Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Heights Of Love -

     I love to travel, I love to experience new things, to meet new people, and I love to write.  I also love being alive.  My holiday to Kapadokya (the Turkish spelling) blessed me with all of these and more.   I am not accustom to getting up at 4:30 in the morning for anything, but Seyit asked us if we would like for him to arrange a balloon flight the next day.  Do heights scare me?  Yes sometimes, but I love to fly, though my pilot lessons with a small plane left me realizing that I am better off when someone else is at the helm.  Yes I want to ride a hot air balloon, even if it means being picked up at 5:30 in the morning while I am on holiday!
There is something discombobulating about being awakened in the dark and shuttled to a building where maybe seventy five other people are shuffling about drinking tea and coffee and signing releases for a trip to the skies.  We all stand about wondering what each other is thinking.  Then the time comes when we are called out by colors, "Blue Group!", "Yellow Group!" etc.  We were in the purple group.  Two basket sizes, large - with 15 to 20 passengers and small - with 8 to 10.   Ours was a small group.

  We would be going up in a virgin balloon that the company had recently purchased.  It had been test flown sans passengers, but we would be the first paying customers to go up in her today.  That made me a bit nervous.  It was a very good thing to have Seyit there to explain the process and to joke with me when I asked if they named the balloons.  "Yes", he informed me, pointing to each of the company balloons, "that one is Titanic 1, that one is Titanic 2..."  You get the picture.  I don't know why, but the joking comforted me.

There are on any given day, nearly 100 balloons going up in the early morning Kapadokyan skies.  Each balloon requires about 10 individuals to handle the flights.  It is a fairly quiet process.  Calm and serene and surreal to watch the flatulent wisps of material unfold gracefully and rise up to colorful attention.   The various handlers busy themselves with checking every little detail and then the whoosh sound of the gas valves opening and the fire catching energy that will take us up up up.  I am fascinated as I watch the balloons rise to work, one by one all around.  Ours is one of the last to go, so we stand around waving to the passengers in other baskets as they lift off silently and depart effortlessly from the earth.

 We nervously snap pictures and joke and marvel at the industry that feeds many from this region.  It is a good clean way to make a living and I wonder at the industriousness of these men and women who earn their way in this manner.

There are many many balloon companies in Kapadokya.  Our choice was easy, as it was highly recommended by a pilot (Seyit).  Here is a link for the company we "flew" with - recommended by a passenger (me) as well:

This is a lighthearted bunch of people who take their work very seriously yet are able to enjoy what they do with a sense of humor and kindness.  I trusted them implicitly.  

All of a sudden, we were called to climb quickly into the basket.  The balloon was ready, and if we were going with her, we needed to board.  I needed someone to push my "donkey" a bit in order to get over the lip of the basket.

See these guys and the way they are gazing at me?  Just kidding, they aren't looking at me at all, but at the brand new balloon to see how she will handle in the takeoff.  I believe they were pleased.  Bet these are a fun bunch to have a drink with!  That's Seyit to the left in the red jacket.  I appreciated the fact that he was there to watch our ascent.

 Off we go into the quiet dawn light.  You can see the flatbeds below... these will follow the balloons from the ground over some very rough and exciting terrain, racing with the wind to chase the balloon so they can wrangle them back onto the bed as the balloon descends back to earth.

Our lovely pilot told us sometimes it's more fun to be the driver of the balloon truck because you never know where the road will take you.  They communicate with walkie talkies to the ground crews.  They also communicate with other balloon pilots.  We heard some hilarious conversations.  Evidently they have quite the international group of pilots who come to the region for work.  I remember though from ground school that the international language for flying is English... the same is true with ballooning.

By the way, our pilot was a woman, only the 5th woman in Turkey to get her balloon pilot license.  She was quite adept and had the perfect things to say at all points in time.  The thing that surprised me MOST about this flight was how smooth and quiet and peaceful it was to leave the earth and to climb into the atmosphere!  We gently lifted off and not an inch of fear or panic did I feel.Soaring over the valleys, quietly moving where the wind took us.

 Dawn comes to Kapadokya, and I am moved at the beauty and magnificence of this land seen from above.

 This is my favorite shot I think.  

We are touching down here... into a farmer's field.  See the red truck in the distance.... they are going to have to move soon to capture the balloon.  The guys will jump out of the truck, grab the lines tethered and tossed from the balloon and pull us down perfectly on to the flatbed.

These are the balloon wranglers.  They were so funny, the one on the right grabbed and pulled the rope making a sound like a work horse... the other one slapped his butt with the rope saying something like "Giddyee up!" in Turkish.  The whole basket erupted in laughter.  They became very serious and professional when moving the basket onto the flatbed though.
We landed eventually, perfectly on target.


Our lovely pilot - Sureyya
Very professional, very good, and loves her work.

She explained the history of ballooning to us, and the tradition of toasting every flight with champagne... even at 8:00 AM., and then she popped the cork and poured us all a round.

While she poured and we sipped and talked, the crew was busy laying out the balloon into one long chord.  They carefully folded and twisted and packed, and by the time we had finished our glasses of champagne.... they had the balloon packed neatly in a box and loaded on the truck.

While we were chatting with the other passengers (very little conversation on the flight itself, - I think we were all so lost in our own thoughts and experiences that we didn't want to talk)  we discovered some instant distant connections.  Two of the women in our basket work for the same school we do (MEF) in Izmir, and one of them knew our co-worker here in Istanbul.  One of the passengers was from Denver Colorado... I grew up in Colorado.  One of the teachers in our balloon moved to Turkey from Nelson B.C., which is just a few miles from the town I moved to Turkey from, Sandpoint.   One of the men in the basket has been contemplating international teaching.  What a small world it can be.  How did we end up together in the same balloon out of 100's on this day in this place?       
                                                             Kismet?  Fate?  Destiny? 
Something larger at work in our universe that facilitates connections and friendships?  .... yes, I think so.
In the end, I honestly must say... this was a magical and important moment away from the frenzy of the world.  A time I will truly remember forever. The Turkish word for friend is Arkadaş
It can have many meanings according to my Turkish dictionary.  For me, "Friend" means someone who has your best interests at heart.  Someone who cares enough to share part of their life with you.  Someone who is generous, understanding and light hearted, and someone who can show you the world through fresh eyes.

I am grateful for my friends, both new and old.  May they be blessed forever with many wonders and great



  1. Sounds like a phenomenal experience---both the scenes and the people. Thanks for your sharing.

    With rains and cold weather coming, it will be even more fun visiting your blog as an escape!

  2. It absolutely was phenomenal. And look, I ended the post with your last name! : )