It was 2am when the rhythmic drumbeat announcing the pre-dawn Ramadan feast woke us up. It was 3:20am when the morning call to prayer dragged us back awake. And it was 4am when our own alarms pulled us awake a final time to set off for our ballooning experience.
This area is the ballooning capital of the World because the conditions are perfect and the view is stunning. Just after dawn the sky is filled with balloons, like bubbles rising from the Earth. By our count we were one of about 60 balloons in the air at any given point. It’s a wonderfully effective and peaceful way to see the deeply eroded countryside, made more magical by all the balloons in the sky.
We were worried that Callum and I, with our ingrained fear of heights, would be gritting our teeth through the experience: But there turned out to be no problem at all. Perhaps the high sides of the basket make a difference or perhaps it was because the movement is so gentle. We all completely, absolutely loved the experience.
We were surprised at how much control the pilot could manage over the balloon. He was at pains to point out that he had no control over direction, but his judicious use of altitude and knowledge of the local winds saw us cruise through valleys and above the plains. Going through the valleys was especially amazing because the balloon moving so slowly means that you can be within a couple of metres of the rocks.
The rock formations are the product of Millenia of weathering. They range from distinct pillars through to flame like protrusions. The Valley of Love is full of pillars, leading to it being given it’s name by some Frenchmen in the 18th Century – while if it was being named today it would be the Chasm of Erections. Many of the pillars and rockfaces have been dug into by the locals. They first created pigeon houses – apparently they used the pigeon droppings for fertiliser – and then dug complete houses as artificial caves. The overall effect is a bit like Hobbit holes in a Star Wars landscape.
Starting your day at 4am has the distinct advantage of leaving a lot more day for other things. So after breakfast, for a complete contrast later in the morning we drove South of Goreme to visit an underground city. One of the things that makes this area so distinctive is that people lived in caves they cut into the rocks. Around the 6th Century the Christians in the area went further and created entire underground cities to protect themselves from the persecution. These were not just caves, but entire complexes in which thousands of people lived. They had churches, kitchens, factories – and traps and doors to protect them if the complex was invaded. Now they make an amazing three-dimensional maze that’s incredible fun to visit.
After a swim and lunch we were still going strong so we hiked out of Gorme and visited a World Heritage listed religious complex dating back to the 10th Century. Like so much around here the churches are dug into the rock, but what makes them special is the rich, colourful paintings. Paintings that are over 1000 years old, really drive home that life was as vibrant then as it is today. But they didn’t have balloons.
After all that, all that we’ve got energy left for is milkshakes and beers and then an early night to get some sleep before the drums and call to prayers hit us again.