Hot Air Balloon Over Capadocia's Lunar Landscape
Perhaps my most memorable and exciting travel experience began with an early morning bus ride, the only time during my three weeks in Turkey during 2007's record heat wave when it was chilly enough to crave the sweet, earthy warmth of Turkish coffee in its delicate bell shaped glass. We arrived in a field where the balloon and its basket lay deflated and flopped sideways on the grass. Soon a long tongue of flame was shooting into the mouth of the balloon, held open by a technician, and when the orb had inflated and was tugging at the basket's moors, we packed in with the pilot, his hand calmly resting on the gas valve. Then we began to rise. We floated smoothly up, drifting with the wind over little grassy plains and rolling hills. Higher and higher, until the land seemed strange and miniaturized. The air was clear and blue, and against its gentle backdrop we could see dozens of other balloons, red and yellow and green and white, rising to join us or already serenely suspended. As the wind carried us, we passed over sandstone spires, gorges, and hollow mountains spotted with windows and doors to caves carved by ancient and medieval settlers. It was a landscape out of science fiction, unearthly and beautiful, both ancient and seemingly fragile. I have never seen anything that could be compared to it, and don't expect I ever will.