I wake up at 4:45 this morning, get dressed, and groggily stumble outside to await my ride. A truck pulls up and a man gets out, and I smile at him, and he looks at a piece of paper.
“Natalie,” I say, helpfully.
“Yes,” he says, studying his paper some more. “Surname?”
“HOW MANY NATALIES ARE GOING TO BE STANDING ON A CAPPADOCIA STREET CORNER IN A PLAID JACKET IN THE DARK?” I want to snarl, but that might be because I’ve averaged 4 hours sleep per night for the last 3 nights, which is also why this today’s post isn’t going to win any prizes.
Fortunately, I am the Natalie he is looking for. Actually, he's very nice, and maybe he, also, hasn't had much sleep. I climb into the truck and off we go to a warm little gathering place full of tourists, where we are given tea and breakfasty things and then herded into vans, and driven out to a large field where the hot air balloons are lying on their sides like giant pumpkins.
We watch in awe as a man fills our balloon with air, and then warms that air with fire.
The sky is starting to get lighter, and our balloons and the ones around it rise, slowly, like giant, benevolent monsters coming out of a deep sleep. It’s so beautiful, or maybe I’m so sleep-deprived, that I get a little teary.
Our hot air balloon pilot’s name is Baris.
“But you can call me Boris,” he says, so I will. Also, how awesome must it be to list “hot air balloon pilot” as your profession? You might as well say “unicorn rider” or “yellow brick road paver.”
Boris the Magnificent
There are 16 of us, plus Boris, in the balloon. There are about 50 other balloons around us. Boris pulls a lever and more and more fire is spewed upwards, and suddenly we are a foot off the ground, then ten feet, then a hundred. And then we are floating in the sky, one of 50 enormous bubbles, and the sky gets even lighter and the fairy chimneys are around us and I am like what is this life, how did this happen, oh my god, I am so cold.
Our first hover is Love Valley, so named because the peaks are phallic.
Then Red Valley, which is, I hope, self-explanatory. There are fields of apricot trees, and fairy chimneys of all widths and heights, the youngest of which is a million years old. Boris explains the lines on them and the holes in them, and how some were used as dwellings and monasteries. Later, I will learn that one whole area of them were homes for hermits, 300 BC. Not religious hermits, just dudes who wanted to be hermits and do good deeds for people and stuff. The farmers would feed them.
I mean, come on.
I take 7 million photos. After a while, all I can do is stare and try not to cry. The sun finally comes out from behind a mountain, and we float up and down, around in circles, more fire being breathed upwards, more volcanoes and ancient tales.
Taking a hot air balloon ride has been on my bucket list for longer than I care to admit, but I have to say, it wasn’t that high.
Now, all I can say is this: put it on yours. And add the words “in Cappadocia.”
You can thank me later.
I’m in a wine cave right now. It's an actual cave, though, with low, vaulted ceilings and no windows, and dusty bottles hanging from the trees outside, and the kinds of vessels they used to store wine that lean against the walls, which, I learned today, is how they used to do it here, many thousands of years ago.
A husky just ran inside, eyed all my food, and then ran out again. It’s so dark I can’t see what I’m eating. Tomorrow: underground cities and more. Tonight: huge love.