Trotting towards the sky in Cappadocia
I had taken an overnight bus from Istanbul to Göreme. Funnily enough, the person who was selling bus tickets at the counter had almost sent me to Görele, but thankfully, my mother’s tactic of confirming everything at least three times, saved me. I hadn’t seen too many pictures of Cappadocia deliberately—this is something I try to follow wherever I go. I think pictures, though awe-inspiring in themselves, can sometimes diminish the wonder one feels upon coming face to face with the phenomenon. I knew about the strange rock formations all over Cappadocia but as the bus actually trudged amongst them, I couldn’t believe the wonder of it. Apparently, there were volcanic eruptions millions of years ago in this area, which left these eerie, intimidating, wondrous, mysterious, strange formations. Some said it was almost like walking on the surface of another planet.
“Welcome to Cappadocia”, said the guy at the reception of the hostel I had booked in Göreme. Let me tell you what you can explore in these beautiful landscapes.
“I want to take the balloon ride” I said definitively. They say that there’s no hot air balloon ride like the one taken over the landscape of Cappadocia. And as a wanderer, that was obviously top of my list.
“Well, its high season and if you haven’t booked in advance, I don’t think you’ll be able to get a place. You can try talking to all the agencies around the town. Otherwise, just go to a good spot to see the balloons take off, that’s quite a sight too”. This hit me worse than when my favorite restaurant doesn’t have my favorite food item available. Perhaps the disappointment was too evident on my face, so this kind person beckoned to another traveler nearby who was chilling in the living area of the hostel. “Hey, what time are you all going to see the hot air balloons take off tomorrow morning?” he asked.
The lanky white guy from Germany (probably still a teenager—these lucky fellas who are allowed to solo travel even before they reach adulthood) said “we’ll start at 4 am.” A mutual nod between the two of us—strangers with a common wandering plan—marked the confirmation.
So at 4 am (I wouldn’t be able to wake up at 3:30 to study probably, but I absolutely would for an adventure) I was ready in the living room. I was eventually joined by the lanky German guy, two girls who were traveling together from Switzerland, and two sisters from Armenia. None of us really knew what the right spot for watching the hot air balloons was, but we had consensus on what wasn’t: the spot everyone knew about, and the one where all tourists congregate every morning. The party set out in the opposite direction. We walked for about a kilometer when we started having some group disagreements over whether we were headed in the right direction. Just to remind you, it was about 4:20 am right now, it was pitch black darkness, and we were walking towards pointy rock formations with an intention to climb them.
Most of us were growing increasingly uncomfortable with this plan, but we went with it anyway, wondering where we will end up. After a few slips (including nearly falling flat on my face) we reached the summit, pulling each other up and egging each other on. We sat there, waiting for dawn and for the landscape to reveal to us our own success or failure – nothing short of a thriller. We were joined by a fluffy dog shortly, who came and took a spot next to us like he was always part of the troop and we had impolitely left him behind. We spoke about our backgrounds, how we came to be here in Cappadocia, and what we want from our lives. I had known these fellow travelers just for an hour by now, and yet I felt like I wouldn’t want to change who I was living this moment with. There is something about the company of kind strangers in unknown lands—it warms your heart like a familiar hot beverage on the coldest night.
Slowly the darkness lifted off to reveal endless formations all around us. And just as the first golden ray appeared, the first sign of a hot air balloon did too. We saw them lifting off all around us, trotting towards the golden-blue skies. It turned out that our location couldn’t have been more perfect – we were right in the middle of the circle of hot air balloons. Before we knew it and before the sky had turned to blue, there were dozens of colorful hot air balloons dotting the sky, presenting a magnificent magical picture. I had a strange other-wordly feeling, like I had left Earthly existence far behind. The sun was rising fast, sprinkling the sky with orange and red streaks. The heart soared, as did the balloons, dotting the sky, formations dotting the land—a strange dance of peace and exhilaration.