The hot air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia is worth. Every. Little. Penny. You. Pay. Even if you don't have any money it would be worth busking for a year just to make sure you could get in that balloon basket. The view is incredible. No other word can quite describe it and no other view could ever compare.
We were picked up from our cave hotel at 4:15am. James unfortunately didn't do the balloon ride and opted to sleep in at the hotel. Patrick, Haylee and Natalie braved the early morning and jumped in the van. An hour later (after picking up a few others) we were at the site watching our balloon being filled with air. Quite a number of other balloons were already taking off. We were getting a little concerned we'd miss the sunrise. The sun was already threatening to appear on the horizon with light filling the sky. In hindsight, we left at the perfect time. No need to worry at all. We'd paid extra to have a max of fifteen people in our basket. Fortunately it was only us three in our little section of the basket. We slowly separated from the ground and rose into the sky. Creeping higher and higher we managed to reach 600 metres off the ground and welcomed the morning sun. What a sight to see! Over fifty other balloons surrounded us, all greeting the amazing view of Cappadocia on a summer morning.
Looking directly down toward the ground (600 metres below) makes you suddenly realise 'oh yeah, I'm not actually strapped in at all, I'm simply just holding onto a wicker basket'. Anyone could just fall over the edge, although we certainly hope no one does. It just seemed strange that there's nothing securing you to the basket keeping you safe.
Our flight captain had given us a talk before we took off saying "you will not jump will you?" Then laughed his head off. No, we will not jump, we'd quite like to make it to the ground safely.
You couldn't possibly soak in the view enough. So much serenity up there and so incredibly quiet. "How's the serenity?" was definitely the quote of the morning. The fairy chimneys below with their little holes were a constant reminder of the people who had lived in this amazing desert. Having left the ground after all the other balloons had gone up meant we got amazing photos of all the others in the distance. We were also the last ones up there and the last to land. Most likely this is why we'd paid extra. Our flight captain was quite talented. He saw the trailer below that would store the balloon basket and actually managed to land the basket on it. Everyone gave him a clap as we landed. We then shared a champagne (that didn't taste too good actually) and jumped back in the van to return to the hotel.
James wasn't even up when we returned. Although in saying that it was only 7:30am, we opted to just clean up our things and Haylee worked on updating the team blog. We enjoyed another delicious breakfast in the garden including fresh gozleme which we gobbled up. The manager collected our fees and farewelled us, he kindly gave us some bottles of water for the journey.
We were on the road for approx 2-3 hours before we had to stop at a servo for some petrol. The young guy at the counter asked, "do you like Turkey?" "Yes!" We replied. "I don't like, it's very very boring". We ate around the back of the servo in some weird little botanical gardens type area.
Another hour and we were on an incredibly windy mountain road. The view was quite impressive. We'd gone from an arid desert to a green luscious mountain region. Turkey was putting on her best show for us. In the distance we could see some tiny cars with stickers all over them, it was other teams! We were finally able to join a convoy after all this time. A quick stop at a nearby servo and we found out we'd joined Holy Kittens (two Dutch girls) and Ghengis Qings (two Dutch guys). Holy Kittens actually have Chris with them, the videographer we'd met the day before in Cappadocia who's documenting the rally. We compared cars and travel routes then discussed where everyone was going for that evening. The others mentioned they were going to camp at the beach in Trabzon, sounds like a plan! We invited ourselves along and agreed to follow them to the site.
We continued to drive through the mountains of Turkey. We came across a brilliant lookout which we had to stop at. A huge truck pulled in at the same time. It was a French husband and wife who weren't doing the rally but were travelling to not only Mongolia but China, Japan, Vietnam etc. Even more impressive, they were returning to France! Basically they were doing a trip that put us Mongol Ralliers to shame. They'd been planning for three years! The truck they were in though was of course incredibly suitable for a trip of this magnitude. Although we were doing a shorter trip our cars were the most impressive claim to fame for our journey.
We continued on to our destination for the evening. Finally we arrived at a location right near the beach but we were unsure where we could camp. We'd be doing what's known as wild camping. Not setting up at an actual campsite but choosing a location where it's okay to stay the night. The girls on Holy Kittens checked with a group of older local men sitting outside a shop where we could camp. They didn't speak English but showed us a spot near a cute little cliff that overlooked the Black Sea. It was somewhat near a road and restaurant but secluded enough that no one would really see us too well. The two Dutch teams decided they'd start setting up straight away while our stomachs were demanding that we eat first.
We left them to it while we walked a few minutes away to the restaurant and ate a meal. The restaurant was in a beautiful spot overlooking a Black Sea beach where people were still swimming at this late time of night. We returned in our car twenty seconds down the road to the spot where the walking track lead up to the campsite. A young local man on his phone came down the hill and walked past us. He seemed to be taking photos of the cars. No idea who he was. The two Dutch girls soon followed down the hill and walked up to us very quickly saying "we're leaving right now". They had all their things in their hands and were rushing to put things into their car. Something was wrong. The two guys and Chris were also coming down the hill putting things into their car saying we needed to go in a rush. We asked what was wrong but they said they'd rather not let us know now, we just needed to focus on getting out of there. James got out of the car to go and help them pack up. Natalie, Haylee and Patrick stayed with the car. The local guy we'd seen a few minutes earlier returned and peered into the back window where Haylee and Natalie were sitting. He said something in Turkish and put his thumb up. We weren't sure why he was hanging around. We suspected it maybe had to do with the police and the fact that we tried to wild camp in a local area? James managed to help the two teams pack their camping gear and tents up. We got out of there quite quickly and aimed to drive well away from the site to regroup and discuss what had happened.
It turns out that local guy we'd seen found the two teams camping on the cliff and started chatting with them. He was quite friendly at first and took photos with the teams and sat with them. He then became a bit too friendly with one of the girls and was trying to get feely with her. He started calling his friends to come over to the campsite. Things quickly turned nasty so the two teams had decided to promptly pack up and leave which is when we came on the scene. The girls were quite upset by it all and rightly so. The dirty pig that had got friendly with them was an extremely dodgy guy. Who knows what would have happened if his friends had arrived. We sped off and regrouped at a local restaurant carpark. We decided to just find a local hotel for the night. No one disagreed with this and no one even questioned how much it would cost. We were all looking on our phones for somewhere to stay. It was very hard to try and book nine people into a hotel at the last minute. Finally we found a place called White House which agreed to take us all in at such a late time in the night. It was roughly twenty minutes away but a very welcome sight after such a rough start to the city of Trabzon. James was adamant that this city and its people were dodgy buggers, he even went so far as to say that Turkey is full of sketchy people. It's a shame that one random sleazy local can give a place and even a country a bad wrap. If we had camped at that beautiful location on the cliff of the Black Sea and woken to an amazing sunrise tonight would have been a totally different story. Alas, you can't always predict what may happen in these situations. Sometimes you can expect the best in humanity when the complete opposite is what you need to plan for.