The Quintessential Cappadocia

Turkish people are all in cahoots. This was my realisation as the shuttle bus pulled up alongside a balloon at 6:30am this morning. After a brief exchange between driver and balloon people, we were ushered off the bus and the driver announced that this was our balloon for the morning. Never mind the fact that it was with a completely different company to the one that we booked – the main thing was that after a hasty nibble on the complimentaries we hoiked ourselves up into the basket and the friendly Emir fired up the gas. It didn’t take long for old Emir to flaunt his piloting skills – our ascent carried us through a very tight squeeze between fairy chimneys in the first 30 seconds. Hovering along, the basket remained low in the valley for a good 15 minutes, affording us a good view of the cascade of multicolour billowing balloons slowly filling the gorge.

Up and Away

Up and Away

It was a truly spectacular way to see the countryside – what struck me most was the serenity and calm 3000ft from the ground. With far fewer clouds, the sunrise wasn’t as vivid as yesterday but it was still nice to feel the warmth stealing over the craggy landscape and adding to the sporadic bursts of heat from the gas jets.

More balloons

More balloons

To conclude the flight, our company put on champagne (non-alcoholic) and cake to “celebrate our survival.” Supposedly this is a ballooning tradition and we weren’t complaining.

Survived!

Survived!

The impending departure from Cappadocia necessitated a quick strip down and pack before settling the bill and checking out of the hostel. The Turks are extremely laid-back about the process of paying bills – often in a café I’ll attempt to pay the bill at the counter whilst ordering, only to be waved away and told to pay later. I’ve only remembered at the last minute on quite a few occasions – this hostel was no different. They almost seemed surprised when I stepped into the office and announced that I’d like to pay. I’m sure they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I’d just walked off or told them that I’d already paid online… although maybe they’re just more aware than they let on.

DSCF7125

You just can’t take enough photos of this experience!

In any case, Tim and I boarded the tour bus with full luggage in order to make our getaway easier later in the afternoon. A fresh guide greeted us (apparently GG had her hands full with a Japanese tour group today), but the quick-witted Arija didn’t disappoint and kept us all informed and amused with her insightful facts and wry humour.

Goreme’s Open Air Museum is a wonderfully preserved cave monastery, with a vast network of small chapels, living quarters, kitchens and churches carved in intricate detail out of the soft volcanic rock.

Dining in style!

Dining in style!

It’s difficult to imagine cave-life back in the early AD years, but it’s worked for centuries due to the temperature-regulating effect of caves (they hover at a constant 13C despite Cappadocia’s 47C summers and snow-covered winters). The unwavering temperatures have inspired a couple of little cottage industries down in this part of the world. First is winemaking – it just so happens that the absolute perfect temperature for fermenting le vino is 13 degrees. The second is fruit-ripening. I’m not sure how much I believe the tales, but supposedly lemons and oranges left to ripen in the caves for 6 months or so attain a juiciness and mineral content that can’t be beaten. The tradition still continues – Cappadocian cave fruits attract a premium price at supermarkets throughout Turkey.

Although photos weren’t allowed inside the cave chapels, I couldn’t resist snapping one on the sly – this is the mysterious chicken-turtle. This little chap represents the devil or a demon and is drawn inside the church to keep evil spirits away (or something along those lines).

The dreaded chicken-turtle... almost as deadly as the fluffy rabbit a la Monty Python

The dreaded chicken-turtle… almost as deadly as the fluffy rabbit a la Monty Python

There were some magnificent examples of Christian cave art on the walls throughout the museum but sadly many have been destroyed or defaced by opposing religions over the years. Often, the faces or eyes are scratched out of the paintings – usually by some sort of stone implement. Occasionally the graffitists couldn’t reach the paintings and simply threw stones at the walls and ceilings in an attempt to obscure the faces. They didn’t have great aim – often it looks as though the graffitist just plain old missed and there’ll be a little chunk out of the rock close to the face, but not actually on it. Near enough is good enough for religious art destruction, it seems.

A short bus ride away is Pasabag (the Monk’s Valley) with more fairy-chimneys piercing the skyline. Having grown tired of being disturbed by common folk, many monks gouged dwellings out of the chimneys here. Once again, Turkey’s laidback attitude toward historical sites astonished me – it’s perfectly ok to climb up and around these ancient caves, no thoughts of preservation or restoration in these parts. On a positive note, it gives the traveller a sense of being right amongst the history and the sensation of physically touching the ancient rock with one’s bare hands is hard to beat.

“These rocks look like chimneys,” they said….

A brief stop at Deverent Valley (Imagination Valley) gave us a chance to spot a camel, kiwi, iguana, The Queen, a vulture and Keith Richards lookalikes among the rock formations before we trooped off for another well earned and (very satisfying) buffet lunch.

A camel rock - imagine that!

A camel rock – imagine that!

Arguably the high point of the day came straight after lunch on our visit to Master Garlep’s pottery studio. They call this fella the Einstein of pottery – and he lives up to the name in both looks and skill.

The Einstein of pottery

The Einstein of pottery

The deft skill of Mr Garlep’s nephew in the pottery demonstration was (almost) matched by our man Tim as he attempted to emulate the process of making a simple bowl on the traditional kick-wheel. Of course, our tour culminated in the studio’s shop but this turned out to be more like a stroll through an art gallery than a hard sell on crockery. The pieces were exquisite and I only wish my budget had allowed me to buy something small to send home for the family.

Harker's a natural at this part...

Harker’s a natural at this part…

I have an idea we spent longer than anticipated drinking in the wonders of Master Garlep’s Aladdin cave but we left ourselves with plenty of time to marvel at Goreme valley from the lookout point and take a closer look at Uchisar – the tallest fairy chimney and old-world citadel.

Classic Cappadocia - Urgup

Classic Cappadocia – Urgup

Having finished with the tour for the day, I was glad to have a couple of hours to explore the town of Urgup before our night-bus journey. Padding through the dusty streets with no destination or aims in mind was the perfect way to get a small taste of local life in this region. We were left pondering the average wage and living conditions of the townsfolk in this tourism-supported area and came to the conclusion that perhaps despite low wages, the people were generally a pretty happy bunch. However, we noticed a few murmurings of discontent talking to Arija (who, at age 28, has never been able to save enough money to travel outside of Turkey) and Osman (who has been driving tourist buses for 34 years and reckons his next holiday will be when he’s in the cemetery).

The day concluded with 3 essential Turkish experiences:

  1. Clay-pot testi kebap. This delicious specialty is cooked in a single use red-clay pot that’s made using the local clay. The beef casserole is cooked inside for 5hrs and sealed with a dough ‘lid’ before it’s broken open and poured onto the plate for service. The spices and flavours were on a whole new level – definitely one of the most delicious dishes I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.
  2. Getting fleeced by a taxi driver. Our night-bus was due to depart from the airport (about 40mins out of town), so we had organised a shuttle bus as part of the tour. Supposedly the shuttle was running late (through no fault of ours) and we were ushered into a taxi who promptly boosted off and began flying over the cobblestones around steep mountain bends and the like. The thrill ride cost us 20 lira – we really should have argued the point but at that stage were more interested in making sure we got onto the night-bus on time. Once again, it’s clear that they were all in cahoots – I’m sure the shuttle driver, taxi and maybe even night-bus will take their cut of the proceeds.
  3. The Turkish night-bus. We’d already heard a few horror stories from our good friend Lock of freezing night-bus rides with temperatures hovering in the single digits. Our experience turned out the be the exact opposite – we cooked our way through seven stifling hours trapped in the oven-bus with a bunch of increasingly smelly Turks and other travellers. At the two rest stops along the way, we stumbled out of the bus into the frigid night air in an attempt to lower our internal body temperature by a few degrees before we had to fry once again. It was an experience I’m glad I had, but I wouldn’t go back again in a hurry.

Upon our 2:30am arrival in Egirdir, we waited on the side of the road for half an hour or so for our scheduled pickup by the hostel. Eventually, we decided it was best to strike out alone and a nocturnal Turk pointed us in the right direction for the hostel – about 5 minutes walk. Turns out Muslum, our contact at the hostel had fallen asleep waiting for us… but we were just glad that he was still up and able to let us in to our room where we collapsed into strangely lumpy, but nonetheless comfy beds.

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