Turkeys Out-Worldly Wilderness
01.05.2012 - 02.05.2012
One of the amazing things about our travels on this trip is the variety of landscapes we have been through. From the modernised cities like London, the rolling hills of Scotland, the Imperialistic romanticism of Paris and Vienna, the canals of Amsterdam, the architecture of Prague and the icy soviet remains in Russia, we have truly been blessed with a visual smorgasbord. And now we found ourselves coming from the animalistic exoticism of Istanbul, to the desert like wilderness that is Turkeys Cappodocia.
I had heard many great things about this place, and it truly exceeded all of them. I knew it was somewhere special as it welcomed us with a beautiful sunrise.
But the wow factor came as we arrived in Goreme, the town we were staying in, and the epicentre for the areas exploration. It was like I pictured, the desert of Americas mid-west, except for these amazing rock and sand structures exploding out of the ground in peaks. And nearly each one housed a dwelling of ancient civilisations who fashioned homes for themselves amongst the rock. It was spectacular.
We had at the last minute planned a day tour of the region, as it seemed necessary given the scope and quantity of sights, and it was well worth it. The first days tour picked us up pretty much just after we hopped off our overnight bus. It was a cosy little shuttle bus lead by a bubbly local little hipster, with pink hair and orange sunglasses. The group was the typical “walked into a bar” joke, we had some Korean guys, a cool Japanese couple, an Englishman, an Aussie and two Chinese girls. Todays tour would mainly focus around the different rock formations Cappodocia is famous for.
Our first stop was Imagination Valley. A group of formations made by Volcanic rock that would erode at different speeds due to the climate of the region. Many people say they can see animals within the shapes, I just wanted to get up and climb the things. It was pretty cool.
Next up we drove to see the Fairy Chimneys that are in every Cappodocia picture. We spent a good time here roaming around, climbing up rocks, and inside rooms carved into the stone. This place also had incredible views of the region. It really felt as if we had landed on another planet, just awe inspiring.
With the sun beating down on us we moved on to lunch. Escaping the heat we were led to a cave restaurant, yep, a restaurant within a cave, to sample some local cuisine. The food was great, we chatted with our tour buddies, and because the caves are designed to be cool in summer, we got a chance to rest and rejuvenate.
Next we got a chance to get some modern cultural insights, as we went to visit a local pottery maker. Due to the regions conditions, their main income comes from agriculture and clay ceramics. It was pretty interesting, and the show rooms had some nice pieces. Old women would go crazy over it.
With the sun still punishing from above, we went to Goreme Open Air Museum. It was a vast valley filled to the brim with tour groups, risking heat stroke and cliff drops to see some of the old cave churches located within. The area goes back to Byzantine times, when practising Christians would isolate themselves for fear of persecution and worldly temptation. Inside the rock they would carve out churches and living quarters, and this one was one of the largest remaining monasteries from the time. The structures themselves were incredible and the church walls were all covered with remains of frescos depicting all kinds of religious propaganda, the most highly preserved ones being the main attractions.
We finished off the day by going to the Goreme panorama spot. Just incredible views. I was pretty blown away.
That night, we had our only real negative CouchSurfing experience to date. We had planned to stay at a hosts place for three night in Goreme. A few days out he sent me a reply to one of my “see you soon” emails telling us he actually wont be there during those days, but reassured us that his friend would be able to host us, plus he wanted us to chip in a few bucks for water and food and electricity. Well, we met his friend ok, but he wasn’t hosting us. Instead, he drove us up the road to the guys house, told us the key was under the mat where it was to remain, and said his goodbyes. He also let slip that our original host hadn’t been there for some months and wasn’t planning to be. So Mel and I were left standing there, outside a dilapidated building that was resting in the middle of a construction site. It looked abandoned, but with no other option we went in. Well without going into detail, the place was the pits. People had been sleeping in other rooms, nothing worked, it was really dusty, the toilet was a hole in the ground with a hose attachment and we had no hot water. Now, after a day in the desert under the hot sun, all I freakin wanted was a shower. We convinced ourselves that its free accommodation and not that bad, but went and sat in a local bar for the rest of the night until we were ready to sleep. When we arrived back, the door was half open for anyone or anything to come in, and someone was in one of the rooms.
We awoke, thankful for well, waking up, and got set for the next days tour of desolate paradise. We had a different tour guide, who annoyed us with 5 minutes of constant repetition, and took a long drive down south to the hills of Selime monastery. Kind of the same but different from the last, this cliff village was carved into one whole side of the mountain face. We explored the abandoned rooms and living areas of the long gone monks, and could make out kitchens, stables and wineries all chiselled out of the rock. I might point out here that Mel has both a fear of heights and a fear of enclosed spaces, so exploring caverns on a mountain isn't really her idea of fun, but with a little cautious hesitation she powered through. Again, we really dug it.
Back on the bus we headed to Ihlara Valley, which is Turkeys Grand Canyon. It was really beautiful. We climbed down from the top, and trekked 3kms along the base by the river, making a few stops at some church caves, a little farm for some tea, and finishing off at an awesome restaurant on the river. Again, the food was great, the location was awesome and we had a good chat with the others. One guy we talked to heaps was a Korean named Leo, who happened to be an M16 pilot, and he was really cool. He loved the idea of CouchSurfing and has since joined up. We had some good laughs.
Just after departing there, we stopped at a big crater lake. It was pretty picturesque.
Now the next stop was pretty much the craziest. I had heard about the underground cities of Cappodocia, but nothing really prepares you for going in them. A brief ancient history lesson, the locals who once lived here were continuously besieged by wars and fighting, to the point where they had had enough of it and thought that the best way of protection, was to head underground. They carved out and built cities and fortifications under the earth, the largest one discovered one being Derinkuyu, which is where we were. A brief modern history lesson, Mel is very claustrophobic, and myself too to some extent. Seeing documentaries on cave explorers we always think no bloody way. Mel gets anxious in elevators, but we had been talking about this for a while, getting prepared, and she was ready to step up.
So we entered. And it was incredible. The structure was nearly 100m deep, covering 8 floors, and only 20% of the city had been excavated. It featured winding corridors, storage facilities, living and working quarters, a church, a cemetery and even stables. It also had defense mechanisms to use against invading troops as several battles took place within. I'll tell you now fighting down there wouldn't be pleasant. In fact doing anything down there wouldn't be. We were walking around most of the time with our knees hitting our chest from being so crouched over. But one of the coolest things was the ventilation system they invented, which involved chambers placed all throughout, dispensing fresh air from above and removing the bad stuff. It was quite genius and still worked to this day.
Oh, and did I mention Mel was petrified of small spaces, well not any more apparently, she nailed it! Smashed that fear in the face and weaved in a out of those tunnels like a graceful spider. She is so amazing.
Its funny, that even after exploring underground tunnel systems centuries old, cold, damp and muddy, trapped 100 metres, we couldn’t bare the thought of spending another night in that house, so we made plans to get out of there. We booked an overnight bus to Pamukale, grabbed our bags, and headed out.
To us, Cappodocia was like experiencing another planet. It was just so different to what we had seen. It was baron yet full of life. Its history was long and plentiful yet looking at it you could think you were the first to discover it, as if untouched by human hands. But then you look closer, to the secret chambers carved within, on top and underground, and it becomes more special. That these people could integrate themselves into nature and still doing it is a beautiful thing. And I think anyone would struggle not to be touched in some way by this place, where ancient mysteries meet serene simplicity . It inspired George Lucas's Tatooine, and it's easy to see why, as to myself, a fantasy scifi nerd, came inspirations of excitement and adventure, and although a Jedi craves not these things, it was truly amazing to experience.