Cappadocia

From Istanbul I took a night bus to the region of Cappadocia.  It is located in the geographical center of the country and consists of a large national park, declared a UNESCO world heritage site for the incredible uniqueness of the terrain and ancient civilizations that used it.  I had actually considered that I would only be going Istanbul because I didn’t know anything else in the country, but a little further research had me excited to get out.

I arrived in the morning to Göreme, but I was told that I needed to be in Ürgüp to start my tour. This had to have been a transportation mistake on their end, else I wouldn’t have been sitting at the public bus stand for 45 minutes to fix my problem.  When I finally did arrive, my tour group was gone, but someone there drove me to where they were at. I hadn’t missed anything except intros, and by then they all knew my name…  By the way, if you were shocked to hear mention of me being on a tour, the reason was that after crunching the numbers, I figured it was only a premium of 15 euro each day, and the included transportation and explanations was totally worth it.

We started our hike down an extremely dusty and slippery path, making chat with some of the older couples on the tour and then I connected with the Japanese speaking guide.  As I learned, this entire region was buried under thousands and thousand of years of volcanic ash, which then hardened to form a soft stone.  This material is very prone to the elements and erosion over time has transformed this into a unique place.  Here you can see the white path and the slightly pink Rose Valley ahead.

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We walked and talked and she pointed out places where the ancient inhabitants kept pigeons.  They used the bird poop as fertilizer to support their agriculture and also collected the eggs to use as a base for their paints.  We saw one of an estimated 2500 churches built into the stone of this region, dedicated to some saint.  Having not seen some of the more impressive sites we were pretty excited about this one, but soon it was dwarfed by others.

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We arrives into a town that had the remains of a monastery.  While she explained that they weren’t responsible for our safety if we climbed to the top, I knew that the view would be worth it.  It was.

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From there we left to get our lunch, which as a buffet did a lot to justify my joining this tour: getting two meals out of this shouldn’t be a problem.  The catch was that we all needed pay for our own drinks, but a few visits to the bathroom to lap from my open palm ensured that it was a free dining experience for me.  I went up for several plates of the food and indeed I overate, but at least I was sates until bed.

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That afternoon we needed to go somewhere to learn about some gems and then have the opportunity to buy some jewelry.  I was confident that I wouldn’t be buying anything, but I did learn a few interesting nuggets. (Turquoise = ‘Turk Quartz’) There was another gem called Zultanite that changes color under different wavelengths of light and can only be found in Turkey.  Myself and the other men were rolling our eyes but plenty delighted when they carted out some homemade wine to lubricate any sales.  That made things better.

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We were on our way soon enough then to a massive underground city.  Starting in about 2000 BC, the Hitites began occupying this region and carving into the stone.  It eventually became a refuge for Christians to avoid persecution from the Muslim rulers.  This city is just one of 37 discovered so far and is an incredible labyrinth that stretches 60 meters down into the ground.  The portion that we trekked through represented just 5% of the total rooms and tunnels, of just one city.

This place was like nothing else I had ever seen, and I can imagine that getting lost far below the surface would be a distinct possibility.  It wasn’t like a few chambers connected by tunnels, but rather rooms and rooms and rooms all stacked on top of each other.  There were holes in the walls and floors that gave a clear line of sight to the adjacent spaces.  There were so many ways to get from one room to the next and I was having a ball discovering them.  I would have loved growing up in here.  Researchers estimate that in this city alone, 5000 people would have been capable of living a full year without the need to return to the surface, not that they necessarily ever did so.  Some of the people in the group claimed claustrophobia and then returned to the surface almost right away.  I thought that this was very cool example of why humanity is awesome.

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At this point day one of the tour was done and then I was dropped off to my hostel in Gorëmë.  One of the coolest things about the homes and accommodations in this region was that they were still in the rocks.  if the home owner wanted to add a niche, or even an entire room, they could just go at it with a hammer.  I checked in to the Nomad Cave Hostel and was soon sorted into my den.  I was elated with the degree of luxury here; not only did they have fee tea and breakfast, but also soap and towels were provided at no cost!

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One of the things that almost all tourists do here is take a sunrise hot air balloon ride to see the lay of the land.  This of course was not cheap, representing a full four days of my budget allowance.  I had already splashed out a bit for the tours here and couldn’t afford to make it happen.  I figured that while there may be no better place to do it, flying alone especially wasn’t going to be worth it.  I did however decide to rise early and live vicariously through the other, more well off tourists.  I counted 47 balloons.

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After catching up on my blog a bit in the morning and also eating a hot made to order breakfast, I was off for day two of the tour.  I had the same guide as the day before, though most of the other faces had been swapped for a much less personable bunch.  The first stop of the day was to the Göreme Open Air Museum.  This was basically a number of early Christian churches that still had paintings intact.  Depicted below was a saint that had the unique distinction of being a hermaphrodite.  We walked around and then moved on to the next spot.

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Once again we needed to go somewhere that we could learn a bit about something we would then have the opportunity to buy.  This region has for thousands of years been a center of pottery and ceramics production.  It is a trade passed father to son and it is even said that a man who cannot make pottery can’t get married.  We went to a 7th generation ceramics factory to get some education in how this all happened.

They first demonstrated the potter’s wheel and how it was used to shape the ceramics.  After a master showed us all how easily it was done, they sought a volunteer to fail completely.  I sensed some hesitation from the group and thus thrust myself into it.  I impressed some people initially,  but it was soon evident that I had no idea what I was doing.  My final piece was on par with something I would have made for mother’s day in my elementary art class.

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They brought us to the next stage of the manufacturing process, where the ceramics are painted.  Depending on the style and degree of detail put into the piece, this painting can take as much as a couple weeks to complete.  One of my favorites was the circular wine decanter.  This was worn on the arm up by the shoulder and then tilted to pour it into a glass.  During the buying time when we were perusing the wares, I asked a great many questions and they were great about fielding them without obliging me to buy anything.

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After another successfully free lunch like the day before, our group went to the last stop of the day before going our separate ways.  This area had some of the most dynamic geographical features of anywhere I’d yet seen in Cappadocia.  Particularly phantastic were plenty of protruding phallic pillars.  I was able to shimmy up between a couple of them.  We had some time to enjoy the photogenic nature of this area before gathering up one last time and going home.

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Home for me meant my next bus station where I would once again be departing via overnight bus off to my next destination.  Cappadocia was a really fantastic couple days of adventure that added a whole lot to my Turkic adventure.  I had never seen landscapes like what exists here.  That, combined with the remains of millennia of human inhabitation made this a great place to be.

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