“What would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything?” Vincent Van Gogh
I don’t like heights. It’s a painful admission considering I spent much of my childhood climbing trees and skipping across the beams in the empty hay barn, my mother admonishing me wearily, “if you fall and break your leg, don’t come running to me!” She knew it was pointless.
The bone-liquifying, chest-tightening, stomach-churning fear came sometime later. For no reason I can explain, I can’t go near a roof or cliff edge without an unwavering certainty that I will stumble and plummet from the precipice to the earth below.
Considering this, the idea of climbing into a tiny wicker basket with 12 other people and soaring unharnessed hundreds of feet above the cliffs, valleys and fairy chimneys of Cappadocia would seem a momentary and potentially catastrophic lapse in sanity.
For thousands of tourists from all across the globe, the opportunity to see and photograph this unique landscape from the air is the main reason they come to Göreme in central Turkey. It is one of the main reasons I made the journey myself, drawn as were the others by the colorful brochures and travel guides.
There would be no bright blue backdrop, but the weather was calm that morning, the ghostly fog that had haunted the valley the days before temporarily exorcised, allowing a brief window of opportunity.
“There are only two rules,” our pilot told us as we lifted off so smoothly we were floating over the cliff edge before I noticed we’d left the ground. “First – you must stay in the basket.” I have no idea what the second rule might have been, too busy mulling over the implications of breaking the first.
The experience is as spectacular as depicted. My fear was quickly displaced by awe as the balloon rose and fell effortlessly through the rose-hued valleys below, slipping silently between the hoodoos, and over the cliffs intricately carved by the hands of time.
I began to enjoy the ride, as long as I didn’t look down, until we lifted into a dense fog that surrounded the balloon with a disorienting white emptiness, depriving the senses of any semblance of place or time. The voices in the balloon fell silent. Stephen King would love this, I thought. Me? Not so much.
Our time was nearly up and we slipped back into the real world for a few more photos before our pilot set the basket gently onto its trailer with the precision of an Olympic archer. With a champagne toast and certificate of survival – flight, I should say – we were set free on solid ground. I can speak only for myself when I say the memory of floating freely and fearlessly over Cappadocia will be one of the highlights of my time in Turkey.