I woke up in the tent in Cappadocia sweating. It was still early but already the heat of the day was enough to make it uncomfortable. We arrived late the night before after a long drive from Istanbul, so I had planned on sleeping a lot longer than my unwanted, furnace-like alarm clock had allowed for. We got up and made our way into Goreme, a town carved into the rock. But not just any rock, huge pillars and formations caused by a well-timed joint explosion of two nearby volcanoes. When their ash mixed and compacted it created hardened rocks, which were not eroded, unlike those that surrounded them when the sea covered the land.
There was a section, in the open-aired museum, filled with mostly churches those walls were covered in painting from the tenth century. The eyes and finger nails were all gouged out, and I later found out it was due to the gold that lay behind them. However, the rest of the houses were free to walk around in, which we did. For hours. I had to constantly remind myself that these were not caves, formed by water, but they were homes, stables and churches, hand carved by people over eleven hundred years ago. The deep gauges left on the wall from the chisels were still prominent, and filled with bugs. Over time the sand had moved, filling in rooms, or making others accessible only by crawling through tiny gaps left at the top of doorways. To get to other rooms we had to squeeze between the large round stones, used to block rooms, and the ceiling. It was like an endless playground which only added to how surreal the whole situation was. I felt like an ant running around the tunnels and caves of these huge formations.
The next morning was the hot air balloon flight. When we woke up and it was cold! We put on trousers and jumpers and made our way to the launch site. We had passed it the previous day; huge dusty fields that were now cover with canvas and fires. We stood, surrounded by selfie sticks, waiting for the balloons to fill as light crept into the sky.
We rose slowly and then when we reached couple of hundred meters we stopped and flew in line with the ground. Around us, other balloons were rising higher and higher, leaving us behind, but we were still able the wave at families sitting on the below us. By now the sky had been dyed crimson in the east. After long bursts of flames our balloon rose to join the others, rapidly and vertically. The noise of the ground fell away until the only sounds were the people in our basket and the occasional roar of the flames. And it was so beautiful. The rocks we had run around yesterday created patterns below us, clouds of dust were kicked up by vans driving across the track below us. The peaks to the rocks were stained red as the sun broke the horizon. Everyone stopped talking. The rays hadn’t exploded yet so the sun was just an intense orb of blood-orange red.
As I looked down to the landscape stretching out for as far as I could see, and I thought of Grandma. How her eyes would’ve sparkled if I could tell her what I’m telling you now. How her hands would gesture, clasp, and hold mine when we compared and contrasted hot air balloon stories. How she would have laughed when I told her how scared dad was! And I stood there, suspended hundreds of meters above the earth, and I missed my Grandma.
That night we were hanging out with the owners when the elder of the two proudly brought out his homemade raki. Dad’s face changed, he knew I was going to make him drink a lot of it. He was right. Only the son spoke English so most of our conversations, that didn’t involve wild gesturing, went through him. Everyone was drunk after a few hours. Now, while dad decided it was time for him to go to bed at 1am, I made no such decision, Turkish music was being played and I was much more interested in partying than sleeping. Although, upon reflection maybe staying out quite so late wasn’t the best idea. I went from dancing and yelling about my love of stars, to making sobbing voice memos in my phone about the fragility of life. Dangerous stuff. Would definitely recommend.
Thus ended our time in gorgeous Cappadocia! The next day shite, of course, we packed up the campsite. I died quietly on the floor. Dad started the 7 hour drive to Katha. I died slightly louder in the passenger seat. We stopped for a lunch of strong smelling lamb kebabs. I just died. And the cherry on top of the day was the crappy campsite we arrived at that evening. Instantly the owner seemed off, lying to us to get us to stay in the hotel rather than camping. The next day we met someone who said he was part of the mafia…. Good to know our intuitions are still in tune!