January 29, 2023

Goreme with the girls right before take-off.

An unforgettable experience. Multi-colored balloons dotting the sky were even more pronounced because of the pale background of the landscape.

It was truly a blessing to see actual places mentioned in the Bible. If you read Revelations 2-3, these seven churches were given instructions by Jesus, through a vision to John the Apostle. They are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum (aka Pergamon), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, which are all located in Turkey. Being able to walk through these remarkable sites was a very spiritual experience for me indeed.

As we made our way further south to visit more captivating spots, I marveled at the unique scenery that this country had so much of. Definitely worth visiting is the Pammukale travertines known as Cotton Castle. These white terraces, made up of calcium carbonate deposits, were created by thermal water cascad-ing from mineral-rich hot springs. A lot of visitors wade in the warm, shallow pools because of its thera-peutic properties. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try walking barefoot on the pristine rock because my friend, Mel, and I were caught up taking photos at the ruins of Hierapolis. We reached this natural wonder right before sunset and the snow-like landscape with the orange and pink hues of the sky as a backdrop was just surreal.

On the fifth day of our travel, we made a quick stop to marvel at the Sultanhani Caravanserai that has history dating back to 1229. The stonework of the building is remarkably well preserved. The structure itself is massive and impeccably designed. This architectural masterpiece was a stopover for traders and merchants plying the Silk Road to and from the provinces of Konya and Aksaray. It was beautifully lit by the time we arrived and it made for equally stunning photos.

When speaking of Konya, the Mevlana whirling dervishes comes to mind. I was hoping to watch this ceremony when we arrived but it wasn’t part of our itinerary. I was a bit disappointed because I was always fascinated with videos I watched of men in white gowns and red, conical hats spinning as if in a trance. Well, that’s another item I added to my growing list of things to see and do when I travel to Türkiye again. We did, however, visit the Mevlana Museum where the poet and founder of the Mevlevi order, Jelaliddin Rumi, is entombed.

The highlight of our tour was the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. We got up very early the next day to make our way to the take-off site. The anticipation of finally being able to get on one of these huge, colorful balloons was killing me. Before we could reach the open area, we were told to wait for aviation authorities to give us the go signal. Imagine all the thoughts racing through my mind at that moment! I had read the night before that the balloons don’t get to fly everyday. It all depends on weather conditions and the assessment of the concerned personnel. The tour group and I prayed so hard for things to go our way.

After an excruciating 45-minute wait, we got the green light. The cheers from everyone were like a loud collective sigh of relief. As we stepped out of the vehicles, I was treated to sensory overload of the best kind. The white rock formations made up of centuries old volcanic ash (tuff) were everywhere. It was like a movie set with the location on a different planet. It was just spectacular to look at! The crisp, chilly air made me even more aware of how beautiful the surroundings were. The scent of burning twigs and branches wafted through the field as the local guides tried to keep warm with a bonfire nearby.

The ground crew began to fill the balloons with hot air and watching them finally get them up only made the moment even more exciting. I felt like a child, gleefully climbing into the basket. One by one, all 28 passengers filled each corner of our designated space. My heart was racing as we were given instructions by the co-captain on how to position ourselves during landing. The pilots exuded good vibes and made us very comfortable as we took off. They would playfully scare us into thinking we were going to crash on the side of a hill but their experience showed in how expertly they maneuvered away from “danger”.

We started to rise above the hill, and this is where the magic happened. Witnessing hundreds of balloons floating up at the same time is indescribable. Combined with the fascinating rock formations, cave homes and fairy chimneys, the sound of the hot gas being occasionally pumped into the balloon is one experience I will never forget. As we floated higher, I put my phone away so I could take it all in and just connect with what I was seeing and feeling. I was surprised when I got a little teary-eyed during a conversation with my friend, Lala. I remember telling her that I couldn’t believe we were actually there, in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia. For me, this was a dream come true!

Slowly, we glided gracefully above the splendid valleys lined with different shapes formed hundreds of years ago. The little cave houses dotting the area almost gave it a fairytale-like appearance. Now I understood why most visitors described it as “other worldly” because it truly is. It was peaceful and quite relaxing to be up there. I watched in amusement as a group of horses started to resemble ants as we flew even higher, 800 meters to be exact. At that point, I was overwhelmed with gratitude because if things didn’t work out earlier, we would have missed the opportunity to experience all of this. God definitely listened to our prayers that morning. The balloons didn’t fly for the next five days after our ride. (To be continued)

Sultanhani Caravanserai.