A Hot Air Balloon                                 

How often in life would we sign up for an expensive hot air balloon ride? Certainly not every summer?  Well, that’s reason enough to know everything about the ride to make it a truly worthwhile and memorable experience.

We booked a balloon ride in Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. We had no idea about what to expect, what to wear and how best to get ready for the event. All that the tour operator told us was that he would collect us from the hotel at 4.15 a.m.

It was the first week of September.  We presumed that the weather would be moderate and just pleasant for an early morning lift off. The evening before the flight, we met a young girl who had taken the balloon ride that morning. As she shared her story, there was more than a note of caution: “It was 3 ° Centigrade and I was wearing just a light top and a pair of shorts! Nobody told me it would be so cold!” We hurried to see how we could cover up and keep warm.  In preparation for a balloon ride, it pays to check the weather with the operator.

In Goreme, everyone who has booked for a balloon ride is picked up from their hotels and brought to the take-off ground. It’s dark and dusty and there are hardly any lights except the beams of the parked utilities and buses.  This is the time when you will have an opportunity to see how the crews prepare the balloons for the lift-off.

The balloons are rolled out from the utilities and placed on the ground. Then the noisy generators are switched on and the balloons are slowly filled with helium. It is an experience to stand in the shadows and watch the balloons come alive little by little. All around on the same grounds are dozens of other balloon crews engaged in the same task. One by one the balloons get filled and ready for flight; and one by one the tour operators gather their passengers and get them to board. This is also time for a cup of coffee and biscuits and a quick look around to see who is going up with you. The hallelujah moment begins when the gas in the balloon is ignited! It’s almost time for sunrise and suddenly one by one there are dozens of flares and balloons lifting off into the pre-dawn sky.

The wicker basket that is attached to the lower end of the balloon is the place where the passengers will ride. A balloon carries about sixteen passengers. The pilot takes centre position and passengers climb up into the compartments on either side. Everyone remains standing during the duration of the flight. It’s an easy hurdle for young people to place their foot in the groove and jump in. But seniors have to think twice about how they can climb in with ease and without any negative impact on their knees and the sciatica. Some operators have factored this in and provide a stool to help people hop in. Others have to rely solely on their own agility and a helping hand. It doesn’t cost anything to ask the operator if he can provide a stool to help hop in.

Its lift off time and that is when you realise that there are no seat belts, no under carriage and just the wind to take you over the first crest. It’s smooth as silk as you clear the first hill top and cruise further above Goreme.

 

Tourists tend to experience the balloon ride mostly through their viewfinders and the click button. In doing this they miss the sheer thrill of floating above the earth with a gentle wind. Take the pictures but put the cameras away to enjoy the ride.  It’s a delightful sensation being up in the air with dozens of other multi-coloured balloons moving gently in different directions. Some pilots do a few tricks to add a dimension of thrill to the ride but all in all they go by the book and ensure the safety of passengers.

Balloon rides last for about an hour and the landing is most often done at a place away from where you took off. The pilot gives instructions for landing positions inside the balloon and these are easy to follow. The support crews drive to the landing spot, help tie up the balloon and also help passengers disembark –climbing out is the lesser hassle. 

 

 Another successful flight and it’s time for distributing the certificates and for a bubbly breakfast – in Turkey that means an alcohol-free champagne with a few snacks! Some operators choose these final moments to pass the hat around –every lift off is tough work for the crew and a token of appreciation is a nice way to say thank you.

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