The moon is lighting a cloudless, starry night as I sit on a terrace of a hotel cut into a sandstone hoodoo. The temperature is in the low teens, there are frogs, crickets and stray dogs providing a soundtrack. I have a cold, strong beer and all is right in the world.
After our Gallipoli adventure, we spent two more days in the Old City in Istanbul, wandering through the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market in search of a 50th birthday prezzie for Kate; exploring the Taksim/Beyogiu districts; crowd watching in the streets; trying more of the local delicacies and watching the sun set on the Bosphorus from rooftop terraces. On our final day in old Constantinople, having mastered the local tram and Metro system, we made our way, local-style, to the Ataturk Airport and hopped a quick flight to Kayseri.
After a two-hour shuttle bus ride at limit-disregarding speeds, we arrived in Cappadocia at our hotel just as the sun was starting to set. The whole place has a hippie, rock-climber-mountain-biker vibe to it, mixed with a Wild-West/Outback frontier feel. The terrain is arid and barren, with weather-worn sandstone buttes all around. Tall stalagmite-shaped stone sentinels stand in clusters, scattered all over the wide valley. A huge mountain looms in the distance, making us feel like are on the edge of a very foreign place. The whole settlement (town seems like a really overpowered word) is merely a string of pensiones, eateries, trinket stands, rent-a-scooter kiosks and guided-tour booths that have accumulated next to the bus station in the bottom of the valley. Göreme seems like it could be absorbed back into the arid landscape as soon as the backpacker guidebooks forget to include it in next year's edition. We've arrived at the very start of tourist season. Platoons of empty quad bikes line the dusty streets, anticipating the bus loads of twenty-something yahoos that will soon decend upon this place. The owner of our little, ten room cave hotel tests his new patio speakers with Eurotrash remixes of 15 second snippets from '80s dance tunes (much to the annoyance of Kate and I, who are trying to supplement the warm afternoon sun and Efes with some rural Turkish ambiance). The contradictions between what we've read and what we are initially seeing has piqued our curiosity as to what this place is about. The best way to fathom this, we decide, is to go for a walk the next morning.
Göreme, the town we are in, is located at the end of a number of canyons that are filled with cave houses. The people that originally lived here (from around 2,000 BC) found that the valleys held the heat and sheltered from the winds of this high (1,000m+ elevation) plateau and the sandstone was relatively soft enough to burrow into -hence the cave dwellings. The dwellings were originally quite basic single, big room but now (yes, many are still occupied) are often more elaborate, multi-room, multi-level warrens with windows, electricity, even solar water heating systems (on the more modern ones) incongruently fastened to the rock. The original area inhabitants (minus the solar panels) ended up farming and eking out an existence here ever since pre-Byzantine times. The ruling parties and religions have changed (Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks, Jews, Christians, Muslims), but the people have remained the same ... until the tourists started coming.
The tourist draw centers around the geology (sandstone hoodoos), history (4,000 or more years of it) and the cave dwellings. Walking through a few of the valleys, we were amazed by the number of almost-hidden windows, doorways, staircases and (yikes!) remainders of rooms that the walls had fallen away from. Every turn through the valleys we hiked through brought a new vista of natural and man-made wonders. The path we were following sometimes petered out to rapidly crumbling sandstone toeholds that would make veteran rock climbers think twice before proceeding. Some of the trails were barely marked with weathered bits of spray paint barely visible on the worn walls of rock. We weren't deterred though, as we spent the better part of the next two days tramping through valleys of towering, spire-like sandstone columns; through naturally-carved and human-enlarged tunnels; up rickety iron ladders to make our way through slices in the hills. Sometimes when it seemed we were lost in a twisting maze that hadn't been traveled by humans for a thousand years, we would round a rock pillar and spot the next little garden, barely the size of a Calgary front yard, and beside it the entrance to cave, carved into the sandstone. It made for very entertaining hikes.
We are putting in (by our estimates) ten- to fifteen-kilometre hikes each day, somehow ending up on some village restaurant's terrace with a well-deserved beer in hand by the time the afternoon sun has staked a dominant position in the sky.
The next few days will include a tour of the underground city at Derinkuyu and a day at a Turkish bath.
I'm pretty sure we can find a week's worth of entertainment here.
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