soaring above Cappadocia’s lunar valleys in a hot air balloon for the first time of my life.
I dressed quickly and silently, trying not to wake up my cave bunkmates, then went outside, muffled in my sweater, dancing from foot to foot in restlessness.
One by one, the numerous hot air balloon companies stopped in front of the hostel to pick up the morning’s passengers. They ran out from their rooms, zipping their backpacks, shrugging into their coats.
I waited, knowing that my company was one of the last, enjoying the silence and the fresh air of the night.
When at last the Royal Balloon driver arrived, I didn’t even let him set foot in the courtyard but strode toward him. “It’s me !”
The bus left us at the general quarter. We were sorted by balloons and directed to the cash desk, where I realized that I had left my money in the bag sitting on my hostel bunk right now. Not even surprised by my forgetfulness anymore, I smiled, apologized and promised to give them the money on the way back.
One hearty breakfast and one bus ride later, I was shivering outside along with my twelve people group, watching several men direct a huge flame of gas into the big empty fabric that would take us to the skies.
At last it was time, the balloon was up and I climbed into the basket, not graceful in the least. The balloon pilot, wearing white gloves and a mustache, just like I always pictured it, sent short blasts of gas into the balloon until, smoothly, the basket left the ground.
I watched the ground recede in awe. I thought I would be at least a little scared, but instead a few lines from Peter Pan came to my lips. “I’m flying !” I sang under my breath, smiling like an idiot.
Cappadocia’s valleys sprawled out under us, while all the other balloons also floated up everywhere, creating this image I had seen so many times before.
And, suddenly, the last touch to that perfect picture, the sun rose, cresting behind a distant valley, his light reaching the balloons and bringing to life all of their bright colors.
The valleys slowly filled with sun, revealing the intensity of their whites, pinks and reds, the rock formations standing out in sharp contrast.
I wanted to urge the pilot to go higher, to go up!
We did, seeing all of Cappadocia under us, the rose and red valleys and the love valley, then went down in the pigeon valley, zigzagging between the fairy chimneys, so close I could have touched them.
I couldn’t believe a whole hour had gone by when the pilot suddenly asked us to get into landing position. We crouched in the basket and I gritted my teeth together, getting ready for the impact. A few seconds later, everyone stood up and I did too, looking incredulously over the edge of the basket. We had landed without me ever noticing it.
I climbed out of the basket and the pilot brought out a bottle of champagne, explaining it was a french custom to drink champagne after a flight, then giving me the cork as a souvenir.
Going back to the hostel, I couldn’t believe I had actually flown in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia. The memory of it was already like a dream.
In Cappadocia, I stayed in Gorëme at the Shoetring Cave House, a family run hotel with included breakfast (which is delicious) and a dorm bed for only 10€. I flew with Royal Balloon for 150€ (booked via the hotel), which included an early breakfast and champagne and biscuits after the flight. We also were given a medal, which frankly I could have done without, while the pictures they took of us before the flight were printed and offered to us for 20 TL, which I found rather sad, since I couldn’t buy them and now they were printed they were just going to end in the trash. Otherwise, the flight in itself was very satisfactory and safe, I totally trusted the pilot.