Maybe you never should have trusted a hot air balloon company whose name translates as Balloon Balloons. Maybe you should have backed out when the sunrise tour became the brunch tour. “Everybody in the basket,” the mustached Turk claps his hands. You and your best friend beeline for the balloon, trying to get a “window” seat. You congratulate yourselves on a successful mission and then wind punches the balloon in the gut and the basket starts to tip towards Earth. All available Turkish men grab on, trying to right the ship, but there’s no stopping it. “Everybody out” claps the mustache again, “Out, out, get out!”
You jump out of harms way as the balloon collapses on the sand, knocks over the basket and spreads primary colors across the pink landscape. The Turks work tirelessly, igniting the enormous rocket flame, begging the balloon to inflate. Men walk inside, pushing nylon canvas up to help it catch hot air. Others walk the perimeter, spreading out kinks and keeping the nylon from snagging on the wild terrain.
Lonely Planet tells you ancient volcanic eruptions created Cappadocia: layers of ash mud and lava formed soft rocks and centuries of rain and wind erosion carved those rocks into isolated pillars with hard tops and soft bottoms. These formations, called “fairy chimneys,” are pinnacle-shaped geologic wonders (on UNESCO’s World Heritage List) that brought you to Göreme National Park in the first place. You confirm this with an attractive Australian whose face helps pass time and ease nervousness as other companies enjoy successful lift-offs, balloon after balloon. Finally, hot air fills enough of your balloon to right the basket and the mustache claps his hands, “Everybody in.”
Only two people fill the corner pocket while four are expected to fill the central ones. So you sprint for the corner and win. Another successful mission! And you’re next to the Australian – double win! You peer into the balloon, watch the flame blast upward, feel the heat on your scalp. You inspect the carabineers and question Middle Eastern safety regulations. But before you ask, another gust of wind repositions the basket and everyone lets out a little scream. “Is this safe?” you ask the mustache. More wind and the balloon dives towards the Earth. The mustache screams “Everybody out” again and you jump to safety, again.
The Turks choose a new launch and third time’s a charm so what the heck, you’re already here. You eat an energy bar and continue flirting with the Australian while they drag the basket down the hill. You are on vacation, why are you worried about whether you signed a waiver or whether death and dismemberment is part of your lousy health insurance? You decide death won’t be so bad in this implausible landscape next to a dashing hunk and your best friend. Plus, the new launch is working and the balloon is righting itself, the only soft curve against a horizon of jagged edges.
You don’t wait for the hand-clapping Turk. You claim the corner pocket and once the basket’s full you feel magical. This is it. You can feel it. The basket lifts off and you decide that no, this probably isn’t safe. However, it’s far smoother than expected. As the balloon swiftly rises above the absurdly phenomenal landscape, the pilot says, “Don’t worry, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years.”
And you certainly hope that’s true because the wind is strong and you’re leaving the valley in a hurry. You snap pictures of other hot air balloons soaring over hoodoos, rising from the red and white canyon like quills on a sun burnt porcupine. You capture what you can but soon you’re over farmland. It doesn’t matter though, because you’re floating in a big wicker basket under a giant rainbow balloon and that is awesome. You also haven’t died yet, which is pretty awesome too. The pilot radios your location to the ground crew and you spot a pickup truck with a trailer racing across the green palate.
The balloon descends with ease but after some back-and-forth radio traffic you realize the pilot and crew are up to something. Indeed, you are correct. The pilot plans to land on the trailer attached to the moving pickup truck. You appreciate Turkish efficiency but start to worry you have jinxed yourself about not having died yet and there is so much left to explore. But that’s a silly way to spend your last moments. So, you pull out your camera and document the impressive feat because, no matter the outcome, you hope someone else can witness this moment: these few seconds, when you’re both floating in a balloon and riding in a trailer, when your basket hovers while the truck scoots under, when you feel like you are between worlds.
About the Author: Whitney Mackman runs, writes, and adventures in New Orleans. Her work has been published online and in print. In a past life, she was a very awkward giraffe or a three-legged labrador. She dreams of living in a tree house and mountain biking all over the world.
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