I boarded an overnight bus in Istanbul and 10 hours later I thought we had landed on Mars. Sleepily peering out the window with blurred vision, all I could see were large tee-pee shaped rocks that were converted into buildings. We weren’t on Mars. We were in Göreme, a town in the region of Cappadocia.
Ancient volcanoes caused the rocks in the Cappadocia region that eroded to be minaret-shaped (called fairy chimneys) and eventually were carved into homes and churches, forming villages. Exploring the old caves in the Göreme Open Air Museum, and Selime Monastery was so intriguing. As much as it was a cultural experience, I also enjoyed jumping and climbing all over the rocks as if I was a kid on a jungle gym. Some things never change!
The fairy chimneys and caves were just child’s play though. The highlight of Cappadocia was the iconic sunrise hot air balloon ride that can’t be missed for visitors in the area.
The stars had aligned for me for the first time in Turkey. After spending my first two days in Istanbul stressed and dealing with my lost luggage, my two friends and I made it to Göreme with our sights set on a fresh start. Although there was a torrential downpour the night before that might have foiled our plans, when I woke up at 4am, the rain had subsided and conditions appeared to be just right for hot air balloon flight. Finally, things were looking up.
I was a little bit apprehensive about the hot air balloon ride at first. Maybe because I’m a little older and wiser now than when I went hang gliding on a whim in Rio, but also probably because I briefly read about a few hot air balloon accidents that occurred in other countries. Still, it wasn’t going to stop me! After enjoying a nice breakfast that was included in the deal (last meal?), I was ready to rumble!
As soon as we began lifting off the ground, I could have stayed in that hot air balloon forever. There was nothing but plains and large volcanic rocks as far as the eye could see. And colorful hot air balloons speckling the purplish-blue sky. I never imagined that a place like this would exist, or that I would ever see it if it did.
The 16-person hot air balloon in Cappadocia ascended to 800 meters and traveled some 25 kilometers from the point where we started. We drifted up and down, at times it looked as if we were about to hit the rocks just when our skilled pilot would lift us up higher.
The hour we were in the air was magic. With the cool, crisp air softly biting at my cheeks, the slight fears I had before take-off had drifted away. I only felt grateful to be drifting above the world, if only for a fleeting moment.