As I stepped out of the moist, warm dorm room at the Dorm Cave into the 5am Cappadocian morning I was hit by the cold like a sack of potatoes. Here was something I wasn’t expecting – a refrigerator cool morning hovering somewhere around 2 degrees. At least it wasn’t a 4:45am start as scheduled because my balloon flight was postponed by an hour. This was an interesting experience in itself – I had been notified of the change the night before by my airport shuttle driver and this was confirmed by the staff at the hostel when I arrived (despite my itinerary clearly stating pickup was at 5:30am). I’ve quickly come to realise that it seems all Turkish people are in cahoots with one another and they all seem to be able to switch things about willy-nilly but everyone knows what’s going on. There’s also a real “she’ll be right” attitude here – maybe that’s why they seem to get along with Aussies so well?
Along with the significant thermal shock, Tim and I both experienced “Turkish time” on our first day and we were left waiting for 40mins for the balloon shuttle and 60mins for the tour bus. It strikes me as one of those places where the traveller needs to just take it as it comes, not much one can do about it anyway.
Barrelling along winding, gravelly roads in the shuttle was a more effective wakeup than drinking the sludge at the bottom of a Turkish coffee and the French couple and I emerged from the bus wide-eyed and open mouthed when we arrived at our destination. Our jaws dropped further at the sight that unfolded before us – hundreds of colourful air balloons all in various states of inflation littering the post-cardesque valley as far as the eye could see. Those wishing to have a Cappadocian experience on the cheap, could come out very satisfied simply watching the flight of the balloons in the pre-dawn light.
This is one of those occasions where the tourist destination is a self-fulfilling prophecy – watching the balloons has become an essential activity just like the balloon ride. It turned out watching was all I could do that morning because my balloon had developed a large tear near the top. I was glad they found it before we ascended 800m above Cappadocia! So we simply enjoyed the refreshments provided by the company, watched the others take off and listened to the group of old Swedish tourists complain to an unreceptive balloon attendant about the inconvenience that it had caused. Perhaps they were just miffed about having to get up with the sparrows two mornings in a row (no problem for me – the mild jetlag came in handy for a change when I snapped wide awake at 4am).
By 10am, it felt like 2 in the afternoon but still hadn’t warmed up a whole lot. Really difficult weather to dress for – I was quite cold in the shade but boiling hot in the sun (particularly on our 4km walk through Rose Valley), which was our second stop on the tour after visiting Cappadocia’s second largest fairy chimney. 10:30am wasn’t too early for a wee bit of wine tasting – the sweet pomegranate wine didn’t sit too well with us though. GG, our enthusiastic and very well informed tour guide plied us with a wealth of knowledge about our destinations.
I’m sure resident rock-spotters will be interested to hear that the geological formations in the area were created by volcanic ash. Basically the ash from hundreds of eruptions over the years settles into layers (coloured according to the heat of the eruption and the trace elements in the ash) before eroding away. Pieces of heavier rock (such as basalt) in certain places compresses the ash and increases the erosion time, forming the fairy chimneys and the basalt erodes even less quickly and forms the caps. GG informed us that the formations look like mushrooms, but I don’t think that was the first thing that springs to mind for most people…
As we padded along through Rose Valley, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those who choose to make this trip in summer when temperatures rise above 42 degrees on a regular basis. We got really lucky with our timing – one week earlier and it would have been covered in snow (beautiful but cold) and a few weeks later and we’d have roasted. April/May is definitely the time to visit!
The great Christian cave monastery reared up at us as we made the final few steps of our trek through the valley. Strolling into Cavusin village, we welcomed the chance to escape from the harsh midday sun and browse the ubiquitous carpet, spice, trinket and juice stands that lined the cobbled streets of this tiny town.
The mosque standing opposite the monastery was a perfect microcosm of the colliding cultures and history of this fascinating corner of a fascinating country.
Following buffet lunch (with beautiful bread, dips and salads), we enjoyed a brief photo opportunity in the picturesque Pigeon Valley (so named for the myriad of pigeon roosts where villagers collected acidic droppings for fertiliser) before continuing to Kaymakli underground city and one of the highlights of the day.
It was entrancing to think that this vast network (6 levels) of tunnels was built in the 7th century and has been used as a hiding place over the centuries by folks with nothing but candles to traverse its depths. Indeed, there are many markings on the walls that archaeologists suggest were used to help with navigation in the dark. It’s also incredible to think that we still don’t know the full extent of the cave system and that there are rumours of a tunnel that links up with the other major underground city of the area over 60km away. Nothing like a good bit of spelunking to get the heart racing – claustrophobic types may not cope so well down in the deeps of Kaymakli.
Exhausted from a very full day, we retired for a quick snooze before dinner where we met up with a third Endeavour comrade, the photographically gifted Lachlan Bollen. Take a look at his Facebook page for some top notch snaps. 2 out of 24 Endeavourers met and both have been champs (we’ll forgive old Tim for being a Kiwi). Hope the trend continues – I’m sure it will.