Friday, 21 March 2008

In the land of the fairies

Due to the changes in my travel plans, I had decided to hang out somewhere in Turkey for a whole week before flying back to London. The small village of Goreme fitted the bill very nicely thank you.

It’s in the middle of Cappadocia. Only a 12 hour bus ride from Istanbul, which when I left on Friday was cold and raining.

This area of turkey is famous for the landscape. The soft rock has been eroded by both wind and rain to form weird shaped rock formations. These tend to be very large, so large in fact that for centuries people have carved homes and churches out of them (and now of course hotel rooms).

This morning (Saturday) I walked the kilometre or so to the Goreme open air museum. It’s on UNESCO’s world heritage list (which is my travel destination guide of choice) and is found nestling in a small valley. It consists of an old Christian community’s dwellings from the 6th century onwards. On the site are several churches carved out of the rock and each one is covered in frescos. These reached an artistic peak in the 11th century.
One of these is called the “dark church” and you have to pay an additional 5ytl to see it. The reason behind the name is because it only has one small window that illuminates the interior. As such, the frescos remain to this day amazingly vivid. Also on the site are various other places like kitchens, mesh rooms (complete with benches and tables hewn from the rock), storage rooms and quite amazingly a 6 storey tower block!!!

After a few hours there instead of walking back to the village I continued 200 metres or so uphill along the road and jumped off.

I landed in a tiny valley only 10’s of metres across and started to walk downwards. I followed a small semi dry river bed for about 1000 metres. It got narrower and some scrambling down empty waterfalls was involved. Damn it was fun!
Once I had squeezed through the narrow point it slowly opend up into a valley about a mile across. Oh my…talk about a beautiful landscape.

This evening I thought that maybe it would be 3rd time lucky in Turkey for a curry….um…No! The Thai green curry that I ordered had, for some reason, potatoes, broccoli, marrow, carrots and runner beans in it. Mind you it was hot and spicy but I think you would have to call it a stew and don’t even get me started on my “green salad”


Today turned out to be Easter Sunday. A fact that I was only made aware of at breakfast when the Canadian lass asked me if the boiled egg was my Easter egg. A long blank look followed till she explained what this Sunday was. I really enjoy being in a non Christian country.

The plan for today was to get lost. I excelled myself!

About halfway on the road to the open air museum is a signposted valley (6km long) which caught my eye yesterday. Today I walked along it.

It started out as a nice dirt track which ambled along and across the valley floor. After about 1 km I was joined by a little stream that meandered across the dirt track. At its widest point it was an easy step from dry land to dry land.

As I made my way up the gentle incline, the valley started to get narrower and off to the side, small valley offshoots appeared. I checked a few out; they mostly went a few 100m before coming to an abrupt end.
Back on the main path the track and the now slightly bigger stream fought for dominance. The water shaped rock formations towered above me on either side.
My progress up the valley was slow because there were far too many views that made me stop, look and raise my camera to my eye.
At one point, following the now dominant steam it went through a natural tunnel (or a big bloody rock that had fallen from height and ended up straddling the stream as like to call it!)

Once under the bridge the track gave up and I was back revisiting my childhood days in Black Park, splashing happily upstream with the odd step into boot sucking mud. The last couple of kms were spent walking along a confusing goat path that, as the valley narrowed and the sides diminished in height, rose and fell from the bottom to almost the top.
At one point I ended up going uphill on all fours just to maintain grip and balance and then “foot surfed” down the other side on the loose gravel and sedimentary rock.
As I approached the end of the valley a track to the side caught my eye. The path led upwards and a few scrambles latter I was on the track to the top of the valley rim.

WOW…at the top I was slightly out of breath. I stood hands on hips breathing deeply, taking in the fresh air and the glorious views. The colour of the rock formations that spread out before me went from virginal white to whorish pick. The soft contoured rocks rolled out across the wide and open vista.

My lost thoughts were interrupted by the 1st man made sound I had heard since entering the valley. A bloody car! Why can’t people walk, they didn’t even get out to take pictures. Whether they were bored or my scowl made them do a u turn and leave me in peace once again I do not know.

I walked along the track for a few 100 metres and then thought…Nah!

I foot surfed down the side of a little valley and spent about an hour climbing up, down, along and in-between dried up water courses and the odd looking formations. I finally emerged up on the high ground and walked across fields before stumbling upon another dirt track.

I had no idea where I was…Fantastic!

I started walking hand in hand with gravity but after short while another little valley caught my eye.
Damn good choice (now at this point I would like to point out that you can get A4 size maps of the various walks in the surrounding area...the question is why would you want one?), the valley was just great.

It started out with a flat profile which abruptly ended with the 1st height change. The shape of the valley length has been altered over time by farmers building walls across the narrow points to trap the silt that is washed down with the winter rains. Yep, that meant having to negotiate 15 to 25 foot drops. At every occurrence there “just happened” to be a sturdy length of timber propped up against the side of the wall. Which was nice!

That wasn’t the only obstacle I had to face. At one point a huge 50 foot boulder lay across the river bed. I tried to scramble around it but the soft rock and earth wouldn’t give me grip or purchase. Sensing the misery that is “retracing ones steps” I had a look underneath.
There was a gap about 18 inches high. More than enough room for me to squeeze through. If there had been water flowing then it wouldn’t have been possible.

After the boulder , the valley gradient got steeper and the sides moved inwards. Following an extremely enjoyable 15 minutes I heard the bark of a dog. Now, when it comes to the bark of a dog I happen to be an expert. So, now with a couple of good size stones in my hand I turned the corner.

The 1st thing I saw was an old shack half built into the side of the rock face, with a “good old boy” sitting in an old chair enjoying the afternoon sun.
The 2nd thing I saw was a bloody big dog chained to a post! It was jumping, yelping and pulling at the chain just trying to release itself so that it could run across the 20 metres of arable land and bite me. Yeah, my two stones would have stopped it!!!
Once pass the shack I ended up waling along what could only really be called a ditch. This led passed a few more rock dwellings before the ditch became civilised and a pavement appeared along side it. Turns out I was in a village. The village had a name…it was Goreme, which was really nice because that’s where my hostel is!


Damn, after today’s exertions I’m knackered!
I left the hostel at 08:30 with the idea of walking to the open air museum at Zelve. It’s an easy 6km walk away. However I forgot that like the Greeks, the Turks ability to indicate the correct distance is somewhat flexible. So, after a 10km walk across a wide open plain and a twisting valley I ended up at the museum.
It’s less “polished” than the one at Goreme and that suited me just fine. The place, like the one at Goreme, was a Christian settlement. Its spread over 4 small and narrow valleys. I tossed a coin and went into the valley furthest to me right.
It wasn’t that wide, only about 50m at the start narrowing to 2m at the end (I know this because I followed the dried up stream under boulders and into the little canyon beyond the end). Back in the valley all along both sides were rock dwellings, churches, monasteries and even a mosque. The best thing about this valley was the tunnel through the rock dividing this valley from the next. I didn’t have my torch with me (damn!) but the flash of my camera showed the way through the darkest parts.
The 2nd valley was larger and longer than the 1st with numerous dwellings. Some just a single room, others a 2 storey condo.
The last two valleys, well they were ok.

The plan, once leaving the museum was to walk back to Goreme across the countryside. However after 100m along the road a right turn caught my eye. The signpost indicated that it was the road to Urgup. Now I knew the name but I had only a rather vague sense of the distance. Arh, what the hell, it was only 11:30 and I had the rest of the day free.
So off I went. The wind picked up and so did the dust. I walked along, leaning sideways into the strong gusting wind as shards of stone pinged off my face and head. (Free micro abrasion therapy…looking on the Brightside once again). Due to the dust swirling around the views of the surrounding plain was somewhat diminished but as my head was bowed down to keep my eyes free of dust I didn’t miss much.
About 3kms later I took a right turn and the wind changed from a headwind to a tailwind. Now standing straight my pace increased and the smile got wider as my feet travelled along the road at the pace they wanted to. The road rose and fell in keeping with the geology either side of me. After an hour and a half I reached the outskirts of the town of Urgup. Good guess on the distance!
I had a little sit down and thought about what to do next. I could either get a bus to Goreme or carry on walking all the way back. (This was only 8kms…allegedly). After a small bar of chocolate and a can of coke I was walking up the hill. Over the 1st hill and then onto the 2nd. By now the wind had returned along with the shards of rock. Halfway up the 2nd hill I guessed the direction to Goreme and went cross country, finding my own path across the undulating scenery.
I guessed wrong! Who cares…I did a semi cut back and returned to the Goreme road.
By the time I came to the turn off for Goreme I was starting to slow down. Good news, it was downhill all the way. 4kms later, passing the Goreme open air museum along the way, I got back to my hostel.

As I made my way up to the sun terrace I discovered there was a cold bottle of beer in my hand. Arse on seat, shoes off, bottle of beer on lips…and my head tilted back all by itself.

So, 8 hours on the road, 35kms covered. Damn, I haven’t walked that far in a day since I was a boy scout!
I was planning on having a nice long lie in tomorrow but instead I’m getting out of bed at 05:45 to go and stand in a wicker basket!


Inside a wicker basket was a nice place to be standing at 06:15 on a fresh, cold but sunny morning. What made it even better was the fact that it was securely attached to a hot air balloon!

As the pilot hit the propane we slowly and very gently left the ground. It was my 1st time ballooning and I loved it. We slowly climbed up to 1000ft above Goreme with the basket turning in the wind giving all of us 360 panoramic views of the little twisting valleys, the wide open plains and in the distance snow capped extinct volcanoes.
Around us were other balloons (about 15 in total) all at differing heights and speeds.
From 1000ft above the ground we descended to about 20ft and skimmed along a valley floor before climbing into the blue sky once again. At one point I was able to completely trace the route I hiked yesterday. It didn’t seem so far this close to heaven.
The flight lasted about 45 minutes before we softly hit the ground in the middle of a farmer’s field.

I was back at the hostel with just enough time for a shower and a coffee before I had to walk across the street to the otogar (which is Turkish for bus station). This was so I would be able to meet up with my minibus guided tour around Cappadocia. I was on the green tour (the other ones are red and blue) which was going to two places I wanted to see and a few places I could have done with missing out altogether!

The 1st place was the underground city. This started out in 2000BC as a place of safety and refugee in troubled times and by the 6th century AD it had grown from 2 to 8 levels.
In olden times the place was lit by oil lamps but now in the 21st century we had electric lighting. Good job to! The interconnecting tunnels between the rooms and levels were small, narrow and low. The local population weren’t hobbit size. The reason was purely defensive. As the tour group walked down a 100 or so steps to the lowest level all of us were bent over and shuffling. So imagine if you were an attacking solider, with just a burning torch for illumination.

The 2nd place was the Ilhara valley. It’s a 14km long canyon below a 3600m high snow capped mountain. Its current depth is around 125m but I’m sure that if you came here in 100,000 years it will be slightly deeper. Today I would get to walk around 3kms of its length.
All along the valley’s length are rock cut churches. Luckily we would only be looking inside one of them (by now I was rock churched out!)
The path was easy to follow and the canyon walls were mightily impressive.
The fast flowing river was milky blue in colour; fresh snow melt was slowly starting to mix with the soil of the riverbed.
On the downside, the town of Ihara (population 5001) was at the start of the valley and so I’m assuming it’s from there that all the plastic bags that littered the river’s edge had come from.

After lunch we went to a rock monastery. It’s just like a church but it has kitchens as well. The location was great and the views were very impressive.

The next port of call was an “onyx stone cutting demonstration”. This lasted 2 minutes and 21 seconds before we were ushered into the shop full of eager sale assistants. Not being big on jewellery I walked straight out and within 84 seconds so had everyone else.
This was our last stop for the day, although when I booked the tour there was one more place advertised and we arrived back in Goreme about 90 minutes earlier than the tour guide said we would do at the start of the day. I didn’t mention this as I had been to the place the day before and I was feeling sleepy…well I had been up since 05:30!

p.s: today one of the “guests” at the hostel did a runner owing over 200ytl for a balloon flight. Another reason why I dislike backpackers!

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