21.10.2010 - 27.10.2010
The day after I arrived in Goreme, I took Yasin’s advice and was up just after 6am to see the sunrise and the balloons take to the sky.
It was dark; it was chilly. All I could see from the pension rooftop were vague, conical shapes dotted around the landscape. These were the fairy chimneys, sculpted by wind, rain and snow from the soft, volcanic tufa rock that makes up this landscape. It was still too dark to see any balloons, I wasn’t even sure in which direction, apart from up, I should be looking.
All I really needed to do was follow the line of 4x4’s and minibuses as they made their way down the main street, making their final pickups from hotels and pensions, and shipped today’s passengers to a series of take off sites scattered around the edge of town.
By 6.30, it was light enough to make out the buildings and roads and the minaret of the mosque and only 200m or so away were half a dozen balloons lying on their sides. Then, almost simultaneously, the pilots hit their burners and WHOOOSH! Long fingers of flame began to heat the air in the balloons canopies and they began to inflate. From where I was standing, the balloons looked like gigantic, sluggish fireflies, flashing in the night.
Across a dozen or more launch sites, some several kilometres away,, people had climbed into baskets, preparing for an experience that would give them a unique perspective on a unique landscape.
I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I took my flight 24 hours later. I thought the wind, the birds, chit chat from other passengers. You hear all that, and dogs barking as you pass over a village or a flock of sheep. What I hadn’t realised was how loud the burners were when ignited or the heat they generate; it was almost like being exposed to an open fire with nowhere to retreat to.
The other thing I hadn’t anticipated was the constant chatter from other pilots as they gave each other information about wind speed and direction, cloud cover, the possibility of rain and conditions on the ground. All this was transmitted via the walkie talkie, our pilot, Ali, kept strapped to his chest. It was like being at the centre of a busy air traffic control tower, the main difference being the ten foot of naked, but controlled flame that ignited next to my ear every few minutes. The balloons in Goreme can only go up and down and the pilot can only control their turn, although I have to be honest and say, that’s all I thought balloons could do anyway.
Yesterday, flying conditions from a passenger’s perspective were perfect – blue sky, able to see for miles. Today was different; low cloud, fog and damp. So although we wouldn’t have the views what we did have was an altogether different experience. As the cloud was low, Ali kept the balloon close to the ground for some of the time, miraculously guiding it around, over and past fairy chimneys, rock formations and hills We hovered over farmhouses and villages and passed so close to the tops of trees, I reached out and plucked a leaf from the topmost branch. To me at least, it was a demonstration of how manoeuvrable balloons are and how skilful the pilots are.
It’s not uncommon to have 40 balloons in the air at the same time, so the potential for an accident, seems high, and despite the pilot’s skill, there is something of the unpredictable about flying in a balloon.
It was only the day before I saw a balloon land in the middle of the street, somehow missing the houses and causing the cars to go around it! And it was the next day that I saw two balloons become ‘glued’ together, neither able to break away from the other as the prevailing wind forced them in the same direction.
All in all it was well worth it. You do have to weigh up the pros and cons but a flight should not cost much more that 100 euros for just over an hour in the air. I asked myself the question ‘could I afford to do this at home?’ and the answer was probably not, so for me it became a no brainer.