Friday, June 25, 2010

99 luftballons auf ihrem weg zum horizont..

As promised, we staggered out into a predawn morning while the sun contemplated coming up, not seeming to make much progress toward that goal. It was cold, and we were extra bundled up in many layers, double socks and pants, hats, scarves, and mittens, having been told that at altitude it would be even colder.

Bethy, tired but game, in her TurkCell snail hat and new woollen mittens, Jamilla the Camel under her arm

When I first suggested hot air ballooning over the fairytale landscape of Cappadocia, only Bethy seemed willing to go with me. As far as heights go, I'm not great at climbing up on a ladder or countertop, but have no fear of flying, go figure. The idea, once voiced, settled and took shape, Colleen decided that she would brave her fear of heights, and Mike decided, beautifully within the scope of our Universal Directive, that even though it was expensive ($720 for the four of us), this was a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I've been in one small plane, and one helicopter, and both times made liberal use of the airsickness bag...or bags, but grinned like crazy between heaves and had a great time anyway. Though Mike isn't convinced that I'm capable of flying in a small craft without losing any and all contents of my stomach,I stipulate that both of the previous times I had no need for those humiliating bags until I tried to take photographs with a manual focus lens, and that I never felt nervous. Flying while looking through that thing and trying to focus...well, yes. Undesired result. Great photos though.

This time I had a plan. Not a great plan, but a plan. Nice little point and shoot camera, and put it away or hand it to the spousal unit should nausea rear it's ugly little head.

Then pray.

In a valley the blowers were roaring, like the screams of a determined battle charge from a thousand throats, the dark shapes of uncountable hot air balloons rising and swelling as they filled.

Hot coffee, some thoughtfully provided carbohydrates, a last bathroom run, and we were shuttled over to our basket beneath the giant blue sphere that was going to pull us up into the sky.

I ate lightly.

We clambered, (some of us less than gracefully) into our section, assisted by the crew and stood aligned, not terribly unlike sardines, careful of elbows and our basket-mates, the sensible of us making sure our camera wrist straps were on. Mike and I were both making mental bets on the fellow with the extremely expensive camera he insisted on dangling out over many, many feet of nothing but straight down.

A quick practice of landing proceedure (crouching all the way down, facing inward, bracing your back against the wicker of the basket and, need I say, holding on) after which the pilot deemed us safe and ordered our balloon aloft.

A long blast of the burner, warming all of us, the long ropes were gathered in and suddenly, smoothly, we were airborne.

There was a long moment of unuttered anxiety during the first few moments of flight when we headed toward some especially tall poplar trees and comparing notes afterwards, none of us thought we had enough of an angle to clear them, but clear them we did, soaring up, floating without effort or care, the roads becoming ribbons, our chase car below, heading slowly out to meet us wherever it was we came down.

The landscape of Cappadocia below us, the sun joyfully rising, bright balloons everywhere as if some great god were throwing a party...

It was, in a word, magnificent.

And not a hint of, nor a thought given to, airsickness. Far too busy being overwhelmed, Colleen and I dizzy with trying to figure where to point our cameras next, to capture the majesty of the balloons over the haunting landscape.

There really is no word to describe the sensation of being up in the sky like that. Not only were we floating; but thanks to our roguish pilot, (a charming pirate if I ever met one in his incongruous Oakland A's baseball cap), we were laughing at his continual joking, which relieved any residual tensions left among the passengers.

He flew the balloon straight at a fairy chimney, only pulling up at the last possible moment with ease, pointing out the ones that had no caps "because hot air balloons with less skillful pilots had crashed into them," and kept up a narrative of what we were seeing below us. The altimeter beeped quietly at regular intervals, and the winds gently caressed our basket which never so much as swung an inch from being perfectly, reassuringly level.

Bethy alternated between looking down through a rectangular opening at foot level to watch the landscape slide by beneath us and stretching up to see the horizon all around us over the lip of the basket. Literally on cloud 9.

With the sun, the long tongues of flame from the burner, and the merriment as we snapped photos and exclaimed over the splendid sights, it was more than warm enough for everyone. Grins and wonderment on every face, we surrendered to the charm of balloon travel. Each flight, we were told, is different, utterly dependant on the whims of the winds and the weather as to where it flies, how long it goes, and where it ends up. Fatalistic, and somehow romantic to surrender that way.

Our flight was a full hour and a half of exquisite, of amazing, of wonderful.

But all good things must, as they say, come to an end. Our chase 4x4 vehicles had kept in radio contact and found a nice flat spot for us to land. We descended, passengers assuming the position as instructed. Several feet up we hovered, thanks to the skill of our pilot and his team on the ground who took hold of the ropes and pulled with all their might, guiding and settling the basket perfectly into its trailer, with 2 inches of clearance to spare on each side.

We watched the parachute deploy from the top, the men on the ground directing the some 9 storeys of balloon fabric to the ground as it deflated, working like dancers in a carefully choreographed production so that everything from ropes to silks ended up just so.

Safely disembarked, gifted with a personalized certificate of flight and round of applause from the crew and our fellow fliers for each of us, we enjoyed the traditional champagne toast, which when mixed with cherry juice -another tradition -is not at all a bad way to greet the morning, rounding out one of the loveliest, most thrilling experiences I have ever had.

Which is saying quite a bit.


Ghost said...

Wow, I must really stop reading your blog. I’m going to die of jealousy one of these days if I keep reading. Great pictures Natalie, looks like great fun

Mumsey said...


Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

That is sooooo cool!
It's hard to find anything else to say. Wow!

Julia said...

I LOVE it! What a fantastic narrative mixed with pictures that are very good...but don't do justice to your experience when they are looked at indoors in a computer chair. I'm so glad you had a wonderful time (and kept your breakfast to boot!)