Flying in an oversized balloon is the closest I’ve been to feeling something indescribable. There’s something about feeling yourself gently rising from the ground, that my words cannot convey. Your heart skips a beat as you start rising, slowly, going where the wind blows, and then you suddenly feel unrestrained, untethered to anything – no ground to plant your feet on, no ropes wrapped around your body to pull you up. You are flying, the ground is moving further and further away from you, but you hear no engine pushing you up to the sky. All you hear is the occasional burst of flame from the burner, the hush oohs and ahhs from your fellow passengers as their eyes gaze on the scenery, and the occasional voice of the pilot, describing the wonder below you. And in between these, there are long moments of utter silence, as your eyes scan the scenery unfolding before you. It feels otherworldly. It must be how the prophet Elijah felt when the wind swept him up to heaven. It must be the closest you can experience to being a free spirit, without actually dying.
And as if soaring in a balloon is not “experience” enough, then soaring in a balloon…over the surreal landscape that is Cappadocia…would add the word “ultimate” before it. Ballooning in Cappadocia is like a pinnacle of sensory overloads. Your eyes are filled with wonderful sights, your ears delight at the refreshing stillness, your nose fills with the fresh country air, and your skin bathes in the cool temperatures, as your balloon reaches over 2000 meters above sea level at the peak of its flight. But what about the sense of taste? Well, most balloon companies in Cappadocia give a toast to celebrate your flight – like champagne in our case. The first wave of balloon flights start very early in the morning, so the balloons rise from the ground at the same time the sun rises over the horizon. Once you get up in the air, the sun bathes the land with various colors, like a painting come to life. And as you go higher and higher you see the scenery envelope 360 degrees around you, and you realize that there is nothing in your line-of-sight, nothing, that is not breathtakingly beautiful. It’s one of those moments when life, and the world, feel truly awesome.
Getting to Cappadocia is not easy, especially if you are coming from a country on the other end of Asia, like the Philippines. For us, it took three flights to get there, plus a time consuming tourist visa application. But all those hours confined in an economy seat, heck, even each day of your life since the day of your birth, would all be worth it, if only to get to that moment when you slowly start rising in the air. There are experiences in life that will stay with us forever, and that moment – that span of a few heartbeats when you start rising from the ground in Cappadocia – and see the landscape from above, is one of those. That’s how seconds turn into a lifetime.
And what makes it even more delightful is the knowledge that there are people around you, in your balloon and others’, who are just as awe struck, and most likely just a happy as you are. Mornings in Cappadocia are like festivals in the sky, as a hundred balloons go up in the air together. (There are around 130 registered balloons in Cappadocia, we’re told by our pilot, operated by several companies, but only a maximum of 100 are authorized to be up in the air at any given time. The last 30 balloons have to wait for the first wave of balloons to finish their flight, before lifting off. Each balloon flight takes approximately 1 hour.)
This is not a paid advertisement whatsoever for any particular balloon company, but just in case you’d like to know, the balloons in Cappadocia are operated by a group of companies, approximately 20-plus of them. They vary by size of fleet, frills in their service, and then of course price. The largest companies operate as many as 15 balloons, and some as few as three. Some smaller companies target a specific market, so you may see a balloon with Chinese characters, or Hangul (Korean) alphabet, while some are mass market. For my part, I asked my hotel (before we flew to Turkey) for their recommended balloon companies, and did research on the list they sent. I settled with Butterfly Balloons, and the hotel took care of the booking. Though they were at the top of the price range on that list, I chose Butterly Balloons for a few reasons. One, they seem to have a very good safety record. Not that the other companies are unsafe, but ballooning, like any form of flight, does have its history of accidents, because it simply is not man’s nature to fly. Flying on any aircraft is just a form of beating gravity into submission, and it’s reassuring to be in a company that hasn’t lost a match. Second, they are not really that much mass market. I heard you cannot just walk up to them and buy a ticket. You have to book them through a group of hotels, and it kind of gives a feeling that they won’t cut corners since they’re not there to sell to as many people as possible. Third, they don’t fill their balloons to capacity, unlike the majority of companies. Their balloons (they have a fleet of 6) are built for 16 people, but they only fill them to a maximum of 12 or 13. This is so their passengers can adjust positions, take other angles, etc. without head-butting or elbowing someone. Lastly, and I know this is silly, I read that they are among the few that offer a toast with real champagne, while others use less costly types of sparkling drinks. And the end result was an experience of a lifetime.
A photo of our group (above), during the post-flight celebration, with our pilot, Gokhan, standing in the middle (guy with green jacket). He’s been flying balloons over Cappadocia for 8 years.
* We flew over Cappadocia on 31 October, 2017.