by Jason Tudor
Hot air balloons are like political pundits: they are filled with hot air and only governed by which way the wind blows. Both of those facts can also make for interesting endings. Case in point: a trip my family and I made to Cappadocia, Turkey a few weeks ago.
Among the many things the region is known for, including looking like the back lot to a "Star Trek" production, is an extensive network of hot-air balloon companies. In this region, there are more hot-air balloon companies then there are soft mattresses to sleep on. Trust me on this.
To make a sunset launch, one wakes up at an hour when drunks are usually returning home from bars. Now, I'm not a morning person in the same way Kim Kardashian is not a marrying person. That aside, the temperature hovered somewhere near "those pants kinda make you look fat" and "are we really going to your mom's house again?" Plus, I'd forgot to bring a jacket.
Like hostages, we were rushed in a van out to a dirt field where balloons were waiting. There were hundreds of people, huddled against each other abating the frigid temperatures. And we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And, after two hours ... we went home. The wind was too strong to fly. Try again tomorrow morning. The next morning, we managed to fill the balloon and get in the air.
Turns out, we were with 21 other people from Venezuela packed into the basket in the same way People of Wal-Mart pack themselves into Spandex. Also, one of them was trying to document the entire flight on video WITH HIS IPAD. Secretly, as he was hanging it over the edge of the gondola, I was hoping it would slip and shatter into a thousand iPod Shuffles.
The flight was breath-taking. The alien hillsides of the area were painted orange and gold from the sunrise, which did not let us down. Our Turkish pilot was capable and hovered us into valleys and ravines. The chase cars followed us all over the province of Nevsehir. We were aloft better than 45 minutes when the pilot told us it was time to land.
"Landing" a hot-air balloon is a little like the recent mortgage crisis: you a let a little of the air hiss out and eventually the whole thing crashes to Earth. Unfortunately, as the pilot deflated our balloon, a wild apricot tree appeared, ran in front of and managed to catch our balloon in its branches. After 25 minutes, we did manage to untangle from that and get on the ground. And that's when the fun started.
In order to get out of the basket, we had to wait for the air to be let out of the balloon. As this was happening, the balloon tumbled down and, as it did, caused the gondola to crash onto its side, turning 21 Venezuelan patrons, four propane tanks and my family into a stack of giggling human Lincoln Logs.
Zero injuries, glasses of champagne and a certificate of accomplishment rounded out the two-day adventure and fulfilled a lifelong dream for my wife. Can't have a more interesting ending than that.