And suddenly there are bursting flames, bright bursts of brilliant amber and faintly indigo. The sun is yet to rise. Yet these great beasts, like Oriental dragons from antiquity, yawn themselves into existence and soon crane their heads towards their masters far below. Or perhaps they are ancient genies, rising high to grant the liberator of the lamp three wishes. Either way, there are hundreds of assistants, scurrying around making preparation. It is a terrific sight. But hot air ballooning is a demanding task; a fine and delicate operation. Rudely woken, unsure of wind and rain conditions, we had stumbled into the buses for a second day in a row, still unsure of whether we were even to fly. The conditions must be perfect to fly. Today they were near perfect. With a cheeky grin, our captain explained that he was, in fact, merely the neighbour of the man who normally flew the balloon. We knew it was a tall yarn, but there were still nervous glances. Returning to the captain, his bushy beard, I was positive that I had seen it before. Indeed, minus the Leonardo DiCaprio aviators, and with a little imagination, it was no less than the protagonist from my childhood copy of One Thousand Arabian Nights: Ali Baba. Or was it Sinbad the sailor? One of the two, or both in one. Either way our journey had commenced and we were off on an adventure.
Thirty-five of us squeezed into the basket, with only one mystic demagogue guiding us through the awesome canyons of Cappadocia. And here comes the sun. As we rise so too do the other balloons. Soon there are ten, twenty, fifty, no, one hundred balloons. Sinbad said so and I believe him. What is a group of hot air balloons called anyway? A flock? A cluster? Whatever we were a part of, we moved very fast. There were shouts of glee and euphoria from a lot of the girls in the basket, for it suddenly dawned on them that they were about to become one-hit-Instagram celebrities thanks to their subsequent mid-flight photo shoot. But it really is an indescribable experience: soaring above the glorious mountains without a care in the world. Occasionally one balloon would draw near with ominous intentions before choosing a different wind to take and lurking away like a chastised butterfly. And they really do have this animal quality about them. The constant breathing of the fire on your neck, apart from leaving a few scorched hairs, is very life-like. Unlike a plane, or a boat or a car or any other form of transport, you can’t fully control them. They have a mind of their own. As such, they are very inaccurate at landing at an exact geographic location unless conditions are phenomenal.
Life is like a hot air balloon ride. One minute we’re in the air, and we don’t know how we got up there and we don’t know when we’re coming down. You have little say in which direction you are going, and even less in which location you will land. Direction is a gut feeling operation. Some call it the conscience. And with the conscience we must manoeuvre our balloon across the voyage of our lives and keep from the gusts that may take us to the never never.
After forty-five minutes in the air, the wind had altered and conditions became far from phenomenal. Soon our jovial Sinbad was making nervous hesitations to his first mate. And so, down, down and down we went. Down past the streets where bus loads of tourists are haggling for rugs and carpet set at exorbitant prices. Down past the wild horses proudly saddling their traditions from the time of Xerxes. Down near the spice markets, where Turkish delight becomes a thing of fashion and the original rose flavour is the hardest to find. And with a thump and a hoarse shout of positions everyone! we were down on the ground. And suddenly, like a child after a roller coaster ride, I wanted to do it all over again. Trust me, riding a hot air balloon in Turkey is an awesome experience and well worth the $150.00 US. After all, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a magic carpet ride. Although, if you take the advice of one merchant man, magic carpets are a real thing. All I had to do, he assured me, was to pay with American Express, and within a fortnight the carpet of my choice would fly direct to my front door…