Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hot air ballooning over Kapadokya, Turkey

     These two old codgers did something very adventurous in Kapadokya, Turkey. We went hot air ballooning. Now we had done this before over the fields of southeastern Wisconsin. When I retired 3 years ago, several of my doctor partners didn't know what to give me as a retirement gift so they got me two tickets to a hot air balloon ride. This local balloon is fairly small; the basket holds at most 8 people including the pilot. That trip was scheduled and postponed several times because of winds being too strong. The night that we went turned out to almost be too calm. We did stir up some white tailed deer. They seemed much more spooked by our balloon than they are by cars, people, or other suburban structures. We only traveled about 2 or 3 miles. Therefore we landed in a subdivision that usually doesn't see the balloon coming down. As we floated over houses many people came out and begged the pilot to land us in their backyard. Of course, he wants to put the balloon down on a street because then the trailer can get there to load up the basket. Otherwise, the basket would have to be carried to the trailer -- much more work. The ride was nice, but the neighborhood event that the landing turns into was also neat. Neighbors are hanging around watching the balloon pack up process. As they greeted us they say: "Are you new to the neighborhood?" "Yes," I said, "by about 5 minutes. We were in the balloon." Oooohhhh! They are all excited to find out how the ride was. So half of the fun is the after events.
     Things are different in Kapadokya. First of all the basket is divided into 5 sections, each section just a little smaller than our entire basket for the Wisconsin trip. Twenty-four people plus the pilot can go up. These are big balloons. My biggest concern was climbing into the basket. I knew the balloon operators would help but I expected maybe some portable steps. No such luck! There were two holes in the side of the basket but that side leaned outward toward you so it was very difficult to put feet in those holes while leaning backward and swing yourself over the edge. Of course, I couldn't understand the Turkish but I think when all the crew saw us two old fat fogies, a call went up in Turkish: "All hands on deck for these two!" Well, they pushed and they shoved and I went in. But my shoe would not slide on the plastic covered rim of the basket and as they shoved, my knee flexed more and more with my foot bent underneath. I began to cry out: "Ouch, Ouch, Ow!" The pilot who heard and knew English, made a face as he saw what was happening and said "Sorry!" Well, eventually I got my foot untangled and the other foot down inside. When I put my foot down, there was no pain in the knee and I thought I had lucked out. We enjoyed the 1 hour long balloon ride very much. Believe me riding over Kapadokya is a lot different than riding over southeastern Wisconsin farms. My husband shot lots of photos and I include a few here. The pilot pulls some little stunts which my husband said he could have done without. He brings the balloon close to one of the fairy chimneys or to a sharp ridge of the valley, makes it look like we are going to hit it, and then turns on the gas, and we rise quickly just clearing the natural structure. We saw foxes running down below instead of deer. Finally it came time to land. The chase vehicle becomes visible and the pilot is in contact with them, mutually deciding on a flat landing place. As we came up over a ridge and fairly large flat patch became visible, we saw the truck and trailer waiting. But the pilot could not quite make it to that spot. He landed us off road and in a very rough field. We had been instructed how to crouch down inside the basket when we land, sort of wedging ourselves below the rim of the basket. It was a rough landing but we were upright. Almost immediately 4 of the crew were there hanging on ropes to hold the balloon down. Then the truck pulled the trailer right up alongside the basket with us still crouched inside it. Now the pilot made one bad decision: He advised his crew that he was going to give the balloon some gas, to just raise it enough to place it on the trailer. That would have saved so much work because the basket would not have to be unloaded of all the gas canisters and manually lifted up on the trailer. What the pilot had not figured on was a sudden increase in wind just as he pumped more hot air up into that big balloon. Suddenly it became clear that those four guys were not going to be able to hold it. They tried but that balloon wanted to fly. We were cautioned to stay in our crouched positions, luckily. Because the balloon flew over the road and found another rough field, came to earth but with a couple of bounces and with some slight dragging of the basket sideways. It was scary. But finally the crew got the thing under control and decided it was better to deflate the thing right away -- so they would have to do some extra work since the basket was not on the trailer. Everybody was OK, and we got out of the basket pain free. After we were out, everyone was congratulating the pilot, but I saw his face. He was very happy to have us all safely with our feet on the ground. It was a great balloon ride but I think this may be the last one that my husband and I do. My knee started paining that afternoon and for the rest of the trip I hobbled. We saw a lot but it was somewhat of a struggle for me.

     I have enclosed some of the views of this amazing valley. These rock structures are of volcanic tufa rock which is very easy to carve. The nearest I can compare this valley to is Bryce Canyon in Utah, except that the hoodoos in Kapadokya are 5-10 times larger so that they can be hollowed out and lived in. The plateau and edge of the plateau is much like the South Dakota Badlands. That should give you some idea of what this area looked like. In the 2nd century AD,  some Christians running from Roman persecution first came here and established a monastery, with churches and chapels with their painted frescoes, monks quarters, dining rooms and guest rooms.  Then when the place got such a holy reputation people began to use the rock formations for homes; they wanted to live near all this spiritual activity. The two saints who came here and became famous were St. George, and St. Basil. But also St Paul was in the area though the monastery had not been created then yet, or it may have been in a very early stage.

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