Wow, what a day! It started early - we had to rise at about 4:40am to be ready for our 5am pick-up. There were many different minivans picking up people from the hotel. Ours were Butterfly Balloons. First, they took us just down the road to their offices, where we had some breakfast and where allocated to our pilots (they have three ballons). We were to fly with Captain Mike, and English man who's been flying balloons in Cappadocia for the last twelve years. We then got onto minibuses - one for each balloon - the sign on ours said Grandpa Mike. We drove out of Goreme to the launch site. Along the way we saw many other balloons being inflated and taking off. Our launch site was a little further away, but Mike had been out for a couple of hours checking out the conditions and selecting the best site to take off from.
At the site, the three balloons were in the process of being inflated. We were directed towards ours and after a short while asked to climb in to the basket. It has four compartments for passengers and one in the middle for the pilot, his gas bottles etc. There were sixteen passengers all up - four in each compartment, and there was plenty of room to move around. Mike gave us a safety briefing, including what to do if we needed a "fast landing" as opposed to a "soft landing".
As the sky began to lighten we took off into the morning sky, out over one of the valleys full of fairy chimneys. The first was Love Valley, so named because its chimneys look rather like penises sticking up! We flew quite low, down into the valley, touching the tops of trees (sadly no fruit left to pick) and passing by various rock formations, up and over ridges and hills. The only control a balloon pilot has is over altitude (up and down) and also he can turn the ballon around, which was great because no matter where you were in the basket you got to see the different views and take good photos. At different altitudes the wind is blowing in different directions, so by changing our height he could determine (petty much) which direction we went in. Mike is a very skilled pilot, and we managed to cross over different valleys and zig-zage a bit for the best and most varied views. We spent a lot of time down low so we could see clearly all sorts of things that Mike pointed out to us, as well as some time up high to get the panoramas of the district. Of ourse we had views also of all the other balloons. Jeff was in charge of the main camera and I think managed to take about 200 photos in the space of an hour and a half! I also took some videos and other photos on my phone. Will share a selection on here and some more on Facebook.
It took Mike a while to find a good landing spot, and he was on the radio to tell his ground crew where he was heading so they could be there to meet us. The winds and Mike's planning took us to a bare flat patch on a hillside, and with a bit of manoevring of the trailer by the driver, they positioned it where Mike could bring the balloon down right over the trailer and (with a little manhandling), that's where we landed - right on target! Most impressive. We disembarked the ballon and watched the team deflate it and pack it away. And of course, in keeping with tradition, glasses of champagne all round! What a wonderful day - and it was only about 8am!
We were dropped back at the hotel and managed to front up for another breakfast (I didn't have much the first time), chatting with fellow travellers and sharing notes on the various tours, and of course the balloon flight!
WE then had to be ready to head out again at 9:30 on another day tour. Today our guide was Adem, a passionate and well informed young man who grew up in Konya.
Our first stop was the Goreme Panorama Point - a place just out of town on the side of a steep cliff with great views across the valley, along with lots of little shops and stalls selling everything touristy. After a short while, with some inf about the valley and its formation from several volcanoes that erupted thousands of years ago, depositing masses of volcanis ash that forms the tuff stone, along with layers of basalt and other rocks here and there. After that, erosion did its thing (and still does), creating the fairy chimneys in all their different shapes and sizes, the valleys, cliffs and hillsides. Kapadokya (not the official name of the region but the one commonly used) has been inhabited for a long time, and ruled by many different groups over the centuries.
After the panorama stop we had over an hour on the bus to reach the Ilhara Valley - an amazing gorge with very steep sides with a small river running through it, and full of green trees and plants down in the bottom. We descended from the Ilhara Vllage at one end, down some stairs into the floor of the valley and then wandered along beside the babbling stream. Mostly shady and very pleasant. Along the way, yet more churches cut into the cliffs. People used to live down in the vally too, but continuing erosion makes it dangerous - many of the old cave houses are collapsing, so they now live in villages up on the top but still come down into the valley to farm the fertile soils and take advantage of the water supply.
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