To tell the truth, I was somewhat nervous. Okay, fine, I was terrified. I was about to go 600 meters up in the sky in a wicker basket held up by a giant balloon that was in dangerous proximity to a shooting tower of flame. What could possibly be scary about that?
As I paced among a crowd of total strangers, trying to drink piping hot instant coffee, my hands trembled. It was dark, not yet 5 AM. We wore our group numbers around our necks like cattle at an auction. Hissing sounds echoed as dozens of balloons were slowly inflated with bursts from the propane flame burners. The globes were enormous, sleeping dinosaurs slowly coming to life as they lolled on the ground, stretching and filling, then miraculously righting themselves and rising up.
I was not cold, but I found myself shivering. I’m a little afraid of heights. I cannot stand on a balcony more than two stories up without butterflies in my stomach. I think the feeling is called vertigo; am I scared to fall, or is it that I am possessed with an overwhelming desire to see what would happen if I jumped?
Should I chicken out? It’s not too late…
Suddenly through the darkness a ghostly shape drifts toward me. A dog – big, white and furry, comes directly to me and thrusts his giant head into my hand. I relax a little. I scratch him behind his ears and run my hands through his warm fur. Is he hungry? I walk the few steps back to the coffee cart to get him a bread roll, and when I turn back, he is gone. I ask someone, “Did you see where the dog went?” As quickly as he had come he disappeared.
Maybe he wasn’t a dog after all, but an angel sent to reassure me.
Our group number was called and suddenly I was being led to a grey and red balloon, and I climbed into the basket along with nineteen others. Our balloon driver gave us instructions; most importantly he showed us the landing position, crouched down holding straps inside the basket.
And slowly, gradually, the balloon lifted us into the sky. I felt the basket leave solid ground. All around us, other balloons were also slowly lifting off. (I calculated later that there were at least 50 balloons in the sky. It was otherworldly.)
From the sky we could see the pointed rock formations that make up the fairy land of Cappadocia. We floated through the air over Red Valley. The volcanic rock formations rose up like pink fingers stretching toward us. The sun rose through a navy sky, a glowing pink neon orb. Its fiery glow was punctuated with the burst of flame that our captain sent periodically into the belly of the balloon. I rested against the interior wall of the basket, which is portioned into four pockets with the captain and his fiery mechanism in the middle; it is like a big cutlery holder for a picnic.
And what a picnic! I feasted my eyes on the vista that stretched out beneath us: hills and valleys of pink and tan, dark green trees and bushes, and a slowly lightening sky peppered with colorful dots of balloons. Bit by bit I grew brave enough to peer over the edge of the basket, gripping the support pole with both hands. The view took my breath away.
When we landed about forty-five minutes later, the balloon began a slow descent. A large brown jackrabbit scampered out of our way. We drifted just inches away from spiky bushes and our captain yelled “Landing position, please!” We all crouched down and the basket touched the earth with a jolt.
I climbed out with shaky legs and soon received my sparkling cider and my certificate. I made it!