The alarm wakes us from deep slumbers and we stagger around pulling on as many warm clothes as we have with us. At the appointed time we are outside the gate and a vehicle arrives. We climb in – six others are already passengers. We are the last to be collected. We drive east for about half an hour. Dawn is beginning to redden the horizon as we leave the main road head along a dirt track then into a field.
All around, the ground is covered with gigantic slug-like shapes, billowing and undulating as hot air is blown into their mouths. Attached to each slug by wires and carabiners is a basket. Our slug billows and grows and slowly rises. The hot air fans are removed and a propane burner attached to the top of the basket begins ejecting hot flames into the vast interior. The slug rises into a balloon and the basket is lifted from its side to an upright position.
There are toe hold slots in the basket and one by one, twelve of us climb up and in. The basket is divided into quarters. Three of us stand in each quarter. We all have plenty of outside edge space. More hot air roars into the ballon above as our balloonist pulls a series of levers. The ground crew begins untying tethers. Soon just one rope is left to be released and we begin to hover a metre or so above the ground. An all clear is given, the tether is pulled free, another roar of flame into our balloon and we sail up in the cold morning air to meet the rising sun. Around us hundreds of other balloons are doing the same thing. Some are already high above us, some are still sluggish on the ground. We all drift west with the breeze. Except for the periodic roar of the propane burners, the flight is silent. Our basket-mates are also quiet as we absorb the thrill and beauty. The ground drops below us and the wide canyon-filled vista opens all around.
A full moon that had been shining brightly, fades as the sun rises. The balloons that had all been muted grey shades in the early light, now blossom into hundreds of bright designs and colours in the sunshine.
Sometimes we fly as high as 1200 metres above the ground, sometimes we creep along almost touching the canyon walls. Up and down our balloonist takes us as the wind drifts the balloons slowly across the landscape. We fly for a little over an hour then land softly on the back of the basket’s custom-made trailer. A perfectly accurate landing. The top of the balloon is opened and it slowly looses its hot air, sinking down to the ground in a billow of fabric and lines. Meantime the ground crew sets out a table and nonalcoholic champagne. We clamber out, drink to the success of our flight, climb back in the van and are driven home.
And then it’s time for breakfast.
Breakfast consumed with gusto, we set off on another easy walk. While in the balloon we’d noticed a canyon directly behind our hotel. Known as Love Valley, it is famous for its many slender tall rock chimneys with little caps of harder rock on top. They have a distinctive shape but a young unimaginative Spaniard man in our basket had asked, “Why is it called Love Valley?”
Our balloonist replied, “Because the shape of the rocks are like penises.”
The Spaniard, who had been groping his girlfriend throughout the ride, appeared to be somewhat embarrassed.
Now Pat and I have decided to take a closer look at the canyon, penis rocks or not, it looked stunning from the air. All we have to do is pop over the ridge and down the other side and we will be exploring the pathways within.
We are very quickly up on the ridge and begin walking along looking for a way down. The ridge trail is a little over four kms. After a little over four kms, plus several side jaunts as we explore offshoots that look like they might safely descend, we come to the end of the ridge and walk down a steep track to its base. A barely 100 metre walk along the low ground brings us to the trail entrance of the canyon we quest. We decide to hike up its entire length then return back into town from that direction. The trail is actually multiple trails but it is easy to stay in the right direction as cliff walls rise steeply on either side. The iconic vertical rock chimneys rise in clusters all around. Hidden springs provide enough water for poplars, fruit trees and grape vines. In some places the path tunnels through dense shading vegetation. In several places tunnels have been dug through sections of rock that would be difficult to climb. We stop at a tiny cafe for a tiny tea for an exorbitant price. We get hot. We get a bit hungry. Lunch time comes and passes as we continue exploring along the canyon. Eventually the trail climbs steeply and before long we clamber up to the top where we enjoy a minuscule drink of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice for several Lira more than appropriate. Highway robbery.
Our track now continues in the “wrong” direction for another twenty minutes before we can swing back towards town. Unfortunately we now find ourselves on a paved stretch of highway but it’s only for a couple of kilometres. We break our journey by popping into a few roadside restaurants seeking lunch and beer. Neither is to be had but an extremely expensive frappe serves to provide the energy we need to get us home.
While we are sipping the delicious frappe and admiring the stunning peaceful view, Pat comments, “We can’t have a beer, so make do with a frappe instead while just 300 kms away there’s a war going on in Syria. It’s a weird world we live in.”
We ponder the difference 300 kms can make – potentially a three hour drive – as we walk the rest of our way back into town then begin an earnest search for beer, eventually finding a place that serves.
We’ve had a good laugh at ourselves….how often have we set out on a short simple walk and found ourselves on a much longer expedition? Too many times to count. We’re just driven to explore around the next corner or over the next rise.