The Köprüçay by Balloon

We are flying in a balloon over the Köprüçay, delighted to see at once the earth, the red pomegranates in the trees, the purple flowers in the soil and the wet stones in the river, all from a slowing rising basket.

Years ago I went
to Beşkonak to photograph the rafting enthusiasts there. When I reached Olukköprü I stopped my car and took a long look at the Köprüçay, which collects waters from the mountains and carries them to the Mediterranean.  Known as the Eurymedon in antiquity, this river is like a serpent snaking between the rocks. Beyond the enthusiastic crowd at the rafting center, deafening silence reigned in the canyon. Just then a flock of goats began to cross the old Roman bridge, exactly as their forebears had done centuries earlier. One of them, a black goat, paused opposite me and eyed me with curiosity. Then it jerked its head upwards a few times. I took this as a sign. As if it was telling me, “Onward! To the mountains!” Heeding the call, I set out on the 11-km road from Olukköprü to Selge, or the village of Altınkaya as it is known today. As I climbed, the gleeful shrieks of the rafters began to recede and a landscape of rarely encountered beauty to spread itself before my eyes.

“He who loves precipices should have wings”
Bordered here and there by pink oleander bushes, the road was lined with steep precipices. The fairy chimneys we are accustomed to seeing in Cappadocia perched here over black karstic stones.  Sandalwood trees with red trunks, Mediterranean cypresses, junipers, guardians of the heights, eagles hunting for prey, and squirrels that vanished in a flurry upon seeing my car accompanied me as far as Selge. The precipices reminded me of Nietzsche’s epigram: “He who loves precipices should have wings!” When I reached the village of Altınkaya a surprise was awaiting me: an ancient theater that sat nine thousand peered out at me from beneath Mt Bozburun where the village is situated and told me what a sizable city this once was. A man working in the wheat field over the ancient stadium buried under the earth put down the sheaves he had cut and, scythe in hand, called out to me: “Welcome! Welcome!”

In the skies over the Köprüçay
Years later I’m again at the Köprüçay, flying over it in a balloon. This time we are going in exactly the opposite direction, not towards the mountains but to the Mediterranean’s blue. Winter is over, the winds have died down. This time our balloon is drifting slowly through the sky towards another theater. The ancient theater of Aspendos awaits us behind the hills. If we’re lucky and the wind propels us in its direction, we can descend into it and put on a special show for the deserted stone tribunes. Down below people have come out of their houses and are staring up in astonishment at this ‘plump bird’ which they are not accustomed to seeing around here. I’m sure they’ll soon get used to it though.

From Olukköprü to Selge
When balloon flights aroused great interest in Cappadocia, pilots began to seek new thrills and different flight routes in Anatolia. But the landscapes in which balloons can fly are limited. There should be no harsh winds or frequently changing air currents in
the places to be flown. There should be clearings for takeoff and landing and, most importantly of all, natural beauty to be seen down below. The Köprüçay was one of the first locations to be identified. This emerald green river with pink and white oleander blooming on its banks was impressive too for its natural setting. What’s more, a passenger flying by balloon in the morning can go rafting in its cool waters at midday and then take one of Turkey’s most beautiful roads up to Olukköprü or Selge in the afternoon.

Touching the water
Today the ‘balloon flying masters’ awaken at five in the morning, load their balloons in the backs of their jeeps, and proceed to their take-off positions in the dawn’s half light. Before filling their balloons with gas, they determine the direction and velocity of the wind by flying small red balloons. Then they help their passengers into the balloon baskets and lift off. As the balloon slowly rises, the path traced by the Köprüçay comes into clear view. When you look down, you have a better appreciation of the value of water in this time of global warming. A source of life, the Köprüçay has spawned numerous small villages on its banks. The fields in the villages and the hundreds of greenhouses that extend all the way to the sea are watered by this river. One of the most exciting parts of the trip is leaning out of the basket as it descends over the Köprüçay and trying to touch the water and then ascending again. Although the blue haze created by the Mediterranean in the distance obscures it a little, following the course of the Köprüçay from its source in the Dedegöl Mountains down to the sea is a virtual lesson in geography. Mountain, river, sea, valley, slope and forest all at once...

From nature to history
Wind permitting, at the end of the flight you touch ground near Aspendos. Just another unique opportunity offered by Anatolia, namely, being delivered from the heart of nature into the hands of history in the space of one hour. Wherever you land, a curious crowd will greet you. Children with big smiles on their faces, women proffering fresh tomatoes from baskets, elderly men with canes eyeing you from beneath their caps, farmers who stop their tractors to say hello. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to breakfast. You’re an honored and unexpected guest whether you rise up out of the water or come down out of the sky!

From balloon to raft
When you finish your breakfast and set out again, the newly arriving rafters will pass you in their jeeps. You could turn a balloon journey and an Aspendos tour that started at dawn’s first light into a rafting adventure at midday. Why not?

Just the ticket on a hot summer day.
The Köprüçay turns a new page in flight for those who have already had the balloon experience at Cappadocia. And I’m thinking that a third and fourth route will soon open up as well. Who knows where? The truth is that flying gives me a thrill similar to that I experience grappling with words as a writer. I’ve always said to myself that when I die, I’d like to fly up into the sky in a multi-colored balloon.

Turkish Airlines flies round trip Istanbul-Antalya every day of the week.