CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY - Pressed in an intimate embrace with the dewy ground, I could feel the weight of at least three Italian tourists on my back. And it wasn’t even 8 a.m.
After a lively week exploring Istanbul’s markets and neighbourhoods, followed by a stop in Ephesus and a sailing expedition along Turkey’s coastal communities, we made our way to our final stop, Cappadocia, in the central Anatolia plateau.
Cappadocia is known for its other-worldly volcanic landscape of ridges, valleys and looming rock pillars weathered over many thousands of years. Dwellings carved in the soft sediment date back to the 4th century, and Christian communities later tunnelled entire underground cities here to evade their persecutors. Visitors can even climb through rocky chapels ornamented with post-iconoclastic Byzantine art. The unique human history of the area landed Göreme National Park and the rock sites of Cappadocia on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Above: Exploring the honeycomb homes of Cappadocia is truly an awesome experience.
I had heard that Cappadocia’s landscape was best experienced from the air, so after arriving, we promptly went to our hotel concierge to book a hot air balloon tour. Though the hotel owner encouraged us to go with a well-establish company, we regarded ourselves as experienced travellers and confidently opted for the budget choice, a new outfitter.
The morning of our flight, we bounced along the dark, dusty roads in a van that delivered us to a grassy field, where scores of bulbous balloons were being prepared.
Above: Locals line up for some regional treats.
Finally, it was time to go up. All was silent and still as we lifted into the air. The only sounds were the occasional blast of fire and the subtle clicking noise of the cameras of the 20 tourists strapped into the basket.
Dozens of balloons dotted the sky. Bobbing along quietly in the rosy dawn, I marvelled at the bizarre landscape, contemplating what life might have been like for those who first found sanctuary in the rocky outcrops of this place.
Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds, casting spectacular streams of light onto the farmers’ fields below.
Now it was time to begin our descent. But something wasn’t quite right. No longer floating, we careened quickly towards the hard ground.
Above: Life has not changed that much in this part of the world.
When our balloon made contact with the earth, it was with such momentum that the large basket tipped over slowly — almost comically so — heaping the other tourists right on top of me.
After hoisting ourselves up, everyone shared a few laughs about the abrupt end to our peaceful flight. Ours was the only unusual landing I saw that day.
The following morning, we opted to see Cappadocia’s landscape from a more grounded vantage point on horseback.
Despite our balloon mishap — or perhaps because of it — this remains one of my most memorable travel moments. And I learned an enduring lesson that day: always listen to your local hosts.