We had been hiking through the red and rose valley of Cappadocia with our guide, Suat, when we happened upon a cafe serving coffee, tea and fresh juice in the middle of nowhere. I sat and played a game of backgammon with Suat while looking out over the valley and enjoying tea....and a victory.
It starts around 4:30am, before the first call prayer, when the company picks you up from your hotel and drives to you the lift-off spot. We arrived half awake as they were just starting to fill the balloons with the initial helping of hot air. Right before the balloon is full, they call you over one by one to the basket and position you to balance the load.
And then you're off. We started behind a hill that borders a major valley and our first goal was to clear the hill.
In a hot air balloon, the pilot can only control the height of the balloon--he has no control over lateral direction. A skilled navigator understands the wind patterns and is so familiar with the territory that they know just how the air blows. Lucky our pilot was such a navigator.
We crested the hill right at sunrise. The sight of a sea of fairy chimneys and balloons was surreal.
A few moments later I took this shot.
We spent the next 45 minutes or so moving around the valley--descending in and out of small canyons to get a closer look at the odd geological formations.
The trip ended with a soft landing and a toast on a successful ride.
In these little towns there are cave hotels and wonderful places to eat that serve traditional Turkish food. In the markets vendors peddle the dried fruits and nuts that Turkey is so famous for.
As we climbed higher, more and more strange rock formations came into view. Cappadocia is a land of volcanic rock, worn and weathered by nature into surreal formations of cream colored stone. We floated over fairy chimneys, deep canyons, horizontally stacked undulations of the ground, rocks shaped as mushrooms capped with darker stone, sharp soaring pinnacles, and creamy homes and cities carved deep into the rock, some ancient, some new, all lit by the rising morning sun. In the distance stood the volcano that created Cappadocia, a silent sentinel and constant reminder of nature's awesome power. We floated on, cameras clicking as each revealed view seemed more beautiful than the last, all highlighted by dozens of other balloons glowing in the morning sun. Truly breathtaking.
Too soon the pilot was releasing the hot air from the balloon and we drifted ever lower. We watched the balloon's shadow passing over the rocks, getting closer to the ground. Soon we gently bumped onto the landing trailer, guided by men on the ground using our ropes.
I cannot remember a more beautiful hour that I have spent than the hour I floated over Cappadocia. It is certainly one I will never forget.