Well now, I may live in Göreme, the heart of hot-air balloon country, but of course I failed hopelessly at the task, not least because I’m never up at the crack of dawn, which is the time when they take to the skies. But what shocked me far more than my scandalously low score was reading that we now had 17 balloon companies.
Seventeen? How did that ever happen? When I first started visiting Cappadocia 20 years ago there was only one of them and that was operating rather tenuously not out of its own posh offices but out of a small space in the Kapadokya Lodge on the way to Nevşehir.
Kapadokya Balloons was the brainchild of Kylie and Lars, a British-Swedish couple with long experience in the flying business. They lived a life of almost monastic austerity, rising each day at 4 a.m. and retiring to bed at 9 p.m., which meant that they could play very little part in social activities. That was quite a plus for me since they lived in the house behind mine. Occasionally I would hear their jeep revving up in the wee small hours, but for the most part I slept through their departure along with the dawn call to prayer from the mosque across the road. Their early-to-bed pattern ensured there was never any disturbance from the rear either. Their house was occupied but felt as if it wasn’t, especially as in winter Kylie and Lars locked the gate and took themselves away to Europe.
That was the situation that pertained for, oh, I don’t know how many years. But gradually people started to wise up to the pleasure to be had from floating over the Cappadocian landscape, despite the hefty price tag. Kylie and Lars moved eventually into an office in a hitherto somewhat blighted part of the village, and slowly but surely the number of jeeps parked in front of it started to grow. They still had the business to themselves but now others started to eye up the sky. Göreme and Ürgüp Balloons were next to take to the air. A trickle of others started to follow, then suddenly, boom, in the last few years we’ve seen a positive plethora of companies opening until, apparently, the total has reached 17.
Alarmed by the speed with which this was happening, the government introduced a decree that every company must have at least five balloons, the assumption presumably being that some of the smaller companies would get together and merge their assets. In a highly competitive environment, that was never going to happen -- so now every one of those 17 companies has five balloons. That adds up to a grand total of 85 dotted about Cappadocia so that the equivalent of a balloon fiesta now takes off every morning.
Not only have the numbers swollen but at the same time the season has extended. In the old days the skies were empty from mid-November through to March. Not any more though. Now the weather has to be truly dreadful before the balloons are grounded.
This year 17 companies, next year 20? The sky, it seems, is the limit.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.