Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Turkey Part 1 of 4 (Cappadocia)

Oakland, California to Toronto, Canada to Istanbul, Turkey to Kayseri, Turkey to Goreme, Turkey

This is how our first 48 hours of the trip to Turkey looked. When we finally arrived in Cappadocia (specifically Goreme), I was exhausted to a delusional level. The landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen. Three volcanic peaks loomed on the horizon and were once the source of thick ash and mud deposits making up the ground beneath us. After the volcanoes went dormant around 30 million years ago, erosion became the dominant force shaping the landscape, easily carving out valleys and pinnacles in the soft tuff.

The soft rock also made for creative homes beginning in the 7th-8th century BC. Complex underground cities were constructed in the Cappadocia area and were widely used by early Christians to avoid persecution by Arabs.

While signing in for our first hotel, which was actually a converted cave dwelling, it was a long process of drinking tea and eating cookies before we were shown to our room. Normally, I would love the idea of this, but again, I was so tired that I felt physically ill. While finishing up round four of cookies, the final call to prayer of the day started. I don't think I've ever heard something so eerily beautiful before. It rang throughout the city, reverberating as it echoed off the valley walls.

Our first night was spent walking around the area to see the nearby pinnacles and walking downtown for our first taste of Turkish food. 

 Fairy chimneys
Craig checking out some old pigeon houses

More fairy chimneys in Goreme

The view from our balcony on our first night in Turkey

Our first Turkish meal and raki

The cave hotel we stayed in for our first few nights in Turkey. The holes cut into the walls are for candles before electricity was available.

Goreme, Turkey

The spa bathtub our cave/room

The next day, we embarked on a tour of the larger Cappadocia area with the highlight being the underground cities. As we walked 8 stories under the earth's surface, it was hard to not be overcome with how bizarre and terrifying it must have been to live in constant fear of your life because you were consistently being attacked. The underground cities were impressively large with huge rooms separated by small narrow tunnels. The narrow walkways were designed to prevent large troops from ambushing the city. Since they could only file through one at a time with weapons down, it was easy to pick off the enemies once they entered the next room. In addition to having dwellings in the underground complex, there were also churches, baptism rooms, wineries, schools, and stables for cattle and chickens. 

Although the underground city we toured was clearly beneath the earth's surface, many of the underground dwellings and churches that were once constructed underground are now exposed by erosive processes. It was very common to see window and large doorways cut into the side of shear cliffs. They once connected to adjacent rooms, which have since been wiped away by wind and rain.

 A tree of evil eyes look out over Goreme
Me and Craig on the morning exploring the underground cities of the Goreme area

An underground school

A rolling stone door to keep unwanted visitors out
The narrow, small walkways were meant to prevent enemies from storming between rooms with weapons. Using this tactic only allowed people to file through one at a time.

It is thought this is where baptisms were held.

Some of the stairways got very narrow.

Turkish flag

Standing in front of one of the many underground churches in the area

More underground rooms exposed from erosion of the landscape

It was very common to be hiking and suddenly come across locals with a small stand of local produce and nuts. Here they are selling freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

Uchisar with its craggy castle, which is the highest point in the region.

This morning we woke up to a sky filled with balloon. This shot was taken from our hotel balcony.
Craig on a sunrise walk to get up close to the balloons.

Me and a morning sky full of balloons

Turkey has the best breakfasts.

More views of Goreme's downtown area. The minaret on the left blasted the call of prayer 5 times/day.

Video (and sound) of the call to prayer while hiking through a canyon in Goreme. (CLICK HERE  if you want to view it on YouTube in order to see a larger version)

One of the my favorite parts of the visit to Cappadocia was the hike through Red and Rose Valley. It was great way to get up close with the eroded landscape and see the palette of pink, yellow, and white ash layers laid down during different volcanic eruptions. It was a very confusing hike through multiple valleys and no clear direction pointing which way to go. The trail featured tunnels burrowed by subterranean rivers, ladders to climb over cliffs, abandoned churches with ancient paintings/carvings on the walls and ceilings, and several isolated fruit/nut/tea stands--definitely a unique hiking experience. 

Eroded homes

One of the many river tunnels we walked through on the hike through the Red and Rose Valleys

Craig and our hiking friend we found on the trail of the Red Valley

A vineyard along the trail
Another random fruit and nut stand in the middle of nowhere. The dried apricots and apples were delicious, but my stomach disagreed...

Craig and an eroding landscape

Several sections of the trail required ladders

...more ladders

Rose Valley
Walking through rose valley

Old religious paintings in some of the caves we spotted along the trail
It's pretty amazing what you can find in some of old abandoned dwellings

One of the many kittens I shared a 'kittybag' with after dinner. Cappadocia (and all of Turkey) had so many cats. Every restaurant had a pack of them prowling around until they were chased off by the shop owners.

Dinner. Most places served meat and veggies cooked in a clay pot over the fire.

On our final day in Cappadocia, we took a hot air balloon ride. It was fun to see the region from the air and watch the organization that is necessary for the hundreds of balloons to co-exist in a small space.
Our morning chariot awaits!

We're among the balloons!

Looking down at the other balloons getting a late start.

Morning moonscape

Standing on the balloon, post flight.

Looking down at Love Valley from the air.

Post-balloon champagne. Our photographer took care to make sure Craig had a balloon on his head.

Roll 'er up!

After we returned to our hotel the owner said we should go to his 'Secret Garden.' We had seen mention of a secret garden in his guest books written by past visitors and agreed to check it out...although we had no idea where we were going. He loaded us and two women from China in his car and drove us across town into the country until we arrived at a small, isolated home. As it turns out, this is his father's house and where he grew up as a kid. The family is constructing a BBQ restaurant where hotel guests can come and have dinner while in Goreme. 

Our host immediately started up a wood-fired stove for strong Turkish tea and jumped into a Bobcat to begin construction. We all just looked at each other unsure of what was happening. When the tea was ready, his father poured us all a glass and a bowl of cookies. In the few hours we were at the secret garden I probably had 7 glasses of tea and leading to a raging caffeine buzz. 

Our hosts soon gave Craig a shovel and had him in the garden spreading out dirt piles from newly planted fruit trees. After he finished that task, they had him picking up rocks and debris as they cleared away the remains of a rock wall that was blocking the area where the restaurant was to go. I attempted to help, but the grandfather just fed me apples and insisted he push me in a tree swing. It was such a hilarious and bizarre situation. I'm super thankful that the hotel owners thought to invite guests into their home to give them a more organic experience about what life is like in Goreme outside of the downtown, more touristy areas. It's a level of hospitality that I wish could be implemented in the U.S. 

Tea brewing at the Secret Garden. Craig is working hard in the background.

Our host fixing up some tea

Craig and the guys finishing up a wall for the soon-to-be BBQ restaurant. I asked it if I could help...

...but they just gave me an apple and pushed me in a swing.

Uchisar's castle up close

A final hike in Cappadocia. This time we're heading from Uchisar to Goreme.