Not 3 hours after putting our heads down for the night, we woke up to several alarms reminding us to get up ready for our hot air balloon flight. If the Jasmine House warden looked sleepy and a little dizzy last night when we woke him, we were well into the complete lack of sleep league. Short and abrupt sentences were exchanged on what we were doing and checking we were ready to head out. Rhys described his mood as being “about ready to cave someone’s head in”. We took this as a subtle hint to press ahead and just get to the rendezvous point for the balloon ride mini bus and the other Mongol ralliers as quickly as possible. Our organisation within the team, giving rise to the nickname “Team Pootle” did make us a little later than others, but with profuse apologies, we climbed aboard the minibus. We’d made it… or at least that’s what we thought for all of 2 minutes, as the Australian girl who had organised the trip turned around to Rhys and exclaimed,
“You have paid, right?”
We explained that this should have been prearranged last night, and we in fact owed another team – to be settled up later that morning. This was lost in translation and we had to amass TL600 for the 4 of us (Alpha Squad and Omeed) on the spot, much to the dismay of the rest of the party. Comments were made by 2 Canadians – also ralliers, about how going via a cash machine would make us very late, and how we as a team were unorganised. Rhys, already simmering from a lack of sleep, took to the passive-aggressive complaint like a bulldog with a bone and gave both travellers a piece of his mind, happy to put on in only the best Essex-English how he felt about their comments. With that, and the bus journey largely uneventful thereafter, we made it to the balloon launch site, where name tags were issued and a small breakfast was provided. We took in the scene, as the sun was shedding first light across the sandstone peaks; the balloons filled gracefully and peaked over the nearby hills – we were certainly not going to be alone in the sky this morning. With propane jets lighting up the darkened valley, and the balloons fully inflated, we boarded and took gracefully to the sky. Yes, that was pretty much it – no signing of documents, no checking of passports, no liability insurance and the briefest of safety instructions.
The balloon took a 2 stage ascent into the sky so as to adjust temperature and pressure for the larger climb up to 6000ft. The views brought on a hushed silence to the basket – they were breath-taking. Goreme became a birds-eye view, then an almost satellite-down view, with a magnificent sandstone mesa sitting prominently in the distance. Sunrise was a deep orange, not unlike a British sun set where dust particles darkened the first portion of the atmosphere. Cutting through pigeon valley, scraping over trees and with barely a hand’s width between the basket and some of the sandstone pillars, we touched back down after an hour in the sky, and were greeted with a sweet wine (champagne that tasted of Red Bull) to celebrate a successful flight.
We returned to the hostel and rested up for a few hours to refresh before a proper breakfast – this was still 7am (5am GMT). Oli updated blogs and ran through a full back up of camera cards and the laptop, and researched into crossing the Iranian border, producing some good tips from last year’s rally, as well as keeping track of the first few teams that had made it through into Tabriz. During a lovely breakfast, we talked to the hostel owner about the rally and subject of our sump guard to be came up. They recommended we try Neveshir – a large town South-West of Goreme which offered a thriving industrial zone with a large number of car repair garages. After 3 tries and a few phone calls to the hostel owner for mediation, we came across a very helpful garage who as more than happy to try. While we got stuck in to a game of charades and pictures on smartphones. The garage owner was keen for the business and had his youngest son bring forward 2 laptops – 1 running Turkish to English, the other vice versa through Google Translate. This got so far, but grammar across languages doesn’t span all that well, “mekezrin” for example was a key phrase that doesn’t translate directly into English. Suddenly there were raised voices behind and Oli turned round to face a laid back Turkish man with a very American smile.
“Hi, how can I help you?” – words of pure gold; and we’d never been happier to meet someone new on this journey. We explained our situation and Osman, as we were later introduced, was happy to mediate the finer points of making the sump guard removable and the possibility of a rear guard for the fuel tank as well. The job was agreed and we were told to return in 3 hours, and Osman recommended we removed any valuables. Osman just happened to be returning to his home down from studying in Indiana – a PhD professor in Education Management. We were very grateful for his time and exchanged contact details to keep him informed of the journey ahead. Heading into Nevishir, Rhys saw a barber shop and considered a shave and shape up. We popped in and were sat down by Muhammad – the younger Kurdish barber. Conversation varied from where we were going, and where we were from. Once the mention of “tour by driving” was mentioned, Rhys’ barber’s mannerisms changed from curiosity to opportunity. He whispered in broken English if we could take him to the Syrian border for TL700. Rhys, slightly sharper and more settled than earlier played dumb, laughed, and said we could take him to London instead. The cutthroat razor to his throat may have had something to do with the humoured diversion. Catching lunch at a Turkish shack-come-café of “Tost” – a white bread loaf filled with cheese, tomatoes and jalapenos, Ayran yoghurt drinks and yes, more cay, we planned ahead for kit configuration, and how best to avoid any risk zones for the remainder of Turkey.
Back to the garage—the operation was a complete success and the mechanic was proud to show us the work – a full engine bay length 2mm thick sump guard, complete with ventilation holes and capped bolts up in to engine subframe. We were happy with the job and passed over the TL300, and brought up the possibility of trading 2 of our jerry cans for a few extra Lira. Unfortunately, possibly for supplier reasons, the garage owner wasn’t agreeable, but there were no hard feelings – he had made a few hundred out of some travelling tourists, and we had saved ourselves over £150 and 6 weeks’ notice for the UK equivalent. We returned to Goreme, and secured a second night at Jasmine House, so as to relax through the evening with a couple of drinks and have a restful night’s sleep for a productive Day 13, and the road to Tercan/Erzincan.